Connect with us


Red Sox Notes: Alex Cora Slaps Significant Label On Alex Verdugo

‘There’s a reason he’s hitting second’



Photo: Shutterstock

Alex Verdugo often can be overlooked as fans and media members alike fawn over the Red Sox offense.

This isn’t necessarily a slight of Verdugo. J.D. Martinez still is among the game’s best sluggers and Rafael Devers is on his way to becoming one of baseball’s most feared bats. Xander Bogaerts is, well, Xander Bogaerts.

But as Alex Cora explained after Friday’s walk-off win, Verdugo can do it all at the dish.

Verdugo’s latest thing of beauty with the bat: a game-winning knock plastered off the Green Monster that gave Boston a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. The heroics prompted Cora to a shine a light on the dynamic young outfielder.

“…There’s a reason he’s hitting second,” Cora said on a video conference after the game. “He’s probably the most complete hitter that we have. He can go the other way, he can hit for average, he can hit for power, he works the counts, you know? That’s the reason he’s hitting second.”

Cora continued: “…I’m very impressed for young he is, the way he controls his at-bats. He goes to the dugout and he’s upset about certain things, but then he slows it down and goes to battle. In left field today he was great. He made some good throws. He played the wall perfectly. Like I said before, this kid — he’s a good one. We got a good one. We just got to keep working with him.”


Gronk Presents A Dilemma For The Top 50 Patriots List

Is Rob Gronkowski the greatest tight end in NFL history?



Photo: Shutterstock

Is Rob Gronkowski the greatest tight end in NFL history? Probably. In a 10-year NFL career, he’s caught 566 passes for 8,484 yards with 86 touchdowns. Add in the playoffs, where he’s got another 89 catches in 20 games for 1,273 yards and 14 more touchdowns.

Then add in the four All-Pro honors and the three Super Bowl rings (one in Tampa). And the fact he blocked like an extra offensive lineman, played hurt and was revered by teammates for his goofy authenticity?

It’s probably more than “probably” that he’s the best there’s ever been at the spot. It’s a fact.

A full-go Gronk in SB46 against the Giants? Any Gronk in the 2013 playoffs? A full-go Gronk down the stretch in 2015? The Patriots might have had six Super Bowls last decade, not the three they wound up with.

In May, Gronk turned 26. In his five-year NFL career he has 61 touchdowns in 73 NFL games (including playoffs). That’s .83 TDs/Game. In 189 games, San Diego’s Antonio Gates has scored 100 touchdowns (.53 TDs/Game). Surefire Hall of Fame Tony Gonzalez? He scored 115 in 277 games (.42). If Gronk can have their longevity – a large “if” for a player who’s been cut open way too much already – he won’t be threatening their tight end records. He’ll be a threat to get into the top five all-time and will retire the belt as the best tight end in NFL history.

That’s why Gronk is here in my Top 10 and players such as Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison with more rings and leadership are behind Gronk. They were not threats to the record books. Gronk is. And he hasn’t even been fully healthy for an entire season yet. In the 2011 playoffs, Bernard Pollard broke Gronk in the AFC Championship Game. There’s no telling the difference he would have made in the Super Bowl, but imagine Victor Cruz not playing for the Giants that day. In 2012, he broke his arm in December and then re-broke it in the playoff win over Houston. And the Patriots offense went from potent to putrid and got shut down by the Ravens in the AFC Championship.

The 2013 Patriots probably wouldn’t have won a Super Bowl even with Gronk – Seattle was that good. Denver too. But his blown ACL in December 2013 made the conversation moot. No injuries, how many rings would Gronk have added to the fingers of his teammates? Gronk’s ripple effect on the rest of the offense is significant. He is an outstanding blocker. The next-best tight end in the game, Jimmy Graham, couldn’t block an internet ad (HA!). And he attracts so much attention that the number of players defenses can allocate to wideouts is reduced. If a team wants to try and take its chances? Their chances are poor. See K.J. Wright in the Super Bowl. That’s not fair.

As far as my final criteria on this list, which is basically the extent to which a player is willing to put the team first, Gronk is interesting. Obviously, he labors as hard as any current professional athlete to cultivate his “brand” and it gets tiresome, predictable and sometimes uncomfortable, like when he supposes the president is drunk. But he serves as comic relief and – even the most skeptical among us – can’t deny that, when it’s time to play he plays. He’s the world’s friendliest, most loyal, most playful Bull Mastiff. An on-field force of nature. And he’s not even halfway done.

Gronk only burnished his on-field legend in 2015 with that otherworldly performance against the Broncos in the AFCCG. But after he mangled his back in 2016, things went awry off the field. He came back in 2017 and a push-pull between he and Bill Belichick over strength and conditioning ensued because Gronk wanted to do more of the TB12 pliability training and fewer weights. That lit the fuse on the budding Belichick-Tom Brady skirmish and the era of bad feeling entered.

Gronk kept turning in brilliant games — the dominant 2017 performance at Pittsburgh; the nine-catch, 116-yard performance against the Eagles in SB52; the work he did in the 2018 AFCCG and Super Bowl win over the Rams.

But after that 2018 season, a battered Gronk prolonged his retirement announcement and submarined the Patriots’ free agent hopes for Jared Cook. And in March 2020, after a year off, he forced his way to Tampa Bay.

Scott Zolak thought Gronk was too low for the first list.

“I look at these ‘planet players’, yellow-jacket players, Hall of Famers?” said Zo. “You look at Rob Gronkowski and his talent. He should be a helluva lot higher than no. 9. He’s the greatest tight end that’s ever played.”

But what about the end? I have that “Patriotism” part of my criteria and Gronk was, after his final game here, actively making things hard for the Patriots.

“Give him a pass on all that stuff,” said Christian Fauria. “If you want to talk about dying with a Patriots jersey on, that element, loyal to a fault? That’s (Julian) Edelman.”

It’s interesting to note that, as this list takes shape, 15 of the players I have in my still-evolving top 30 got at least a little sideways with Belichick. Some a lot more than others. But every other great player, to some degree, had a bout with Bill. That, Ted Johnson says, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“(Gronk) was a handful,” said the former Patriots linebacker. “He was a lot at the end. But doesn’t that tell you what Bill Belichick thought of him? Think about that: all the contract negotiations, they had. Think about the injuries that were an issue for Gronk, the parents getting involved. Is there another player that Bill would put up with all that stuff if he wasn’t the elite player he was?

“It shows you how phenomenal of a player and how impactful a player Gronk was when Bill would put up with a lot of what Gronk was doing,” he continued. “And it just tells me that Bill looks at Gronk in a whole different category. Almost like an LT. He was so good that they would put up with it. That’s what Gronk was. The kind of guy who’s in his own special category because that’s how good he was.

“Bill put up with antics and things he never would have with any other player because he knew how special a player he was. That’s how I see it. If you were to put this list together based on how it ended for some of these guys? It would be a weird list. There’s a lot of guys whose tenure didn’t end well but they still deserve to be up there.”

Fair enough. And for the record, after 2015, what were Gronk’s numbers? Fifty games, 213 catches, 3,482 yards and 25 touchdowns. In the playoffs? Another eight games, 48 catches, 636 yards and six TDs.

Continue Reading


New Book Details Kyrie Irving’s Plans To Leave Celtics, Join Kevin Durant With Nets

Irving and Durant first broached the subject of joining forces at Irving’s Weston home in January 2019 – a month before their viral All-Star Game conversation.



Photo: Shutterstock

Irving and Durant first broached the subject of joining forces at Irving’s Weston home in January 2019 – a month before their viral All-Star Game conversation.

The basketball world knew something was up when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were caught talking together after the 2019 All-Star Game.

With both players set to be free agents after the 2018-19 season, the rumor mill around the two stars joining forces — with Irving breaking his promise to re-sign with the Boston Celtics — blew up.

Of course, that’s what eventually came to pass: Irving reneged on his 2018 pledge to sign long-term with the Celtics and joined Durant on the Brooklyn Nets in free agency that summer. Two years later, their team is in the hunt to compete for an NBA Finals (though Irving is currently hurt).

But a new book shows the first seeds of their future partnership were sewn before their famous All-Star Game chat.

Matt Sullivan, author of the book “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” writes that Irving and Durant first spoke about joining forces in January 2019 — a month before they met at the All-Star Game.

The two reportedly had dinner at Irving’s Weston, Massachusetts home the night before a game between Durant’s Warriors and Irving’s Celtics. During that time, the book says Irving was frustrated at his relationship with his teammates and Boston’s “misperception” of him.

“He didn’t like what his situation was,” KD later said, “and me either in Golden State. And it was just like, ‘Hey, man, let’s just see how this would work. Let’s try it out.’ And [then Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan] wanted to play with us to be that center for us that can kinda hold it down, and play for something, really — play for a team that’s going somewhere, not just keep moving around and bouncing around to leave.”

The book also reveals Irving did have misgivings about the history of racism in Boston that he never publicly expressed — until he was about to play in front of a Boston crowd in the playoffs this year for the first time since leaving for the Nets. A friend of Irving’s reportedly said after the fact that it was “a factor” in his departure.

Additionally, the star point guard reportedly battled depression after he lost his grandfather a few weeks after his pronouncement about re-signing with Boston in 2018.

Whatever his reasons, Sullivan wrote that Irving announced his decision to join the Brooklyn Nets to a hometown friend in New Jersey in late May 2019 and officially signed a four-year, $141 million contract with his new team a month later.

After an injury-plagued first season, Irving and Durant’s Nets entered the 2021 playoffs as NBA Finals favorites. They beat the Celtics in their first-round playoff series, but not without plenty of drama surround Irving: the comments about “subtle racism” before Game 3; the stomping on the Celtics logo at the end of Game 4; and a fan throwing a water bottle at Irving shortly after.

To think all that was more than two years in the making.

Continue Reading


Boston Celtics: 3 Players Who Didn’t Live Up To The Hype In 2020-21

It’s safe to say the Boston Celtics season didn’t go as anticipated.



Photo: Shutterstock

It’s safe to say the Boston Celtics season didn’t go as anticipated. After making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Celtics labored through a 36-36 regular season, and were promptly eliminated by the Brooklyn Nets in a quick five game first round series.

While there were some positive developments at times this year, this was pretty much a lost season for the Celtics. Just a year after making a deep run in the playoffs, and with basically the entire team returning, they couldn’t put all the pieces of the puzzle together this time around, and it resulted in a rather disappointing season.

While the blame can’t solely be placed on one player or issue, there are a few players whose struggles personified what this team was going through on the season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three Celtics players who didn’t live up to their expectations this season.

No. 3: The Boston Celtics Bench

It would be wrong to call out just one person off the bench here when the whole unit struggled for the entire season.

Aside from brief flashes of potential from a couple of the guys off the bench, this unit was easily one of the Celtics biggest letdowns of the season. The lack of production off the bench is a big reason the Celtics are currently on vacation and not playing basketball right now.

Let’s start with the guards.

Payton Pritchard was the only consistent contributor off the bench for this group, and almost immediately passed over Jeff Teague, Carson Edwards, and Tremont Waters on the depth chart.

Teague was a free agent signing who was expected to be able to come off the bench as the sixth man, but he was so bad during his time with Boston that he was traded away at the trade deadline.

Edwards and Waters are more complicated cases. Edwards appears to be nothing more than a volume shooter off the bench who doesn’t hit nearly enough shots to fill that role, while Waters has shown some potential to be a solid bench ballhandler. Neither guy was able to carve out any sort of role off of the bench however, and their time in Boston may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.

The wing rotation was even worse. Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye are basically the same player at this point, as they have been molded into three-and-d guys who can’t really shoot the ball. Both were in and out of the rotation, and it feels like at least one of these guys won’t be back next season.

Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford showed why they were both drafted 14th overall in the NBA draft at times this season, but those moments were fleeting, and often left something to be desired. Both are still young, and should be given time to develop, but it was clear they were in over their heads at times this season.

Jabari Parker also showed some potential down the stretch, but he could be bumped out of the picture depending on how Boston’s offseason goes.

The big man rotation never really felt settled this season either, partially due to injury. Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson never really meshed together, and Theis was promptly dumped at the trade deadline. That basically left Thompson and Rob Williams, but with Williams missing time with injury, it was basically just Thompson at times this season.

The Celtics picked up two bigs at the trade deadline in Mo Wagner and Luke Kornet, but Wagner was so bad in his time in Boston that he almost immediately got cut.

Kornet showed more off the bat and kept his spot over Wagner, but after that he was pretty much unplayable, and lost his spot in the rotation.

Tacko Fall also resides as a reclamation project as sorts, but this spot was a mess all season.

All in all, the bench was a massive letdown whichever way you look at it. It’s now up to Brad Stevens to add some depth to this team to help out his starters, and as we will see in a bit, some of their starters could use some extra help.

No. 2: Boston Celtics Guard Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart remains an enigma of sorts for the Boston Celtics.

On one hand, you won’t find a guy that plays harder or with more passion than Smart, and that usually translates to a bevy of hustle highlights you can find anywhere on YouTube.

On the other hand, he has a stunning lack of basketball awareness, often firing up ridiculous shots regardless of the context, and his style of play seems to have taken a toll on his teammates.

Statistically speaking, this was one of Smart’s best offensive seasons of his career. He averaged the most points and assists per game in his career, and his overall field goal percentage hovered right around 40 percent.

The stats don’t tell the full story here unfortunately. Smart’s three point shooting regressed after looking like he had finally figured things out in the bubble last season, and his defensive play has clearly taken a step back. Whether it was due to injuries or something else, the main reason why Smart plays is his defense, and if his defensive play isn’t good, he becomes almost unplayable at times.

Smart shows flashes of being the consistent guard the Celtics have been waiting for him to become. When he plays as a pass first ball-handler who helps create open shots for his teammates, while letting his shots to come him, he is arguably Boston’s best guard on the roster. But that doesn’t happen too often, as Smart will often recklessly look for his own shot at the expense of his teammates, and it results in some awful shots and numerous turnovers.

It feels like Smart’s tenure in Boston has come to a head. He is largely considered to be the heart and soul of this team, but at what point does his performance on the court become too much to handle?

Smart’s play this season was barely above the league average, and it becomes more and more difficult to justify Smart’s play with each passing season.

With only one year left on his deal, Smart may be on the move this offseason. Boston’s new front office has to decide if it’s worth holding onto Smart, despite his clear regression in play, just because he represents the team well.

Smart’s poor play this season may have been the final straw, and we may have already witnessed the fiery guard’s last game in action for the Celtics.

No. 1: Boston Celtics Point Guard Kemba Walker

There really couldn’t be any other answer. Kemba Walker‘s play for the Boston Celtics was far below what the team had been expecting from him, and his time in Boston may be coming to a quick end as a result.

Reports have already come outthat Boston will look to move Walker and his massive contract this offseason after his miserable season, but that may be a tough task after what we saw this season.

Statistically, things don’t look horrible for Kemba. He still averaged 19 points per game on 42 percent from the field, and was typically Boston’s best ball-handler. But when you consider Kemba made upwards of $34 million, and only played in 43 regular seasons games, Kemba clearly isn’t living up to what the Celtics expected from him.

A deeper dive into his stats show more troubling trends.

Walker’s field goal percentage and three point percentage both decreased from last season, including a rather large two percent drop in his three point shooting. Combine that offensive drop off with some poor defensive play, and you have an undersized guard who looked unplayable for large stretches of the season.

All of this is troubling for both Walker and the Celtics. Boston shelled out a max contract to a guy who didn’t look anything like a max contract player in just his second year of the deal. And half of the time, Walker couldn’t even get on the court, due in part of a knee injury he suffered last season and never fully recovered from.

Just two years into his deal, it seems like the Celtics are at crossroads in terms of what to do with Walker. Maybe a full offseason of rest and rehab will help Kemba return to his old form, and he can finally give the Celtics what they were looking for when they signed him.

But Kemba was so bad at times this season that it seems like a stretch of sorts to expect him to be able to reach that level play again, especially considering he’s already entering his age 31 season next year.

That discussion is for another time however. The point is, Kemba Walker fell well short of expectations this season, and he has put the Celtics in quite a precarious situation heading into the offseason. The first big issue that Brad Stevens will now have to deal with is what to do with Kemba Walker, and that decision could have huge repercussions on how the Boston Celtics look in the future.

Continue Reading