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A Boston sports-themed trip to the Oscars

Posted by Adam Kaufman  March 2, 2014 11:28 PM

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The intertwining beauty of film and sport is the never-ending circle of celebration. Just as new movies are released on a weekly basis throughout the year, at least one of our favorite teams is always in season. The drama, real or imagined, is unending.

Take today, for instance. Our sports calendar features the Bruins just hours away from the NHL’s trade deadline and the Red Sox immersed in spring training games with the new baseball season starting later this month. The Patriots are surrounded by rumors and rumblings of roster reconstruction and the Celtics, for better or worse, are lottery-bound. The latter will give local fans even more incentive to fixate on a certain college basketball tournament that will break hearts and wallets in a few short weeks.

And, in Hollywood, Sunday night brought movie buffs the Oscars.

So, how about we blend the two?

Rather than going back over the last year to hand out Best Everything, let’s do this a little differently. You’re already well-versed in the biggest moments and stories in Boston sports dating back through 2013, and I don’t want to be responsible for snubbing David Ortiz in Best Sound Editing since he wasn’t, ya know, edited.

Instead, let’s use this year’s nine Best Picture nominees as a guide, sometimes in theme and often in title alone. In other words, there’s no need to infer something controversial that doesn’t exist when those movies were powerful and this is in jest. Capisce?

American Hustle

As far as I know, nothing in Boston sports lately linked directly or even remotely to a con man, an attractive hustler with two identities and a closet full of low-cut outfits, or an FBI agent with a perm. What we have had, though, is the idea of an individual portraying a situation in one manner when in all likelihood it will be quite another.

According to Boston Globe colleague Nick Cafardo, the agents for Red Sox lefty Jon Lester have engaged in at least two extension-related discussions with Boston brass. It will be fascinating to learn the terms, provided a deal is reached.

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Over the last couple of months, Lester’s done a tremendous job to garner public support by saying he’d accept a hometown discount to remain with the only big league team he’s ever known, while Ortiz has frequently griped about his contract situation. It’s been quite the study of how two local favorites could handle a somewhat similar position – at least in that they’re both in line to hit free agency next winter – in such a strikingly different manner.

That’s where the hustle comes in. Recently, it’s become more apparent that Lester’s definition of a hometown discount may be quite different than what the fans and maybe his team had in mind. He doesn’t view himself in the same ballpark as Clayton Kershaw, who will average $30.7 million over the next seven years, but he may wish to align himself with the likes of Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels, pitchers who earn at least $24 million per year on average.

If Lester inks a new deal with the Sox in that neighborhood and fans are happy about it, while those same people blast Ortiz for wanting another $15 mil tacked onto his contract, that’s quite the hustle. Irving and Sydney would be proud.

Captain Phillips

Suppose, instead of uttering defiant things like, “It’s my business, not yours” when faced with questions about the now infamous Birthdaygate, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo just said, “Look at me. I’m the captain now.”

You can’t say you wouldn’t have at least smirked.

The C’s controversial captain is as mesmerizing off the court as he is on it, which is part of why his decision to skip a team trip to Sacramento – for a game he wasn’t slated to play in – to remain in Los Angeles with family and friends to celebrate his milestone 28th birthday went from a passing note to a media firestorm. It was a misguided decision for any player, let alone the newly named leader and face of the franchise. It was arguably just as regrettable – unless you’re Rondo, of course – that he didn’t apologize for his error in judgment in an effort to squash the hullabaloo. A misunderstanding or not, the guard clearly doesn’t believe he was in the wrong and was unwilling to say so.

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Nevertheless, management, coaches, and players all say they’ve moved on. What remains to be seen is if there are any lingering effects on the relationships between Rondo and head coach Brad Stevens, the star and president Danny Ainge, who’s praised him at every opportunity, and even Stevens and Ainge. Were the latter two on the same page, or did Ainge leave his new bench boss out to dry?

Welcome to the NBA, where players may not be leaders, but they do lead the conversation. Maybe, in retrospect, Rondo did say, “I’m the captain now” – to his coach. On the plus side, it’s probably the first time Stevens has been compared to Tom Hanks. It’s not life or death, as with Captain Phillips and Muse, but it continues to be a wonder by many if the Celtics can survive long-term with Rondo.

Dallas Buyers Club

In this case, we’ll veer from the story and delve only into the name. With the NHL’s Olympic break behind us, it’s as good a time as any to revisit the summer blockbuster between the Bruins and Stars.

In a lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, Boston finished fourth in the Eastern Conference but got hot at the right time and pushed the regular season champion Blackhawks to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Dallas, on the other hand, missed the playoffs by seven points. Pardon the pun, but the Stars were in fact buyers.

With about a quarter of this season remaining, the Bruins sit second in the East – just three points back of the Penguins – while the Stars would be the West’s second Wild Card.

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Without the distraction of Twitter or a public nightlife, Tyler Seguin’s amassed 25 goals and 32 assists and he’s on pace for career-highs across the board. Rich Peverley’s been adequate with 27 points.

For the B’s, Reilly Smith – not the deal’s non-Seguin centerpiece, Loui Eriksson – has been a revelation. In his first full NHL season, Smith is tied for third on the team with 18 goals and sits fourth with 44 points. He’s shined on multiple lines and on special teams. Eriksson got off to a slow start and has suffered multiple concussions, but he’s thrived since just prior to the break and on through his time in Sochi. He’s up to 6 goals and 22 points through 40 games – a far cry from his 30-goal, 70-point averages over his previous four full seasons – but he’s healthy now and playing well.

Even the less heralded players to come to Boston like defensive prospect Joe Morrow has put together a solid year in Triple-A Providence, and winger Matt Fraser has 17 goals in the minors despite lending a hand for 17 big league games.

In short, the trade has worked out for both sides. Arguably better for Boston. All right, all right, all right.

Gravity

Gravity was about as big a force on the Red Sox in 2013 as it was for Dr. Ryan Stone when she was hurdling through space.

Save for Joel Hanrahan, basically every move general manager Ben Cherington made last season hit on the way to Boston’s most unlikely championship since the 2001 Patriots. Comeback and walk-off wins were the norm, the offense led the majors in runs, perceived role players starred, key arms stayed mostly healthy, and the bullpen was electric in the postseason.

A duck boat parade later, it’s spring training again in Fort Myers and it’s a wonder if Boston’s baseball finest will be pulled back to Earth.

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While the pitching depth appears to be strong – maybe even superior to last season’s efforts if health proves less of a concern – the offense features loads of questions from players lacking in experience to those with so much their age causes anxiety.

Jacoby Ellsbury was the club’s biggest loss, but the Sox won’t miss him nearly as much in center field as they will at the top of the lineup. As it stands, Shane Victorino or Daniel Nava (or a platoon of the two) will slide in at the top of the order, though Grady Sizemore and Jonny Gomes have seen reps there early in camp. Sizemore hasn’t played regularly since 2009, but there’s a remote chance he could make the team out of camp and unseat Ellsbury’s expected replacement, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Xander Bogaerts should make up for the loss of Stephen Drew on offense but he’s a rookie and there are no guarantees, just as there are no certainties in what to expect from Will Middlebrooks at third after he’s spent parts of the last two seasons in the minors.

The impatient A.J. Pierzynski may very well be a drop-off from Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the plate, and Ortiz, despite his historic run last year, is still 38.

There’s a reason oddsmakers have set Boston’s over-under for wins at 87.5 this year after a 97-win season a year ago: Gravity.

Her

Ah, only in an advanced society using artificial intelligence could many of us hope to be romantically linked to Scarlett Johansson. Boston athletes would have a better chance than most reading this, but that’s not really the focus here.

Hockey fans are instead setting their sights on Him – the mystery defenseman Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli hopes to acquire in advance of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.

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With Dennis Seidenberg done for the year, Andrew Ference off in Edmonton, Adam McQuaid physically limited at the moment, and the playoff workload uncertainties surrounding youngsters Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, and Torey Krug, the B’s can seemingly only look to captain Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk for defensive reliability come the postseason. And that’s provided nothing unforeseen happens in the final 22 games of the regular season.

The Bruins need to make a move for a veteran presence of defense. Goalie Tuukka Rask is among the league’s best in net, but he’ll need the same kind of help in front of him that he received en route to the Cup Final in 2013.

Dan Girardi is off the table after signing an extension with the Rangers. Chris Phillips and Andrew MacDonald are the hot names. The biggest question is what it will require in terms of players on the current roster, prospects, and/or draft picks to get a deal done for a high-caliber rental or a player with remaining time on his contract. Plus, there will be far more buyers than sellers, and that will inevitably drive up the price for contenders like the B’s.

Fantasy love seems easier.

Nebraska

Consider the following attributes of this movie: it features an older man, headstrong and sometimes misguided in his beliefs and in a symbolic display it is shot in black and white. Add to that the dynamic between father and son.

Clearly that’s a real surface-explanation but take those lines at face value and it sounds an awful lot like life in Foxborough, doesn’t it?

Patriots coach Bill Belichick will have a number of challenging decisions to make this offseason after a demoralizing loss in the AFC Championship. That began with the release of Steve Gregory and will continue with the evaluation of countless others, including captain Vince Wilfork and his hefty contract that may require a restructuring or an all-out elimination.

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Moreover, the coach will have to decide whether to slap cornerback Aqib Talib or receiver Julian Edelman with the franchise tag, which is unlikely given the lofty dollar signs in excess of $11 million that would come with either move. Belichick and ownership would surely like to bring both players back. Talib completely alters New England defensively when healthy, and Edelman was Tom Brady’s only reliable target absent an injured Rob Gronkowski.

That said, the Pats take their player market assessments very seriously when it comes to economics and they stay true to those numbers, sometimes to a fault. Ask owner Robert Kraft again how much he’d have liked Wes Welker to re-sign with the Patriots, not that money was the only factor there.

The NFL combine is behind us, coaching and other personnel changes have been made, the draft awaits, free agency is approaching, and Brady must be curious if the team will improve upon its offensive depth as his championship window closes. Or, at the very least, pad a defense that has the potential to be elite.

Ironically, while Belichick weighs those matters, his cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is sitting in a jail cell. In Nebraska.

Philomena

There’s obviously no comparison here to an Irishwoman losing her son and embarking upon a journey to find him decades later, especially when that story is true. But, in the spirit of seeking what was once lost, several Boston athletes find themselves in pursuit of second chances.

Between the Patriots and Red Sox, Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Sizemore are all hoping to put serious injury histories behind them in 2014 and contribute for full seasons for the first time since, in best-case scenarios, 2011.

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Other Pats like Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Sebastian Vollmer will also be hoping for bounce-back years health-wise, while teammate Dont’a Hightower will try to prove in his third year that he was worth a first-round selection.

Bruins winger Jordan Caron, another former first-rounder, is hoping to find his opportunity to again be an influential player on the ice. Once a member of the top four units, he’s now mostly a reserve forward. If he doesn’t do something soon, Caron’s next move may be out of town.

The Sox also have players like Middlebrooks, who’s yet to display he’s a full-time player in two previous seasons, or Edward Mujica, a star in St. Louis before being shunned last October. Then there’s Francisco Cordero, a 38-year-old journeyman reliever eyeing one last chance after a year out of the game.

And, however unlikely, Rondo may just make an effort to silence his doubters, rather than fanning the flames.

Hopefully there’s a reunion waiting for each of the aforementioned players with what once made them great. Or, in Rondo’s case, likeable.

12 Years a Slave

As we know, the subject of this film is far more significant and serious than any sporting event. Any link in this section will be in title alone.

Time is often measured by perspective.

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Since February 3, 2002, Boston has ditched the Loserville label for the more enviable City of Champions. In that time, four of the city’s professional teams have enjoyed eight titles and four second-place finishes. Those dozen years have whizzed by in a blink.

Compare that to the 12 years prior, when those same clubs reached two championship rounds (1990 Bruins, 1996 Patriots) and didn’t win either. In relative sports terms, it felt like an eternity. Fans once hung on every pitch, swing, shot, hit, or throw for months on end. Now, we take regular seasons for granted. Our spoiled expectations for greatness have lessened our appreciation of what it takes to reach such highs.

With Belichick and Brady, Patriots seasons are viewed under the guise of title-or-bust. Super Bowl losses in recent years have been deemed failures. The Bruins have battled for two Stanley Cups in three years and their best players are relatively young and under contract. At least a trip to the conference finals tend to justify their seasons. The Red Sox endured a difficult 18 months but responded in the unlikeliest of ways as their scrappy (well-paid) underdogs won for the third time in a decade; the same team that hadn’t won previously in 86 years. The question now is whether they can do it again. As for the Celtics, they’re likely at least a few years away from raising another banner to the rafters. Until then, only the die-hards are in the mood for player development.

It’s far better to be part of the party than to watch from outside the window. Luckily, Boston’s teams are mostly equipped to keep knocking on the door for years to come.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Just think: power players in a money-hungry business defined by success, where one’s detractors are out to crucify their every move. Short of the illegal scams and questionable ethics (wait, forgot about Alex Rodriguez), you’ve pretty much got Boston’s best sports rivalry.

From the Wall Street to Wall Street in Charlestown, the 2014 baseball season is expected to bring a renewed interest when the Red Sox and Yankees square off. The world champion Sox did little to improve in the offseason, but they also suffered very few losses, save for Ellsbury, who just so happened to bolt for the enemy.

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The pinstripe-donning All-Star was part of a nearly $500 million spending spree by the Bronx Bombers this winter, as they added Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka. They should have a healthy Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, and won’t be subject to a season-long A-Rod distraction (we think). Losing Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte isn’t ideal, but most pundits feel the club has improved to the point of once again being able to compete for a division crown after an injury-plagued 85-win season. The Yanks’ over-under for wins has been set at 85.5 by the folks in Vegas and it’s not unreasonable to think they’ve beefed up enough to reach 90.

The last time both clubs were simultaneously competitive was in 2011. New York won the East and Boston collapsed.

We know Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino and Yankees president Randy Levine are ready for the next chapter. Let’s see who howls next.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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