Like quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski will not attend the start of New England’s offseason program Monday, according to a source.
Gronkowski still is considering whether to play the upcoming 2018 season, and has had “good communication” with the Patriots, per the source.
Gronkowski has a $250,000 workout bonus in his contract for 2018, which is paid out based on attending a percentage of the voluntary workouts.
Brady also is not expected to attend the start of the offseason program; he has been on a business trip to Qatar. In other years, Brady has been a regular participant at the team’s offseason program, but he will miss at least the beginning this year.
“We have the voluntary offseason program that starts on Monday,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said last week. “It will be heavily attended, but I know there are a couple players that I’ve talked to that have other commitments, but that’s the way it always is. So, not really anything new there.”
Information from ESPN’s Mike Reiss was used in this report.
It caps a remarkable Premier League season that has seen City lose just twice thus far and win 28 of their 33 matches with a record-breaking run of 18 successive victories between August and December.
They have equalled the record for quickest title success held by United’s 2000-01 team, winning the league with five games remaining.
It’s a happy ending to a disappointing week that saw them dumped out of the Champions League by Liverpool and blow a 2-0 lead in the Manchester derby that would have seen them claim the crown against their bitter rivals.
City need just nine points from their final games to set a new record for most Premier League points, while another 11 goals would see them set a new goal-scoring record.
It’s the third Premier League success for the club after the titles won in 2012 under Roberto Mancini and 2014 under Manuel Pellegrini with captain Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure involved in all of them.
But it’s the first title success for many of Guardiola’s key players including PFA Player of the Year nominees Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane and Young Player of the Year hopefuls Raheem Sterling and goalkeeper Ederson.
Embiid had told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne prior to Saturday night’s playoff opener that he was optimistic about playing in Game 2 or 3.
“If it was my decision, I would play, but I can’t get back out on the court if I don’t have the OK from them,” Embiid said. “But everything has been going well. I’ve been able to do everything. And I feel great. So we got a pretty good chance for Game 2 or Game 3. We gonna see how it feels in the next couple of days.”
Game 3 is set for Thursday night in Miami. The 76ers lead the series 1-0 after a 130-103 victory Saturday.
Embiid said he has lost some weight since he suffered a broken orbital bone and concussion in a collision with teammate Markelle Fultz on March 28. He had surgery to repair the fracture and missed the final eight games of the regular season.
PHILADELPHIA — Brett Brown found it early on. A way of coping with what he’d been tasked to endure as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers and the notorious process. A peace that perhaps only he could’ve found.
It feels like a long time ago now. The 26-game losing streak. The nightly bashing fans had a choice of attending. The worst four-year period of any team in NBA history. That stage of the process was genuinely miserable to endure.
So Brown ran. He had to.
“Losing fatigues you,” Brown once told me. “You had to fight it.”
Six days a week, 45 minutes a day. Sometimes with music, sometimes alone with his thoughts. Once the Sixers started winning this season, Brown kept up the routine. It’s all part of it.
“I run faster now,” Brown joked after Philadelphia blasted the Miami Heat 130-103 Saturday in Game 1 of their first playoff game in six years.
“For whatever reason, I have found peace with what we have been doing since I’ve had the job,” Brown told ESPN. “We have tried to stay steady throughout it all. And I hope I still do. I really mean that. You had to have a vision and a calling. But we want more. Ultimately, we’re trying to grow something that can produce a championship.”
The coach in him knows Saturday was only one win, that they’ll need to build off that win for this whole endeavor — the four years of YOLO-tanking to get players at the top of the draft such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric who could develop into superstar, championship-caliber players — to be called a success.
So, after the game, Brown was already on to scheming for the adjustments the Heat will inevitably make before Monday’s Game 2. The Sixers won this game by pushing the pace and shooting the lights out from beyond the 3-point arc (18-for-28, 64 percent).
Their 130 points were the most Miami has ever given up in a playoff game and the most the 76ers have scored in a playoff game since 1986.
This series was always going to be influenced by pace of play. Simply put, Philly likes to play fast, while Miami milks the clock and slows things down. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Embiid went down because of a fractured left orbital bone and a concussion on March 28, the Sixers led the league in pace at 106.1 possessions per 48 minutes. Even when Embiid played, though, the Sixers ranked fifth in the league in pace of play.
Miami on the other hand, was the fifth-slowest team in the league at 97.8 possessions per 48 minutes.
In the playoffs, pace generally slows down and teams need to execute in the half court. That seemed to be the case in the first half, as the Heat held the Sixers to 56 points on just 39 percent shooting from the field.
Then Brown inserted Ersan Ilyasova into the lineup at center in place of starter Amir Johnson to start the second half, hoping to create more space and unbalance the frontcourt matchups.
The Hawks castoff responded with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field and seven rebounds in the third quarter on his way to a 17-point, 14-rebound night. Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were both acquired by the Sixers after being bought out by the obviously tanking Hawks. On Saturday night, they combined for 42 points, 7 3-pointers and 16 rebounds off the bench.
“I think it’s all about fitting in the right situation,” Ilyasova said. “Me and Marco, the way this team plays, we fit in perfectly in the system.”
“When you look at the locker room and see the guys we have, obviously when Jo [Embiid] gets back, the sky’s the limit,” Ilyasova said.
That’s how it felt after Game 1. After the four years of losing. After extending this 17-game win streak that has the entire city buzzing. It has been a hell of a year in Philadelphia already, with the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and Villanova coasting to its second NCAA title in three years. It’s also too soon to get ahead of the process for these young Sixers.
“They don’t get two wins, three wins for this. It’s one win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game.
JJ Redick describes the impact the home crowd made in Philadelphia’s first game of the NBA playoffs.
Somehow the Heat have to find a way to get more out of center Hassan Whiteside, who played only 12 minutes and scored two points. Spoelstra explained it as a decision because of matchups. But as the highest-paid player on the team, it’s hard to see the Heat winning a series without a more significant contribution from him.
Then there’s Dwyane Wade, who was presumably being saved for the playoffs. He played only 19 minutes Saturday despite hitting 4 of 7 shots and dishing out four assists. If the Heat are going to play the games on their terms, as Spoelstra suggested they must to get back in the series, there also has to be a larger role for Wade.
Those are adjustments and storylines for Game 2, though.
Saturday night was about the long journey everyone in Philadelphia has taken to get to this night.
PORTLAND, Ore. — The New Orleans Pelicans needed to sweat out the franchise’s first playoff win since 2011 — the first under the Pelicans moniker they adopted before the 2013-14 season and the first of Anthony Davis‘ career.
The last time New Orleans reached the postseason, in 2014-15, the Pelicans led the eventual champion Golden State Warriors by 20 points at the start of the third quarter of Game 3 only to lose the game in overtime and eventually get swept. Game 1 of New Orleans’ series with the Portland Trail Blazers looked as if it might be déjà vu.
Up 19 late in the third quarter, the Pelicans allowed the Blazers to cut the lead to just one point in the final minute with two opportunities to take the lead. New Orleans’ defense came up big both times, forcing a CJ McCollum turnover and a Damian Lillard miss. Then, after two Davis free throws, Jrue Holiday blocked Pat Connaughton‘s layup to seal a 97-95 victory Saturday night at the Moda Center.
After the game, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry raved about Holiday’s defensive effort.
“It’s funny because we always put a clip on [the video edit] that says ‘game-winning plays’ and today it actually was Jrue blocking [Connaughton’s] shot in the Portland game,” Gentry said. “Same guy, almost the exact same area and he came up with another block. I just think, like I’ve said, with Kawhi Leonard not dressed and playing, I don’t know if there’s a better two-way player in the game.”
For much of the night, it looked as if Portland would be lucky not to get blown out. Facing extra defensive attention in the pick-and-roll, Lillard and McCollum shot a combined 1-of-15 from the field in the first half. By the time they found a rhythm late in the third, New Orleans had nearly pushed the lead to 20 points. But the Blazers got just enough production from Lillard and their bench to stay in contact and keep the home crowd in the game.
The Pelicans still led by 13 with 5:08 left but wouldn’t score again for more than 2½ minutes. A McCollum 3-pointer capped an 18-4 Portland run that made the score 93-92 with almost exactly a minute left.
Ultimately, New Orleans got enough from its best players. Davis, who averaged 31.5 points in the series sweep by Golden State in 2014, had 35 points on 14-of-26 shooting this time around — along with 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. Holiday, given the primary defensive assignment on Lillard, also found enough energy to score 21 points at the other end. And Nikola Mirotic added a double-double of his own alongside Davis, knocking down four 3-pointers, blocking four shots and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Then there was Rajon Rondo, who again found another gear in the playoffs. Rondo handed out 17 assists, tying Chris Paul for the most by a Pelicans player, and grabbed eight rebounds. Rondo made only three field goals but one of them was crucial: a layup with two minutes left that, along with an Ian Clark 3 on the previous possession, helped stem Portland’s run and started what has the look of a competitive series with a New Orleans road victory.
“They always say a series doesn’t start until you win on the road,” Gentry said. “I just think if you can win the first game it kind of takes the total edge off.”
Lillard countered: “It’s started now then. We can’t let tonight’s loss go into the next game and we’ve got to tighten up, come back sharper and take care of home court next game.”
There’s still a long way to go for New Orleans to win the franchise’s first playoff series in a decade, and only the second in 16 years since the NBA returned to the Big Easy. But on this night, any playoff win was worth celebrating for the Pelicans.
“It means a lot to get that monkey off your back, to get that first win,” Davis said. “But now that’s over with. We want to come in Tuesday and get another one.”
“It’s sad news. That’s a brother to me,” Prescott said from a women’s clinic he was hosting at Episcopal Parish School in Dallas. “Put the football stuff behind you, and what he meant to me as a person, what he meant to me as a brother, it’s tough to see him go. It shows you it’s a business. All it does is motivate me and puts all this in perspective. Just got to go to work.”
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones met with Bryant for roughly 20 minutes on Friday, as Jones made the move without offering Bryant a pay cut. The Cowboys saved $8.5 million against the salary cap by cutting Bryant, the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions.
Prescott was at The Star working out with teammates when the news came that Bryant had been released.
“Dez is going to be a hard guy to replace,” Prescott said. “He’s a talented guy, so he’ll be missed.”
In an interview with NFL Network, Bryant insinuated that coaches played a part in his release as well as players he labeled as “Garrett guys” and captains.
“I mean, I’m sure he’s hearing stuff, and I’m sure he’s getting it from a lot of different ways, so I mean, I’m not going to finger-point at anybody,” Prescott said. “I’m not going to get upset for who he’s pointing at or who he thinks did this. So I mean, as I said, it’s a business, and it’s part of it.”
Prescott said he heard the speculation that Bryant could be released throughout the offseason, but “I can’t say that I actually thought that it would fully happen.”
The Cowboys made a serious run at signing Sammy Watkins at the opening of free agency, which would have ended Bryant’s tenure with the team in mid-March. Eventually, they signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson. They have visited with and worked out almost all of the top receivers in the draft, including Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, Courtland Sutton and James Washington.
Bryant’s production decreased since he signed a five-year, $70 million contract in 2015. He battled through foot and knee injuries and was hurt by ineffective quarterback play in 2015 after Tony Romo was hurt. Prescott and Bryant finished strong to close the 2016 season (six of Bryant’s eight touchdowns came in the second half of the season), but they never got on the same page in 2017.
Bryant finished with 69 catches for 839 yards and six scores but did not have a 100-yard game for the first time since 2011.
“He was a great player,” Prescott said. “He did a lot of great things for us, obviously. I mean, he was a guy in man-to-man [coverage] you go to. So I mean, at this point we’ve got to figure that out with the guys we got, and I’m sure we’re going to go after guys in the draft and free agency, who knows? All I can do is continue to get better at my job and just do the best I can.”
OAKLAND, Calif. — The shorthanded San Antonio Spurs thought they had adequately prepared for Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs against Golden State, but coach Gregg Popovich expressed surprise and disappointment Saturday in a squad he said “looked like a deer in headlights” in a 113-92 loss.
“I thought we were very prepared physically and mentally,” Popovich said. “But I was mistaken. As I said, we looked like deer in the headlights. The defense was really poor as far as following game plan of the first quarter, and it’s a bad combination to play defense like that and not shoot at the other end.”
Golden State outscored San Antonio 40-24 in 16 minutes with its starting lineup on the floor, as it put together a defensive efficiency rating of 71.1. With the lineup of Iguodala, Thompson, Durant, Green and McGee on the floor, the Warriors didn’t allow an offensive rebound and outscored San Antonio 16-6 in the paint, while connecting on 64 percent from the field, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.
Starting Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray agreed with Popovich’s deer-in-headlights assessment.
“That’s fair enough. Hats off to Golden State,” Murray said. “They did what they’re supposed to do, which is protect home court. They won the first game. I think we came out not mentally prepared. As a group, there could be four guys prepared and one not prepared, but at the end of the day it’s a group. When you’ve got one half prepared and one half not prepared, it doesn’t work. I thought we were not mentally prepared. They made shots and they executed and they did what they did.”
Veteran guard Danny Green characterized the Spurs as a team that was “overly excited,” having made the postseason for the 21st consecutive year, despite a turbulent season rife with highs and lows with the Spurs competing without their best player in two-time All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard.
“We had a lot of juices flowing, adrenaline, rushing,” Green said. “Some were a little bit strong. We were overreacting to a lot of things because we’re so excited we’re in the playoffs, and playing the best team in the world.”
San Antonio entered the postseason considering itself underdogs against the defending champion Warriors. Having shouldered the offensive load for the entire season with Leonard out of the picture, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge struggled, scoring 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
Aldridge said the extra attention applied by Golden State’s defense caused him to “overthink” things. The Spurs finished with an efficiency rating of 38 percent in the paint but received only 13 opportunities with a player getting his first touch of a possession in the paint, which registered as 16 fewer chances than the Warriors. San Antonio took only eight shots in the paint, according to Second Spectrum.
“We’ve got to regroup; feel hurt, upset, kind of desperate,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “We don’t want to go home [down] 0-2. But at the same time, we’ve got to be smarter. Offensively, we’re going to have to move the ball better, sharper, be more aggressive and see what happens. We are underdogs. We’ve talked about it. To get a win here, we’ve got to overachieve. We’ve got to do better than we think we can do [to] even [the series]. So we’ll fight as hard as we can in Game 2.”
“We’re a championship ball club,” Green said after the Warriors routed the San Antonio Spurs113-92 on Saturday in Game 1 of the first-round series. “We know what it takes this time of year in order to win. You know, we want to get back to that, regardless of what everyone is saying. ‘The Warriors have lost it. They are not together. They can’t win without Steph [Curry]. They are not the same team. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.'”
The defending champs won only seven of their final 17 regular-season contests. Some players attributed the poor finish to the Warriors’ having nothing to play for in the final weeks because they had the No. 2 seed locked up. Others admitted to playing timid, with an emphasis on avoiding injuries.
Green, who had 12 points, 8 rebounds and a game-high 11 assists Saturday, cautioned onlookers to not be fooled by how the Warriors finished the regular season.
“We know what we’re capable of,” he said. “You know, there has been games that we’ve won without Steph — a series. Same as Kevin, myself. We’ve won games without myself. We’ve won games without Klay. We’ve won games without our head coach. So we’re primed for this. I think a lot of people tend to forget what we’re capable of. We know. We’re going to show that.”
Kevin Durant played the basketball equivalent of quarterback Saturday, running the offense while contributing 24 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Klay Thompson scored a game-high 27 points.
To instill a defensive spark, Warriors coach Steve Kerr started Andre Iguodala at point guard and JaVale McGee at center. San Antonio was held to 40 percent shooting, and McGee suffocated Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge, who was held to 14 points on 5-of-14 from the field.
“Just wanted to put our best defensive lineup on the floor from the beginning,” Kerr said. “I think the whole point of these games here early in this series is to re-establish our defense. I think you guys know, over the last month or so, our defense has been subpar. [You] can’t win in this league in the playoffs unless you defend, and they defended tonight, and we went with our best defensive group.”
Game 2 is on Monday, and even though the Warriors are short-handed, they are confident that their team-first mentality will carry them through.
“It’s not just one guy who has the ball all the time and making all the plays,” Durant said. “I think that’s the beauty of our team: that all of us can go off and score 30 or get eight, nine assists or grab 11 rebounds. That’s just the beauty of our team, and all of us chip in when it comes to facilitating and orchestrating.”
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid said that his rehabilitation from a broken orbital bone and concussion has been going well, and “we got a pretty good chance for Game 2 or Game 3.”
Embiid told ESPN prior to Saturday night’s playoff opener against the Miami Heat that he still has to prove that he can withstand contact before he will be cleared to return, but he has been ramping up his on-court work in recent days and has been able to do everything that has been thrown at him thus far.
“If it was my decision, I would play, but I can’t get back out on the court if I don’t have the OK from them,” Embiid said. “But everything has been going well. I’ve been able to do everything. And I feel great. So we got a pretty good chance for Game 2 or Game 3. We gonna see how it feels in the next couple of days.
“I got to do some contact stuff and see how it feels, and then they are going to allow me to be back. I did a little bit today, kind of like dummy defense — not really contact but, like, a body on me.”
The Sixers host Game 2 on Monday night, with Game 3 set for Thursday night in Miami.
Embiid says he has lost some weight since he suffered the injury in a collision with teammate Markelle Fultz on March 28. He had surgery to repair the fracture and missed the last eight games of the regular season.
“I was 280-something, and I’m, like, 275 right now, which is surprising because usually when I’m out, I gain weight,” Embiid said. “I think it has to do a lot with body mass.”
Embiid had been restricted in his weight lifting and conditioning since the injury, but he said he has been able to ramp up those activities lately as well.
He spent about 30 minutes shooting on the court before Saturday’s game. During that time, he wore a black, protective mask that he says he prefers to a white or clear mask.
“The white, clear mask is kind of harder, visibility-wise. It gets foggy and all that,” Embiid said. “[But] we still gotta get the league to approve the black mask. There’s a few options, so we gonna see how that goes.”
Asked if he’d take Philadelphia Eagles lineman Chris Long up on his offer to wear a dog mask, like the Eagles did on their way to winning the Super Bowl, Embiid laughed.
“That would be, like, good business marketing, like my first game back, they had masks all over the place,” he said.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State fan favorite Ryan Shazier visited the spring game Saturday and stood without assistance to cheers from the crowd at his alma mater.
The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker is recovering from a devastating spinal injury suffered in a Dec. 4 game against the Bengals.
Shazier, an honorary captain of one of the squads, drove a golf cart to midfield and climbed out to stand briefly to fire up the crowd. He then embraced the other honorary captain, former Ohio State cornerback and current Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“Every day I’m getting a lot better and I’m able to move around more,” Shazier told ESPN’s Marty Smith. “I’m doing a thousand times better than I was in December.”
Shazier said he is grateful for the outpouring of support from people “from Pittsburgh to California to Ohio to Italy, all over the country, all over the world,” who have reached out to him and prayed for him.
The love and support “really helps me push even harder every day,” Shazier said.
He also spoke to the team before the game. He told reporters that “I am feeling a lot better than I was.”