Here at Bucking Aikman it’s hard to contain our hometown bias for the Boston squads. As an ostensibly general sports blog, we do our best to stay objective and to cover a wide range of topics outside the scope of New England, mainly because, frankly, not everyone cares as much about Boston as we do (including some of our readers…right guys?). But the past month has been a whirlwind across the Big Four sports like nothing seen since…well, maybe ever, and as such deserves a little more attention. Yup, we’ve just experienced what might have been the wildest 30 days in Boston sports history – at least in terms of impactful transactions.
Two weeks ago enough madness had occurred for us to run an article on all the happenings to date: Doc Rivers’ ignominious escape to the Clippers, the Bruins’ narrow failure to capture another Cup, the first rumblings of the Aaron Hernandez murder plot, the head-scratching signing of Tim Tebow. But if you can believe it, the events of the 18 days since have been, if possible, even more shocking – some good, some bad, most baffling, all intriguing. To avoid repeating ourselves, we’ll move down the list giving a quick recap of what happened in Part I, what’s gone on since, and what we can expect from the future.
Last time: The Green’s beloved head coach bailed on their rebuilding phase, leaving uncertain the future of their remaining core – Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo – while down in South Beach their two biggest enemies – LeBron and Ray Allen – hoisted another trophy.
Since then: Pierce and Garnett were shipped off to Brooklyn, part of a trade that became official Friday and landed Boston Gerald Wallace, draft picks, cap space, the former Mr. Kim Kardashian, and the riddance of Jason Terry’s contract. The move is necessary for the Celtics’ future, and isn’t surprising considering Danny Ainge’s aggressive history and the rumors that have swirled for-freakin-ever, but that doesn’t mean Celtics fans have to like it. Pierce was the epitome of a fan favorite: a Celtics lifer, a warrior who stuck with the team through some of their most miserable years (when Antoine Walker is your Scottie Pippen, you’re f—ed) as he matured into a leader, a mentor, a true teammate, and the best scorer in team history, and who was finally rewarded for his struggles with a long-deserved title. Garnett embraced the city and its fans more than we thought possible over only six years, and resisted a trade until it was overwhelmingly in everybody’s best interests. There are many reasons he finally waived his no-trade clause – Brooklyn’s agreement to guarantee his remaining contract, the chance to contend for another title in the short time he has left (which he wouldn’t get in Boston), the departure of his close friend Rivers – but I like to think the final straw was his affinity for the Celtics and the realization that this was best for his adopted city, à la the conspicuously one-sided trade executed by Celts legend Kevin McHale that sent KG to Boston in the first place. With Wallace coming off his worst season and with $30 million remaining on his contract, the Celtics may try to trade him, but the draft picks and cap space are the focal points here. Coupled with the Rivers compensation, Boston has a Belichickian two first-round picks in each of the next three years, including in next year’s loaded draft, plus several others over the next five years. Only time will tell how beneficial the trade was, but it’s a good start for the rebuilding team. It’s gonna really, really suck to watch Paul and KG in different laundry next year but the trade’s logic is undeniable, and since the Celts were in year five of a three-year plan two seasons ago, the magic had finally run out. Thanks for the memories, guys. Maybe if you win it all next year we can throw you a parade like we did for Ray Bourque.
After a week of mystery and false leads, Ainge shocked both the NBA and the NCAA by prying wunderkind Brad Stevens from Butler University to be Doc’s successor. Stevens, a baby-faced 36-year-old prodigy who owns the Division I record for victories over a head coach’s first three years, brought the Bulldogs – a mid-major upstart that has produced exactly two NBA draft picks in Stevens’ six-year career – to national prominence with back-to-back title game appearances. His defensive philosophy, team-first approach, notoriously calm demeanor, and ability to overachieve with inferior talent make him seem like a good fit for the Celtics, but his hire was so out of left field because, well, nobody ever thought he’d leave Butler. Having lived in small-town Indiana his entire life, he appears to be a quiet homebody, a guy who’s only three years removed from signing a 12-year contract extension – a promise he had remained surprisingly loyal to, in a refreshing departure from today’s scumbag coaches who regularly bolt at the first whiff of more money – despite TONS of effort from storied programs like Clemson, Wake Forest, Illinois, and UCLA. Rumor had it that his perfect job was continuing the legacy of the Hoosiers, and that he wouldn’t ditch his commitment for anything more or less. Which is why nobody ever dreamed he’d make the leap to the NBA so quickly, with its egotistical divas and often selfish play, and especially not to the rebuilding Celtics, with the massive amount of scrutiny they’ll be under in the most savage sports market in the nation. So understandably, people are nervous: how will he fare under the constant attention? How will his players respect a kid with hardly any college experience and no NBA experience? Will he flame out like so many other college coaches in the faster-paced game? How will he interact with the notoriously uncoachable and petulant Rajon Rondo? The Celtics have been through this before with disastrous results, but Stevens’ attitude, enthusiasm, and intelligence look promising. Plus, he’s making half as much as Doc was, he has firsthand knowledge of many of the prospects coming up in the next few drafts, and despite the spotlight, nobody really expects much from the Celtics for the next few years. It’s definitely a hit-or-miss hire, but for a franchise that has gotten nothing but shitty news for the past year, it’s enough to foster hope.
Entering the historically crappy 2013 draft, the Celtics had no coach and could have gone in several different directions. They settled on Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk, one of last year’s biggest names who performed well in the tournament but not enough to prevent a disappointing upset by Wichita State. The pros: he’s a 7-footer who can score, pass, and shoot free throws. The cons: the Celtics inexplicably gave up two future picks for him, they already drafted a 7-foot center last year, and he looks like a cross between Rocky Dennis, Mitch from Dazed and Confused, and Millie from Freaks and Geeks. Not a great look for the already aesthetically-challenged Celtics. But you can’t teach 7’0″, and he already looks more mature than last year’s experiment, Fab Melo. Again, at this point I’ll take it.
Last time: The Pats, despite already possessing one of the best quarterbacks in the league and being aware of the media riots that would follow his signing, brought in the most visible backup in history for reasons known only to themselves. Oh, and star tight end Aaron Hernandez was being investigated for a supremely dumb murder, though his level of involvement was unclear at the time.
Since then: Uhhh…yeah, Hernandez is screwed. As more and more information emerges about this murder and his past life, we’re starting to realize just what a lowlife this douchebag is. Hernandez was arrested for the first-degree murder of Dorchester native Odin Lloyd, and within the hour was unceremoniously dumped by the Patriots. In the ensuing weeks he’s been linked to a year-old double homicide and tons more shady shit, and the Patriots have been distancing themselves from him as quickly as possible: former teammate Matt Light, one of the most respected and stand-up guys of the Pats’ dynasty years, admitted he “never believed in anything [he] stood for,” and Bob Kraft released a statement explaining how his organization had been “duped” – a viable confession from a man who used to preach the Patriot Way. The Pats have caught a lot of heat for ignoring the supposed “telltale signs” and drafting Hernandez anyways – as if a couple weed busts in college should have made it obvious he was a murdering sociopath, an argument which is honestly one of the most close-minded and utterly moronic things I’ve heard – and maybe they did overlook a few things while being blinded by his talent. But they’ve handled this in the best possible way, immediately cutting ties with him no questions asked, despite the money they’ll be eating over the next few years after his recent extension. It seems like a no-brainer but other teams have taken a less, ahem, righteous path in the past. While the Pats lost an excellent young talent, they also rid themselves of a scum-of-the-earth asshole, a probable cancer who would have eaten away at their locker room, and just a downright bad person. Good riddance you d-bag.
On another note, guess who’s the only person who might find a tiny shred of silver lining in all this? Yup, Tim Tebow, who had reportedly been instructed to study the tight end playbook upon his arrival, may get his day in the sun following Hernandez’s departure. The situation has already had the welcome byproduct of deflecting all attention from Tebowmania – seriously, has anybody heard a peep on that front since the signing? There’s a few potential outcomes for this move: Tebow gets a lot of reps at tight end, and either succeeds or is cut; Tebow holds the clipboard behind Brady for a few years and becomes a reliable starting NFL quarterback for the Pats after Brady’s retirement (10,000,000:1 odds), becomes trade bait as a serviceable starter for a garbage team (500:1), becomes a solid backup (75:1), or remains useless and is cut (3:1); or Tebow proves to be a waste – his unintelligence/dyslexia (depending on how mean you want to be) is well-documented – and is cut before the season. Look at those scenarios. They all end in Football Jesus becoming a contributor to the team, being traded, or getting the ax, and with a whopping ZERO guaranteed money on his contract, this is the definition of a low-risk, high-reward signing (okay fine, medium-reward). I still don’t particularly like the move, but with the Patriots’ ability to squash media circuses and their tendency to abandon a player at the first sign of trouble, there’s little downside.
In more recent news, second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was arrested “on suspicion of DUI” Thursday in Lincoln, Nebraska – the same city where he was convicted of assaulting a cop just before he was drafted last year. Now I’m no expert on law and crime but if you beat up a cop in a small city in Nebraska where the whole force probably knows each other, then you might want to stay out of trouble in that same city for awhile. This would normally be a minor footnote since NFL players seem to get DUIs weekly in the offseason, but Dennard is still on probation for his last arrest and will actually spend a month in jail after the coming season. I doubt the Pats will cut him unless he gets hit with significant jail time for violating probation, but I also wouldn’t be surprised in wake of the Hernandez stuff – which would be another big blow to lose a starting defensive back in an already sketchy backfield. By the way, the NFL has a free 24-hour taxi service in every city for its players – what the hell are they always doing driving around shitfaced? I mean, unless they’re with tranny hookers or dead bodies I don’t see why they don’t use that service every single night. And if that is the case, well, the NFL has a much bigger problem on its hands.
Last time: The Bruins came up a game short in their quest for a second Stanley Cup despite submitting one of the all-around gutsiest performances in an intensely fought series with Chicago.
Since then: The Bruins, upset that their NFL and NBA counterparts were stealing their spotlight despite their brush with another championship, shocked the NHL by shipping former #2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to Dallas for a package headlined by Loui Eriksson. Seguin, along with Taylor Hall, was part of the Kevin Durant/Greg Oden debate of the 2010 NHL draft: both kids were destined to be superstars, both were NHL-ready, and both were franchise-changers. Seguin started out fantastic – in his second season, at 20 years old, he led the team in goals and points and was second in the league in plus-minus – but his immaturity, hard-partying ways, and lack of a competitive killer instinct bugged his team. By the time he disappeared in this year’s playoffs, notching 4 points over the first 16 games, GM Peter Chiarelli was fed up. Apparently, in such a close Finals that could have gone to either team, there was no room for a young winger with unbelievable speed and hands who couldn’t find the net, and Chiarelli and Claude Julien were sick of waiting for him to step up his drive. But here’s the thing: it had only been three years. The kid is 21 freakin’ years old. The last time the Bruins shipped out a top-five draft pick after three years? Toronto got Phil Kessel, that perpetual 30 goal-scorer who notched 82 points in his last non-strike season and who’s developed a reputation as a Bruin-killer. (Guess what Boston got in that trade? Yup, the pick that landed them Seguin, as well as the pick that netted them defenseman Dougie Hamilton last year, another player who looks headed to superstardom.) So this trade will be microanalyzed for years to come, especially if Seguin turns out like Kessel – or better, like he was expected to. This despite the fact that Eriksson is a proven scorer and two-way threat who’s logged three straight 70-point non-strike seasons for a really crappy Stars team. So while the Bruins lose a guy who may not be far off from leading the league in scoring, they gain one who’s already showed he can compete and contribute on both ends. And while Seguin may have been a fan favorite, particularly among females (translation: he banged a lot of them), many of those likable traits were exactly why he was shipped out: partying to the point of it affecting his play, not taking the game seriously enough, wasting his talents. The stories that are emerging after his departure may be part of a classic Boston media smear campaign, or they may speak to a larger problem that the Bruins had been successful in covering up. Seguin, we’ll definitely miss ya – especially if you turn into Steven Stamkos – but our hands were tied. Thanks for the Cup.
Another big reason Seguin was shipped out, even if Chiarelli denies it, was the extension he signed last year that will net him $34 million over the next six years. Seguin looked like he had earned it after his team-leading 67-point campaign last season, but when he regressed last year and in the playoffs and showed no signs of growing up, the Bruins realized they needed to put that money to better use. Thankfully they did just that, locking up their two most important players whose names don’t start with Z: goalie Tuukka Rask for seven years and heart and soul Patrice Bergeron for eight. Tuukka finally had his breakout year as a franchise netminder, stonewalling the high-flying Pittsburgh offense in the playoffs while being the main reason the B’s made it as far as they did. Bergeron has for years been one of the top two-way forwards in the league and is far and away the Bruins’ most clutch performer, proving it with his late-game heroics time and again this postseason. Together with Zdeno Chara, who’s signed through 2018 and likely the remainder of his career, they will form the backbone of the Bruins and ensure they’re contenders for the immediate future. The other pieces may change – and already have – but these are the guys who matter the most.
Two of those other pieces have already found new homes, first-line winger Nathan Horton and top-four defenseman Andrew Ference. Horton and Ference were both huge pieces of the Bruins’ last two Cup runs but are a study in contrasts: Horton is a highly talented scorer (he never matched his output from his Florida days but still helped anchor the Bruins’ power line) who didn’t always seem to fit in Boston, who never liked the pressure that came with the territory, who loved the fans but still jumped at the opportunity for more money and less spotlight. Ference, on the other hand, is a great defensive presence but not the most skilled player; rather, he embodied the Bruins’ spirit of hard-nosed play, gutting out shifts against more talented players and endearing himself to the fans by wearing his emotions on his sleeve – like when he flipped off the rival Montreal fans in the 2011 playoffs. Predictably their exits mirrored their tenures in Boston. The Bruins chased Horton, who quickly opted for more money in Columbus, but decided to accept Ference as a casualty of the salary cap (thinking of the upcoming Rask and Bergeron deals) despite his desire to stay in his adopted city. In the end, we’ll remember them for their contributions – and Horton’s symbolic pouring of Boston water in front of the Bruins’ bench to help the B’s win their first road game of the 2011 Finals and clinch the Cup – and trust Chiarelli to find replacements who can bring the same kind of spirit.
So it’s been a wild month overall – and this is without mentioning the fact that the Red Sox are in the midst of one of the more miraculous turnarounds in recent memory (2008 Celtics, anyone?) with the majors’ best record entering the All-Star break, or that we’re only three months removed from the Marathon bombings. Sports has taken on a new fervor in an already obsessed city, and it seems like the national spotlight is now permanently upon us. Nothing’s ever simple in this town, and while we don’t always understand why these moves are made, we just sack up, move on…and wait for the next championship.