It ends with a wimper, but there is a nice little montage in the middle.
Who can pick up the best joke in part 3?
CINCINNATI – Nelson Agholor took a step forward on Sunday afternoon.
It was a baby step, but it was still a step.
The Eagles’ first-round pick from a year ago started in Sunday’s 32-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium six days after being a healthy scratch – call it a mental health day – against the Packers.
Two weeks ago, Agholor, 23, had an awful day in Seattle, after which he admitted that he was in his own head. It appeared the pressure of being in the NFL had become overwhelming.
Head coach Doug Pederson elected to sit Agholor for the Packers game, but didn’t have much of a choice on Sunday with Jordan Matthews’ ankle injury.
“I felt good, competing again, just getting the chance to lace it up and go out there felt great,” Agholor said. “I had fun doing it and now I just have to build on it.”
It wasn’t a great day for Agholor, but it wasn’t an awful one either. He tied a career-high with four catches that went for just 23 yards. He was the Eagles’ sixth-leading receiver on a day where the offense struggled mightily.
But he caught the football, didn’t have a drop and didn’t have any major mental blunders. Yes, the bar is low.
A baby step.
“I thought it was a great time to get out there, got to touch the ball a bit, caught some passes, caught some contested ones,” Agholor said. “And now it's just about finding a way to take the next step for myself. Watch the game with a critical eye and continue to grow as a football player.”
Since the Eagles drafted Agholor with the 20th overall pick in the 2015 draft, he’s been a colossal disappointment. During Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Bengals, Agholor quietly surpassed his receiving yards total from his rookie season. In 2016, he has 287 yards on 31 catches.
Perhaps that means there’s been improvement, but not really. The Eagles were counting on Agholor to become a viable option for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and that hasn’t happened. In fact, at times, Agholor has made a negative impact.
Undrafted rookie Paul Turner, in his second career game on Sunday, caught six passes for 80 yards, both surpassing career highs for Agholor, who has been a starter since he joined the Eagles.
“The most important thing for me is to focus on me right now,” Agholor said when asked if the Eagles are giving maximum effort. “And I want to give unmatched effort and have great focus in the classroom and let it translate to football games.”
Agholor said there wasn’t some grand announcement from Pederson telling him that he was going to be active for Sunday. More or less, that announcement was inferred thanks to Matthews' injury status and Agholor’s practice load during the week.
No, it wasn’t Pro Bowl stuff from Agholor on Sunday. Four catches for 23 yards isn’t going to ever be good enough. But he was at least able to take a baby step forward.
He wasn’t too nervous either.
“I was blessed to be honest with you,” he said. “Put the shoulder pads on, the helmet on again. The lesson that I truly thought I learned from last week was something that I loved so much, I didn't have an opportunity to do. So now, I didn't care if I just ran go routes every play and the ball didn't come my way. As long as I got to put my cleats on and play with my teammates and play the game that I've loved for so long, I was happy about it.”
We’re back for another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook, the most comprehensive collection of trade rumors, team news, injury updates and a wide range of league-related news sure to whet the appetite of any NBA fan.
We begin this week jumping right into trade rumors. And as we’ve seen in recent years, the Boston Celtics continue to be one of the more popular teams whose name is often brought up in various trade scenarios.
While there doesn’t appear to be anything imminent with the Celtics, it’s pretty clear that their greatest need at this point is a defensive-minded big man who can also rebound.
So who should they target?
Celtics: Team pursuing Bogut?
As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.
The former No. 1 overall pick is the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014.
He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract. Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki era with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.
Boston could offer the Mavericks Amir Johnson (he makes $12 million this season) straight-up for Bogut, but would likely have to include a future first round pick that would not be Boston’s 2017 pick which they have the option of swapping for Brooklyn’s first-round pick which is likely to be in the lottery (top-14).
For the Celtics, giving up Johnson and a future first-round pick is a small price to pay for a physical, defensive-minded rebounder who would provide a different brand of rim protection than Johnson who like Bogut, will also be a free agent this summer.
In addition, he gives Boston a legit physical banger in the middle which they current do not have.
While no deal is imminent, but both sides would appear to come out getting great value if this deal were to completed prior to the February trade deadline. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Blazers: Interested in Noel?
Portland’s defense has been among the NBA’s worst for most of this season, so the idea that they’re interested in adding a big man whose strength lies in his defense really isn’t all that surprising.
That’s why the Blazers reportedly being interested in acquiring the 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel from Philadelphia makes sense. He had surgery on his left knee last month and has not played in a single game this season but is making progress. He was recently assigned to the Sixers’ D-League affiliate as part of his rehabilitation from the injury. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Sixers: Philly plans to go super-sized at point guard
The Sixers have big plans for Ben Simmons when he returns from a Jones fracture in his right foot.
Big as in 6-foot-10 point guard big.
Yes, Brett Brown said this week the Sixers intend to utilize Simmons at the one spot on both offense and defense.
That role has been in flux all season as Jerryd Bayless, originally signed this offseason to be the starting point guard, only has played three games because of left wrist soreness. Sergio Rodriguez has stepped into the starting spot in his first season back from Spain.
Ball handling and court vision are two of Simmons’ biggest strengths. During Summer League he demonstrated how he could use his size to grab the rebound and then push the ball on the fast-break. The Sixers believe his stature will cause mismatches with defenders.
On the opposite end of the floor, Simmons will be tasked with stopping some of the league’s craftiest and quickest. He will have to counter his opponents using their smaller size as an advantage. Simmons already has been studying game film, including that on Chris Paul, to prepare.
“I think it is a hundred percent me realizing what we have,” Brown said recently. “Understanding that Jerryd Bayless could comfortably play a two, to talking with Ben more, to understanding the opportunity that we have to try this and to grow this. This is something that I’d think would be a mistake if we didn’t try it. I think the more I studied him and studied film and talked with him — I spent a lot of time with him since his injury — the more comfortable I feel, like this is the right path.” – by Jessica Camerato
Hawks: Hip injury limits Millsap as Hawks struggle
A left hip injury to Paul Millsap has slowed down the Hawks, who were .500 entering the weekend, and they’re trying to make it having used Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala in the starting lineup in his place.
The winner of the Southeast Division the least two seasons, the Hawks have lost nine of 10 games. – by J. Michael
Magic: Vucevic off the bench now, out of Orlando soon?
Nikola Vucevic is out of the starting lineup in Orlando, which has one of the league’s most disjointed offenses.
In his first four games off the bench, Vucevic is averaging 13.8 points, 12 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks.
Is this a permanent role for Vucevic and will this ultimately lead to one of the Magic’s bigs being put on the trading block?
Bismack Biyombo, Orlando’s biggest free-agent acquisition this summer, has taken the starting job at center. His arrival instantly made such a scenario with Vucevic on the table. – by J. Michael
Warriors: Taking Barkley criticism in stride
TNT analyst Charles Barkley’s fixation on the Warriors and their style of play has lingered on for nearly a decade, through four coaches, with no sign of abating.
In his most recent salvo, Barkley said the Warriors were playing “little girly basketball,” which amused some but outraged many who couldn’t help but see it as a knock on females.
The Warriors, for their part, shrug off everything Barkley says and does, considering it more entertaining than informative. No one shrugs harder than coach Steve Kerr, a former TNT colleague, who carefully offered to educate Barkley.
“I still believe you have to be strong defensively to win,” Kerr said. “That’s an area where people who follow the game know we were No. 1 in the league in defense the year we won the championship (2015) and we were No. 4 or 5 (actually No. 3) last year, when we came within a minute or so of winning the championship.”
Your move, Chuck. – by Monte Poole
Wizards: Mahinmi (knee) is back ... sort of
The issue of Ian Mahinmi’s right knee has complicated the big picture for the Wizards as they try to find answers for their second unit.
After playing one game, his debut in his first season with the franchise this past week, Mahinmi has been a question mark each day going into Monday’s game with the Brooklyn Nets. He missed the first 14 games of the season because of surgery to remove cartilage in his left knee.
His availability complicates any potential moves for the Wizards when teams become active in the trade market by mid-December. – by J. Michael
Jazz: Hill climbing list of NBA's most improved players
The Utah Jazz are playing like a team poised for the playoffs after a four-year drought, and a big part of that optimism lies in the play of George Hill whose play thus far makes him a legit candidate for the league’s most improved player award.
Typically this goes to a young player on the rise, not a 30-year-old veteran like Hill. But the numbers don’t lie. A career 11.5 points per game scorer, Hill is averaging 20.0 points per game this season. Figuring out what the change has been is simple: he’s making more shots. A 45.2 percent career shooter, Hill is making a career-high 52.4 percent of his shots which includes career highs in three-pointers taken (5.2 per game) and three-point percentage (.456).
If he continues to play like this and gets Utah into the postseason, look for Hill to emerge as one of the big winners next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Raptors: Steamrolling over foes
The Raptors head into the week having won six straight, which is a nice little win streak. But what makes their recent run of success so impressive is the dominant nature by which they are beating teams.
During their streak, opponents have come up short by an astounding 23 points per game. That includes a 128-84 win over Atlanta, with the 44-point margin being the biggest win in franchise history.
“Like I always say, it's cliché, but it's a make or miss league," Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said after the record-setting victory.
And right now, they are making everyone on the schedule look inept. However, the one knock against them during their recent run has been the teams they have faced are not exactly among the elite of the NBA. That will change on Monday when they take on the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Clippers: Rivers' ejection a good thing for the Clippers?
The Clippers went from fabulous to desperate to whole again in a matter of days, and maybe they got a spark from head coach Doc Rivers who was ejected after throwing a full tantrum in the first of two overtimes in a loss at Brooklyn.
Rivers was having a conversation with official Lauren Holtkamp when lead official Ken Mauer assessed a technical foul and then, another technical, which is automatic ejection.
“I don’t think an official that has nothing to do with the play, should be giving someone a tech,” Rivers said.
That was the third straight loss for LA, which immediately rebounded with wins at Cleveland and at New Orleans. – by Monte Poole
Cavs: 'Honeymoon' over, says Lebron
It appears now the Cleveland Cavaliers have some self-inflicted adversity after an early cruise through the start of the season, prompting LeBron James to go into full dad-mode after a 111-105 loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls.
It’s the third straight loss for the champs and despite James’ magic-like numbers, the Cavs have slipped into a little malaise right before the holiday season.
"We've got to get out of the honeymoon stage," James said Friday night. “"That's y'all's headline for tomorrow. I know y'all going to use it."
The night began with a spectacle, as James showed up to the United Center in Chicago wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey after losing a bet to Bulls guard Dwyane Wade from last month.
Walking the green mile in the bowels of the United Center would’ve been the headline if not for the Cavs’ inability to handle a charged-up Bulls team that went shot-for-shot with the Cavs—leading to LeBron’s postgame comments.
"You've got to play the game the right way," James continued. "You've got to battle every night like we ain't won nothing. Last year is last year, and after ring night, it's over with. Now it's a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night, and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over.” – by Vincent Goodwill
Nets: Motiejunas Brooklyn bound?
It looks like the Donatas Motiejunas situation will be reaching a resolution. The Nets signed the restricted free agent to a four-year offer sheet, according to multiple reports.
The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. on Monday (72 hours) to match the Nets’offer. They could consider doing so given the structure of the offer. ESPN.com reported it is only fully guaranteed for $5 million and would increase to $17.5 million if he earns his 2017-18 season option by a March 1 deadline.
Motiejunas has been hampered by back problems, which included surgery for a ruptured disk in 2015. According to The Vertical, the offer sheet includes protections against such issues.
Last season Motiejunas appeared in 37 games, averaging 6.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 14.8 minutes. – by Jessica Camerato
Lakers: Who we thought they were?
Though the Lakers so far have exceeded all reasonable expectations, they hit a wall last week in taking a 113-80 loss to Toronto that left power forward Julius Randle criticizing himself and his teammates.
“We played too soft,” Randle said.
They also played horribly, as that game is, according to the statistical folks at Elias, only the second time since the 1970-71 season that the Lakers shot below 35 percent for the field, below 60 percent from the line and committed at least 15 turnovers. – by Monte Poole.
Kings: Cousins: 'I'm a King, I'm good'
The Kings’ six-game road trip was reduced to five after a bizarre condensation issue in Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon. The NBA would like to squeeze the makeup game into Sacramento’s seven-game road trip in late January, but Sacramento wants no part of an eight-game swing with three sets of back-to-backs.
DeMarcus Cousins was grilled about his future during Sacramento's stop in Washington and then again Friday in Boston, but he has yet to break. “I’m a King, I’m good,” Cousins told reporters in Boston.
“Most of the rumors come from people that want me on their team,” Cousins added. “So, I’m not really bothered by that.”
Sacramento continues to struggle early in games, falling behind big in the first quarter and then fighting the rest of the night to recover. More often than not, it hasn’t worked, which is why the Kings sit at 7-12 on the season. – by James Ham
Bulls: Bench searching for a spark
Speaking of a team in desperate need of something, anything, presenting the Chicago Bulls. Not only did they follow up an inspiring win over the Cavaliers with a 25-point loss to a three-win Dallas team, but there’s an SOS being sent out to their bench.
Perhaps Doug McDermott can be the one to bring this group off life support. McDermott has missed the last nine games with a concussion and only recently did he pass the next step of the concussion protocol to be cleared for contact practices, as he could be back to action later in the week.
With Nikola Mirotic shooting 28 percent from three and Isaiah Canaan at 30 percent, the Bulls have gotten off to a decent start without being a good 3-point shooting team — but it can’t last too long.
Presumably if McDermott doesn’t suffer a third concussion this season, that one quality he provides will be consistent enough to keep the Bulls’ stars from losing their minds with the inconsistency of their teammates. – by Vincent Goodwill
Suns: Team runs hot and cold ... Mostly cold, actually
When the Suns are hitting their perimeter shots, they’re tough to beat. Unfortunately for coach Earl Watson, the hot nights are few and far between and the Suns defense is ranked 28th in the league.
Brandon Knight is showing signs of life after a slow start. Still adjusting to his role off the bench, the 25-year-old point guard scored 14 points of his 23 points in a five minute first quarter burst in Wednesday night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks.
After a breakout start to the season, T.J. Warren continues to miss games with a head injury. – by James Ham
Thunder: You da real MVP, Russ
Russell Westbrook just landed the Western Conference Player of the Month honors for November and he already has his hand out waiting for the NBA MVP trophy.
OKC’s Mr. Everything has posted four straight triple-doubles, giving him 46 for his career. He’s averaging a triple-double on the season and has the Thunder riding a four-game win streak.
Westbrook and Co. welcomed back former head coach Scott Brooks Wednesday night and then sent him and his Wizards team home with a gut-wrenching overtime loss. – by James Ham
Pistons: Team avoids sinking in Jackson's absence
Speaking of a return, the Pistons didn’t let their boat capsize without point guard Reggie Jackson being in action, and he’s slated to return Sunday, albeit on a minute restriction while he continues recovery from a knee injury that halted the start to his season.
The Pistons are now winners of three in a row after starting 8-10, and Jackson’s 19 points and six assists will be welcomed whenever he gets back to form, which could take a couple weeks.
“I woke up feeling pretty good so I was ready to get out here and compete with my teammates,” Jackson told reporters. “It was just getting confidence and continuing to sit down and make sure I felt comfortable where I was…the time is now.”
While Ish Smith has done a more than admirable job filling the spot, one wonders if Jackson’s return will spark Andre Drummond to become more productive offensively. Drummond’s scoring and minutes are down from last year, and if Jackson can settle things as opposed to Drummond trying to force his own action, it’ll make Detroit the dangerous outfit many expected them to be going into the season. – by Vincent Goodwill
Spurs: Leonard keeps getting better and better and...
The Spurs have strung together 11 wins in their last 12 games and are once against considered a Western Conference power.
Kawhi Leonard continues to develop into the game’s best two-way player. He’s adding new elements to his game all the time. His 21-footer in the final 10 seconds against the Wizards on Friday night was clutch and sealed the win.
San Antonio allocated Davis Bertans and Dejounte Murray to the Austin Spurs of the D-League for more seasoning on Saturday. Bertans has seen plenty of action for Gregg Popovich, including a start in his first 16 games with the club. His 45.5 percent shooting from long range has been a nice surprise.
Murray has a ton of potential, but he’s played just 46 total minutes for Pop. Taken with the 29th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the 20-year-old Murray needs all the playing time he can get with the Spurs minor league affiliate. - by James Ham