Monthly Archives: March 2017

Paul George: Pacers have ‘no sense of urgency, no winning pride’

The Indiana Pacers are the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but a tough loss has Paul George questioning whether his team is built for a playoff push.

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” George said following the team’s 115-114 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

George’s comments came after the team lost following a controversial foul call that sent Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio to the free throw line, where he made all three attempts to provide the final margin.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” said George, who finished with a team-high 37 points against Minnesota. “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit, and we’ve got to own up, man up.”

Every game counts for the Pacers, who at 37-37 are a game behind the fifth-place Atlanta Hawks (38-36) but just two games ahead of the ninth-place Chicago Bulls (35-39).

“At this point in the season, you don’t have games like this, being up four with under a minute and letting an opponent come in and beat you, especially a young team,” George said. “You don’t give that up. It’s a very frustrating loss.”

The home defeat comes ahead of a three-game road trip for the club that starts Wednesday night in Memphis and continues against two teams ahead of Indiana in the East standings: the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It’s tough losing a game here that we need, knowing that we don’t play well on the road,” George said. “When we lose focus here, I’m not sure where our head is going to be as a team tomorrow. I’ll make sure to gather these guys around and let them understand, man, that we’ve got to win. That’s the only thing that’s important. The only thing that should be motivational is winning.”

“Winning” is clearly the word George is focused on going forward, but he used a different word to describe his feelings on Tuesday night.

“Pissed,” George said. “I know I was pissed. It’s the only [way] to really sum it up.”

Jose Ramirez close to finalizing four-year extension with Indians

Coming off his breakout 2016 season, utility man Jose Ramirez is nearing a four-year contract extension with the Cleveland Indians, according to a Yahoo! Sports report.

The deal, which would begin next season and keep Ramirez under contract through the 2023 season, includes two club options and would guarantee Ramirez close to $30 million, according to the report. If the Indians exercise both options, the deal would be worth nearly $50 million, the report said.

Ramirez, 24, posted a slash line of .312/.363/.462 with 11 home runs, 76 RBIs and 22 stolen bases last season, which was his fourth in the majors, all in Cleveland.

His versatility on the field was a key asset for the Indians during their World Series run. He played primarily at third base but also started games in left field, second base and shortstop.

With Jason Kipnis out for at least a month because of shoulder inflammation, Ramirez is among the Indians’ options to play second base to begin the season.

Dolphins sign linebacker Kiko Alonso to four-year extension

The Miami Dolphins signed linebacker Kiko Alonso to a four-year contract extension Tuesday, the team announced.

“It means everything,” said Alonso, who led the Dolphins with 115 tackles last season in addition to two interceptions. “This is where I want to be. I’m just excited that it’s official that I’m staying here.”

Both sides have been in extension talks since the start of the offseason. Miami gave Alonso a first-round tender earlier this month to prevent the linebacker, a restricted free agent, from exploring his options with other teams. That also allowed the Dolphins more time to continue to work on an extension.

“I love my coaches,” Alonso said. “I love my teammates. I know we’re building something special here, and I want to be a part of it.”

Alonso played middle linebacker last year but is expected to move to outside linebacker in 2017 after the Dolphins signed middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons in free agency. Miami was 30th against the run last season and needs to get bigger and more physical in the middle of its defense.

“I haven’t talked to him yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to playing with him,” the 26-year-old Alonso said of Timmons. “He’s definitely one of the guys who I admire the way that he plays. The guy is a great player and I definitely look forward to playing with him.”

With Alonso, the Dolphins continue their offseason trend of signing their own players to extensions. The team also re-signed former Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones ($60 million), receiver Kenny Stills ($32 million) and defensive end Andre Branch ($24 million) in the past few weeks.

The Dolphins acquired Alonso in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles last season. Miami went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Rangers goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist resume skating in recovery

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is on track to return during a road trip late next week in California, if not sooner.

Coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday that Lundqvist has resumed skating and is “feeling a lot better.”

“Originally that was our mindset, that we were thinking he should be ready for that, and we haven’t changed,” Vigneault said of Lundqvist’s recovery timetable, which has him scheduled to return during a three-game road trip that begins against the Los Angeles Kings on March 25. “But I am saying to you he is feeling better, so we’ll see how he is moving forward here.”

Lundqvist suffered a strained hip March 7 against the Florida Panthers and has missed three games.

“He’s going through the on-ice process right now with [goaltender coach Benoit Allaire],” Vigneault said, according to NHL.com. “That’s a very important position, so we’ve got to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Lundqvist became the first goalie in NHL history to record at least 30 wins in 11 of his first 12 seasons after a win earlier this month.

“He’s going to skate every day unless they feel they need to give him a rest, but I talked to him just before coming here and he’s feeling a lot better,” Vigneault said.

Andre Iguodala was fined $ 10,000 for racist remarks

OAKLAND, Calif. — Golden State Warriors sixth man Andre Iguodala has been fined $10,000 by the NBA for racially insensitive remarks after Friday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Iguodala said Monday he didn’t have any comment on the NBA’s punishment.

On Friday, Iguodala was asked if he knew that he, along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, would be sitting out Saturday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs.

“Nope, no clue,” Iguodala replied. “I do what master say.”

He later clarified his remark to ESPN, saying it was in no way a shot directed at coach Steve Kerr and that it was only an inside locker room joke.

Iguodala also used the N-word repeatedly during his media address Friday. Fatigued by the condensed road schedule of the past two weeks, irked by four losses in the past six games, dealing with Kevin Durant’s injury and the team’s beef with the officiating Friday spilled over into postgame frustration.

After Warriors practice Monday but before the league announced his fine, Iguodala expressed regret for his comments’ effect on the team.

“I feel like it’s the wrong time because it puts my team in that situation and coaching staff in that situation,” he said. “I have a great relationship with Steve Kerr, and he knows that. Steve spoke to you guys about it, you know what I mean. Steve in his words, someone still may not believe him, but he and I are in a great place. We don’t even have to speak about it because he knew that in no way, shape or form that I’m talking about him.”

On whether the “inside joke” was actually directed at the media, Iguodala said: “I like to have fun with you guys. I shouldn’t say fun. I like to play mind games with you guys. But it still doesn’t take away from how someone may feel. A lot of guys may feel a certain way but they don’t know how to express it. But I may have chosen the wrong way to express it, but that’s my personal way of getting back at you guys a little bit.”

On Monday, Kerr reiterated what he said Saturday, that he wasn’t bothered by the comments.

“First of all, he wasn’t talking about me, just for the record,” Kerr said. “He and I have talked, and that’ll remain private. I wasn’t the slightest bit offended. I think as I mentioned the other night he has a very cryptic sense of humor. Only thing I would say is there’s certain humorous things you should say in the sanctity of the locker room and certain humorous things you might want to keep from the media, and that was one of them, and he knows that.”

On Saturday, Kerr said he didn’t take offense to the comments.

“You guys just got Andre’d,” Kerr said to a group of reporters prior to Saturday’s 107-85 loss to the Spurs. “You got Andre’d.”

“Andre is one of those guys who likes to stir the pot and has a lot of cryptic messaging at times,” Kerr added. “[He] jokes around. I didn’t take anything from it. It’s just Andre being Andre.”

Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha sat down after arresting traffic in Atlanta

ATLANTA — Hawks small forward Thabo Sefolosha has lost his starting job for one game after being trapped by Atlanta’s Friday traffic and showing up late for a practice.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says “Friday Atlanta traffic” was the reason Sefolosha was late for the walkthrough before Friday night’s game against Toronto. Tim Hardaway Jr., who already has earned increased minutes as a high-scoring top backup, is replacing Sefolosha in the lineup.

Budenholzer says the lineup change is for one game only.

Sefolosha has averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 52 games, including 35 starts.

Charles Johnson re-signed with the Panthers, hope Julius Pepper returned to Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After defensive end Charles Johnson on Tuesday re-signed on a two-year deal worth $9.5 million with the Carolina Panthers, he’s ready to help recruit free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers.

Johnson would like himself and Peppers, 37, to retire with the team that drafted them.

Peppers, who spent the past three seasons playing outside linebacker with the Packers, spent his first eight NFL seasons playing end at Carolina after being made the second pick of the 2002 draft. He still ranks first on the team’s all-time sack list with 81.

Johnson, 30, is second with 67.5 since Carolina selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Georgia.

Johnson made it clear Carolina is where he wants to retire and said it would be fitting if Peppers did the same thing in his home state.

“I just want to see him retire a Panther,” he said.

General manager Dave Gettleman admitted last week at the NFL combine that Carolina almost brought Peppers back in 2014 when he signed with Green Bay for the opportunity to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

“It sounded like it had a reasonable shot, and then the last minute he went to Green Bay,” he said.

Johnson said a couple of other teams offered him deals — a league source said he could have made more elsewhere — but none interested him.

“My decision was always to stick with my team,” Johnson said. “My passion is here. I’m going to stay where my passion and loyalty is at.”

Johnson also sent a special video message to Panthers fans on Twitter:

“We’ve got two years to get it done,” he said. “I’ll give you my blood, sweat and tears. I bleed black and blue, and that’s going to be ’til I retire.”

“It’s great to have Charles back,” coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. “He has spent his entire career with the Panthers, has emerged as a leader for us in the last few years, and is a big part of the reason we’ve had the success we’ve had. We look forward to having Charles continue to be part of our team.”

Johnson became known as “Big Money” when he signed a six-year, $76 million deal before the 2011 season that made him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

He was released after the 2015 season, when he had only one sack, to clear $11 million under the salary cap. He re-signed with the Panthers for a one-year, $3 million deal in an effort to prove he wasn’t washed up.

“They can’t call me ‘Big Money’ anymore,” Johnson said at the time. “They can’t say I’m wasted on the cap with this and that. I’m getting paid practice squad money, so I can just go out and play freely without all that extra attention to me.”

Johnson, who has been plagued by hamstring injuries over the past two seasons, was lauded by Rivera as Carolina’s most consistent defensive lineman in 2016. He had four sacks last season.

Johnson, who has spent his entire career with Carolina, was at his best with the Panthers from 2010 to 2013, when he had 44 sacks.

Le’Veon Bell says that if he’s healthy, Steelers will beat the Patriots in the AFC championship

PITTSBURGH — Le’Veon Bell wants a New England mulligan.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back says his team would have defeated the New England Patriots in the AFC title game if he had stayed healthy. A groin injury forced Bell out of action after six carries for 20 yards as the Patriots won 36-17.

“I think we beat them,” Bell said Friday on ESPN’s First Take when Stephen A. Smith asked him what would have happened if he hadn’t been hurt.

“When I was out there, I wasn’t feeling well at all. The fact I was out there [early in the game], their game plan was so different just because of the fact I was out there. If I go out there healthy and we go out there and do what we do, the way we’ve been doing it the whole season, especially in the playoffs, running the ball, running play-action, leaving [Antonio Brown] one-on-one … I think the outcome would have been different. We’ll get back to that next year.”

The Patriots have won four straight over Pittsburgh, which lost 27-16 to New England in the 2016 regular season. Bell said the Steelers “kind of gave that game away” in Week 7 and noted the team was playing without Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured.

With Bell hurt, the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown in the first three quarters of the AFC title game matchup. The offense also failed to score a touchdown against Kansas City in the divisional round.

Bell could have sparked the offense, but he couldn’t do much to stop Tom Brady, who has 22 touchdowns to zero interceptions in his past seven games against Pittsburgh.

Earlier this week, the Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell, who told First Take he would play under the $12.12 million tag if necessary. The Steelers are on record about wanting Bell — who averaged a franchise record 157 total yards per game last year — to retire in Pittsburgh. Bell said the 2017 Steelers have the players to contend for a Super Bowl.

“Obviously we want to come to an agreement,” Bell said. “If it doesn’t … I’m not trying to sit out a year. I’m going to go out there and play football and continue to do what I do. The sky’s the limit for our team.”

Eric Berry agreed for six years, totaling $ 78 million to deal with chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs have reached a six-year, $78 million deal with Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry that includes $40 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus, a source confirmed to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, it would be the most guaranteed money for any current safety contract. The NFL Network first reported the agreement between Berry and the Chiefs. Berry will earn $30 million in the first two years of the deal, a source told ESPN’s Adam Caplan.

The Chiefs announced the signing Tuesday but did not disclose financial terms of the contract.

“Keeping Eric Berry in a Chiefs uniform long term has been a significant goal of ours,” said Chiefs general manager John Dorsey. “He’s a special football player and an incredible person. We’re thrilled we were able to get this deal done.”

“I’m very happy for Eric and his family,” added Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “He has put in the hard work and preparation and is without question one of the backbones of our defense and a team leader. He’s a special player and an exceptional human being.”

Berry, 28, played on the Chiefs’ franchise tender in 2016 and had perhaps the best season of his seven-year NFL career.

He delivered a number of big plays that helped the Chiefs win close games. None was bigger than an interception late in the fourth quarter on a two-point conversion attempt that Berry returned for a score; those two points were crucial in lifting Kansas City to a 29-28 win at Atlanta in Week 13.

Big plays aside, Berry was a solid player against both the run and pass. The Chiefs used Berry in a variety of roles, sometimes as a deep safety and sometimes lined up close to the line of scrimmage, and he was equally effective in either role. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs allowed the third-lowest completion percentage on passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield last season.

Berry tied his career high with four interceptions and returned two for touchdowns to tie for the NFL lead in that category. He earned the fifth Pro Bowl selection of his career.

Off the field, Berry was a positive voice in Kansas City’s locker room and an inspiration to many of his teammates. Berry was diagnosed with lymphoma in November 2014 but returned to play by the start of the 2015 season and was named the AP Comeback Player of the Year.