Tom Brady will never say it, but he doesn’t have to. You can feel it burning behind the veneer mask he dons in public. Revenge is on his mind and after starting this season resigned to being a spectator, he now has the final say.
A man who has never been short on motivation, even after slipping four Super Bowl rings onto his fingers, was given another chip on his shoulder when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for four games for his alleged role in deflating footballs in 2015’s AFC Championship game against Indianapolis.
It didn’t matter that the evidence was scarce, the ideal gas law ignored and the league’s blatantly subjective investigation set to prove a conclusion from the start; Goodell wanted to send a message and with his unchecked power as judge, jury and executioner, he ultimately forced upon Brady an injustice.
The New England Patriots quarterback tried to fight it as long as he could, all while refraining from taking aim at Goodell and the league he helps make so much money as one of its premier stars.
But fighting words were never going to come. Brady is almost as good at minimising or avoiding potential distractions that could affect his team, as he is at recognising coverages. In his mind, the only ammo he had to get back at the NFL was in his right arm.
After putting together an MVP-worthy campaign and reaching his seventh Super Bowl, only the Atlanta Falcons remain standing in the way of an out-for-blood Brady and his reckoning with Goodell – the Patriots’ true adversary this season.
It’s also fitting, in the context of Brady’s quest, that less than 24 hours before New England thrashed the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Ryan Grigson was fired as Colts general manager.
Grigson was the one who passed on the rumour of deflated footballs to the NFL front office a day after his team was soundly smashed in the AFC title game.
But Grigson shouldn’t feel alone. The Baltimore Ravens, who had reportedly tipped off Indianapolis about deflated football, were taken care of by the Patriots in Week 14, a loss that helped keep them from reaching the playoffs.
You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when the Patriots brought Jimmy in, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack - it grew by one, so where there two - there were two of us in the wolf pack. I was alone first in the pack and then Jimmy joined in later. And nine months ago, when the Patriots introduced me to Jacoby, I thought 'Wait a second, could it be?' And I knew for sure- I just added another guy to my wolf pack. So today, I make a toast! Blood brothers!
As far as the rest of the teams in the league, all of whom must have been hoping four games without Brady would finally spell New England’s demise, they were left shaking their heads when the Patriots started the year 3-1 behind back-up and third-string quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
There are no more victims on the hit list, other than the big bad guy himself. The only object left is to beat the Falcons and gleefully soak up the moment when Goodell hands over the Lombardi Trophy.
There will be nowhere for Goodell to run and hide to then, like he has throughout this season and playoffs by choosing to stay away from Gillette Stadium in an obvious attempt to escape the thunderous amount of vitriol.
While the Patriots were aligning their path straight for Goodell against the Steelers on Sunday, the fans were raining down chants of “Ro-ger, Ro-ger”.
Brady claimed he didn’t hear it, but even if you believe that to be true, you can be sure Goodell’s name has been ringing in his head for months now.
One more and the revenge tour will be complete.
The former shot-blocker was in London for the NBA Global Games and ran a clinic for Jr. NBA players at the O2 Arena.
In between, he took some time out to discuss spreading the game he loves, his humanitarian efforts and why players should use their platform for worthy causes.
Mutombo also talked about the modern game and where it is at the moment and gave Sacramento Kings centre DeMarcus Cousins his seal of approval as the best big man in the NBA.
The 28-year-old wasn’t named as an All-Star starter but how have you rated his performances this term?
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JAY ASSER, REPORTER, SAYS YES
Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double after 44 games. Only one player in NBA history, Oscar Robertson in 1961-62, has averaged a triple-double for an entire season.
For many, that alone would settle the MVP discussion, making it an open-and-shut case. I am not one of those people.
Raw numbers built on the foundation of high volume are not appealing to me. Scoring 30 points on 25 shots is, in a vacuum, much less impressive than scoring 25 points on 15 shots. Efficiency matters. A lot.
So it would only make sense to consider James Harden, who has undeniably been a more efficient player this season, the leader for MVP, right?
No, because you know what else matters? Context.
Westbrook and Harden aren’t in environments with the same controlled variables. We’ll never know for sure how they would fare if put in each other’s situation, but what we do know is one has less around him to work with.
Harden has enjoyed many more wins this season, but he’s also on a better team where a lot of credit should go to coach Mike D’Antoni for his up-tempo, bombs-away style of play and general manager Daryl Morey for assembling a roster to fit that vision. The same can’t be said for Westbrook, who no longer has Kevin Durant – or even Serge Ibaka – to help carry the burden. And yet, the Thunder appear on track to reach the playoffs as a mid-seed.
More than the triple-double average though, the stat that best demonstrates Westbrook’s value are the on/off court numbers. OKC’s offensive and defensive rating (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions) are both improved when he’s on the floor, with the net rating plus-4.6 on and minus-11.1 off. For Harden, Houston’s defensive rating actually improves when he’s on the bench, while overall they’re plus-7.5 with him on and plus-3.8 off.
The gap between the two leading MVP candidates is incredibly slim, but the former is more necessary to his team.
Fans weren't the only ones upset about Russell Westbrook's All-Star snub. https://t.co/ck1OPqOi8Z— ESPN (@espn) January 20, 2017
James Piercy, Deputy Editor, SAYS NO
Russell Westbrook is having a superhuman season and in the truest sense of MVP – Most Valuable Player – it’s tough to argue beyond the Tasmanian devil, who’s at the heart of everything the Thunder do.
That said, for all his comic book-esque performances, should we be surprised?
His triple double averages of 30.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.6 rebounds are incredible but in assists he’s matching his mark of last term; his defensive rebounds have increased but his offensive boards have remained about the same; but it’s in points where the biggest gain has been made – up 7.1 from 15/16.
This was inevitable, though, when Kevin Durant walked out of the Chesapeake Arena to sign for Golden State.
Westbrook was simply going to see an awful lot more of the ball. He’s taking an average of more than five more shots per game, while his useage rate (the number of team plays ending with him shooting, turning the ball over or getting fouled) has spiked 10.3 per cent, from 31.6 to 41.9.
Is Westbrook exceeding expectations or just playing to previously-high levels with much more of the ball?
And just because they lost Durant and an increasingly-inneffectual Serge Ibaka, doesn’t mean OKC are all of a sudden a bad team, either.
Westbrook may be the difference between playoffs or lottery, but in terms of where they should be in the Western Conference, they are only marginally operating above preseason predictions.
When you consider the dramatic change in Houston – 34-13 compared to 25-22 at this stage last season – with James Harden marginally down on Westbrook in points but producing more assists and higher shooting percentages, against a lower useage rate (33.9).
Or that LeBron James has made Cleveland arguably a better team that last season, while touching career-high numbers in shooting percentage, assists and rebounds; all at the age 32.
Or that Durant has walked into last season’s best-performing team and become their key player, it’s far
from an open and shut case.