Jimmy Graham officially ruled as a tight end

Jimmy Graham is a tight end after all.

In a groundbreaking decision, the NFL has confirmed that arbitrator Stephen Burbank denied Graham's request to officially be declared a wide receiver under the NFL's franchise-tag rules.

Although Graham lined up either in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last year, Burbank agreed with the New Orleans Saints and the NFL Management Council, who argued that the tight end position has always involved a combination of splitting out wide to run pass routes and staying in to block -- especially in today's modern passing offenses.

Graham and the NFL Players Association can appeal the decision within 10 days to a three-member appeals panel. 

In the meantime, the Saints will not have to increase their one-year tender offer of $7.053 million to Graham. The receiver tender would have cost them $12.132 million.

More important, with the franchise grievance nearing a conclusion, the two sides can now focus on setting their own value for Graham in long-term contract talks.

The deadline for signing long-term deals with franchised players is July 15.

"The NFLPA will review with Jimmy Graham the decision from Arbitrator Stephen Burbank which permits the player to be designated as a tight end for Franchise Tag purposes. We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter," the NFLPA said in a statement. "We will also continue to assist Graham and his representation as necessary to help the player reach a fair long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints."

Graham will still almost certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, surpassing the $9 million per year that Rob Gronkowski received in a 2012 extension with the New England Patriots. However, it will be harder for Graham to approach something in the $12 million-per-year range now.

The Saints have leverage because they could potentially lock up Graham for two straight years with the franchise tag at costs of $7.053 million this year and $8.46 million in 2015 -- though Graham obviously could refuse to sign the tenders and hold out of training camp.

Graham and the NFLPA were banking on the notion that Burbank would assign a more literal definition to the wording in the collective bargaining agreement, which states that the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

Ultimately, Burbank ruled that Graham was officially lining up at the position of tight end either when he was against the line or when he was flexed out into the slot "at least if such alignment brought him within four yards of (the nearest offensive) lineman."

Burbank said he only considered those plays because evidence showed that Graham was lined up within four yards of the line on more than 50 percent of his snaps. Burbank determined that it wasn't essential for purposes of this grievance to consider snaps where Graham lined up even farther out.

Burbank's 12-page ruling laid out a number of compelling arguments from both sides -- including testimony from Saints coach Sean Payton, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and expert witnesses Bill Polian and Butch Davis, among others.

The evidence that appeared to weigh most heavily into Burbank's decision was that Graham was often defended as a tight end even when he lined up in the slot (i.e., by a linebacker or a strong safety).

Wrote Burbank: "The evidence also supports findings that, like tight ends, wide receivers and running backs often line up in the slot ... and that the defense employed against any player so aligned turns on the player's position, not his alignment, because of the physical attributes and skill sets of the players in those positions."

Burbank then cited testimony from Payton, who said, "When our receivers are lined up widest in formations, they are never covered by safeties or linebackers ever. ... Never ever ever ever ever does a linebacker match up with a wide receiver ever."

As Burbank dissected all of the arguments, he wrote that there were "a number of sources of ambiguity" in trying to determine when Graham was officially lining up as a tight end -- mainly because there is no clear definition of the tight end position contained within the CBA.

The two sides even submitted alternate definitions of the word "position" from competing dictionaries, which Burbank said he didn't find helpful in this case. And Burbank dismissed the notion that the word "tight" should be taken literally -- just as the word "wide" shouldn't be taken literally in defining a wide receiver. Burbank wrote that such literal interpretations would leave Graham in "a categorical no man's land."

However, Burbank also dismissed a number of arguments from the Saints and the NFL's side as being absolute definitions, as well -- including the arguments that Graham was drafted as a tight end, works with tight ends in practice, has earned postseason awards as a tight end, is listed on the roster as a tight end and even that he refers to himself as a tight end in social media.

Graham's grievance against his position designation was the first to reach the stage of an arbitrator's decision. In 2008, a hearing was held over whether the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs should be considered a defensive end or a linebacker. But the two sides worked out a compromise before an arbitrator made his ruling.

No matter what position he's been playing, Graham has emerged as one of the NFL's top weapons during his four-year career since being drafted in the third round out of the University of Miami.

Graham has led the NFL with 36 touchdown catches over the past three years. He has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns per year over that span.

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Devin Hester's top returns: No. 3

We continue our series with new Atlanta Falcons return man Devin Hester as he reflects on his five greatest returns during his record-setting stint with the Chicago Bears. Hester holds the NFL record with 18 kick-return touchdowns. This is the one he ranked third on his list:

Scene: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin (Sept. 10, 2006).

Scenario: Hester, a second-round pick of the Bears out of the University of Miami in 2006, came to the team as a defensive back but was known for his unique return ability in college. In his first-ever NFL game, he stepped back to field a Jon Ryan punt early in the fourth quarter with the Bears already enjoying a 19-0 lead. Hester fielded the 50-yard punt at his own 16-yard line, took two steps left but cut it back right when he saw a double team on the gunner. Hester followed two blocks down the right sideline by fellow rookie Mark Anderson and Charles Tillman and sprinted to a 84-yard touchdown. Hester's score capped a 26-0 win as the Bears handed Mike McCarthy a blowout loss in his coaching debut and shut out Brett Favre for the first time as he entered his 16th NFL season.

Hester's take: "Just because it was my first, first game in the NFL, period. For me to set the tone for myself, from just everyone talking about the things I did in college where impossible to do in the league. Being the first game of my NFL career and being able to take one back, it was kind of unheard of for a rookie. I think it was Peanut (Charles Tillman) and somebody else out there blocking.''

Blocker's perspective: ``I just remember that basically, all I had to do was get in the way. Was I amazed? Not really because I already saw what he could do during practice. It was just a matter of him getting a chance to do it in a game. And he did.'' Defensive end Mark Anderson, who cleared Hester's path to the end zone with a block on the punter Ryan.

Thursday: Happy return

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Ryan Braun drives in a pair Wednesday

Ryan Braun singled and had a two-RBI triple in Wednesday's loss to the Blue Jays.

He was fortunate to get his two-RBI triple in the third inning, as Colby Rasmus took a bad route and made an ill-timed jump before the ball went off his glove. Nevertheless, it was another nice day for Braun, who is now hitting .333 with a homer and 14 RBI over his last 14 games.

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Olivier Vernon's stock continues to rise

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker pegs RE Olivier Vernon as a player whose stock continues to rise.

Vernon led the Dolphins with his 11.5 sacks last season and returned to have a dominant spring. "He's real, real good," said new LT Branden Albert, who was beaten by Vernon for two sacks in a scrimmage last week. Vernon remains ahead of last year's No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan for the starting job opposite LE Cameron Wake. The defensive line is the clear strength of the team in Miami.

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Bills OT Seantrel Henderson saw time with first-team

Bills seventh-round OT Seantrel Henderson saw time with the first-team offense during OTAs.

With Cordy Glenn sitting out minicamp, Henderson was used at left tackle, with Cyrus Kouandjio and Erik Pears splitting reps on the right side. It's a good sign for Henderson's roster chances that the Bills are willing to give him an extended look this early. Chris Hairston is ahead of Henderson on the depth chart and would start if Glenn missed time in the regular season.

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Erik Swoope On Transition From Basketball To Football With Colts

Erik Swoope is ready to make the transition from basketball to tight end with the Indianapolis Colts.

Swoope didn't play football in any youth leagues, high school or at the University of Miami.

"Learning football terminologies has been the biggest challenge," Swoope said. "It's a different language. Trying to get myself, I'm not going to say forget about basketball, but take the terminology and set it to the side so I can really hone into the different languages used in football." 

Swoope is 6'5, 220 pounds and has been catching passes from Andrew Luck in offseason workouts. 

"Andrew makes it so easy," Swoope said. "You just have to make sure you do your stuff correct because he'll put the ball in the right place." 

"It's been a pleasant surprise just to see how he's been able to acclimate himself to the game of football," Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "His natural-born talents show every day in practice. He does an amazing job of going up and catching the football, making difficult catches. He has a catching radius that's off the charts. It'll be interesting to see how he comes along during training camp when we put the pads on and actually start practicing football." 

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Hurricanes Make Offer To Michael Irvin Jr.

Michael Irvin was part of the iconic Miami teams of the 1980s and a member of the 1987 National Championship team. Irvin played for the Canes for three years and amassed a total of 143 receptions and 26 touchdowns. Irvin then went on to be a five time pro bowler and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2007.

Those are some big shoes to fill for Michael Irvin Jr. As a sophomore, Irvin Jr caught 82 passes and added 17 touchdowns for the Prestonwood Christian Lions in Plano, Texas.

According to the article by Bartow, there are some other schools (Georgia, Michigan and Texas Tech) that are also interested in Irvin at this point and as his junior season progresses I’m sure that number will grow. The biggest question over these next two years for Irvin Jr to decide is if he wants to follow in his fathers rather large footsteps or if he wants to forge his own path. Regardless of the decision, Michael Irvin is a name we won’t soon forget and one we will be watching in the future.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers may cut Mike James

The NFL offseason is here and as a result we’re going to start hearing the names of players who are on the bubble and in danger of being cut.

Down in Tampa Bay, new head coach Lovie Smith is trying to figure out the players he thinks gives his team the best chance to rebound in 2014 and return the Bucs to the glory it seems they experienced eons ago. This may mean making some tough decisions including cutting a player who has only been with the team for one season.

According to mark Cook from Pewter Report, the Buccaneers may end up cutting Mike James despite the alright year he had with them as a rookie in 2013.
The problem for James in 2014 is the number of backs on the roster, including Tampa Bay selecting one with their third-round pick this year in Charles Sims. The former West Virginia standout has exceptional hands; something pointed out by head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht on a number of occasions.

James may not be a huge name but he’s a guy who a lot of teams might want to have on their roster as a backup or a tandem back. He had a great game against a stout Seattle Seahawks defense in 2013 and that right there might be enough of an audition to get him a job should the Buccaneers decide to cut him this summer.

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Andre Johnson expected to be back

ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli fully expects Andre Johnson to be back with Houston this season.

Johnson skipped last month's mandatory minicamp as he tries to force a trade, but none of the media covering the Texans expect him to dig his heels in. The Texans would never be able to get equal value for a player that's 33 years old (next week) and carrying a hefty contract. Johnson's choices will likely come down to either playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick or sitting out the season.

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Graham case included testimony from Bill Polian, Butch Davis

As the ruling on the Jimmy Graham grievance approaches, more information is trickling out regarding last week’s arbitration hearing on the question of whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver for purposes of the franchise tag.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the cases on behalf of the NFL and NFLPA were bolstered by expert testimony from former NFL G.M. Bill Polian (pictured) and former NFL head coach Butch Davis, respectively.  Polian was an expert witness as to the position that Graham is a tight end for tag purposes; Davis testified on behalf of the position that Graham should be regarded as a receiver.

Other witnesses included, from the team’s perspective, G.M. Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.  Testifying on Graham’s behalf were Graham and former Saints (current Steelers) receiver Lance Moore.

At issue is $5.3 million on a one-year deal.  The league and the team believe Graham should be tendered at $7 million for 2014.  The union and the player believe that Graham should be tendered at $12.3 million.

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Jets not interested in bringing back Ed Reed

ESPN New York reports the Jets have no interest in signing free agent Ed Reed.

Reed told reporters earlier this month he hopes to continue playing, but hasn't received any free-agent interest. His best chance at getting signed could come after Week 1, when base salaries aren't guaranteed. Calvin Pryor, Antonio Allen, and Dawan Landry are entrenched as the Jets' top three safeties. Beat writer Rich Cimini thinks Reed would only be an option if the Jets suffer injuries.

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Jimmy Graham ruling coming Thursday

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank expects to inform both sides of his ruling on Jimmy Graham's franchise-tag grievance on Thursday -- "no sooner, no later" -- a source told ESPN on Monday.

Graham is attempting to be officially declared a wide receiver instead of a tight end for franchise-tag purposes. If he wins, the New Orleans Saints will have to increase their one-year offer from $7.05 million to $12.13 million.

Either party can appeal Burbank's decision. But in the meantime, the winner will gain critical leverage in their long-term contract negotiations. The Saints and Graham have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement or else Graham can play under only a one-year deal this season.

Burbank heard arguments from both the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association during a hearing in the New Orleans area on June 17 and 18. Both sides were asked to submit final briefs to Burbank on Friday, according to a source.

Saints coach Sean Payton was among those testifying on the NFL's behalf, a source confirmed. According to Pro Football Talk, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian also testified in support of the position that Graham should be considered a tight end, while former NFL coach Butch Davis and former Saints receiver Lance Moore testified in support of the position that Graham should be considered a wide receiver.

Graham's argument is that he should be considered a receiver because he lined up either in the slot or out wide 67 percent of the time last season. The collective bargaining agreement states the franchise-tag designation is based on the position "at which the Franchise player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year."

What remains ambiguous, however, is what officially constitutes lining up as a tight end, which has always been a hybrid between receiver and blocker -- especially in the modern passing game.

For example, Tony Gonzalez, one of the NFL's all-time great tight ends, lined up in the slot or out wide even more than Graham last season (67.3 percent to 66.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

Loomis said earlier this offseason, "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end. ... That's what makes him valuable."

Graham identifies himself as a tight end in his Twitter bio, which the NFL planned to use among its arguments, according to the NFL Network.

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Devin Hester's top returns: No. 5

The Atlanta Falcons signed Devin Hester, one of the greatest return men of all time, to a three-year, $9 million deal this offseason.

He currently holds the NFL record with 18 combined kick-return scores -- 13 on punts and five on kickoffs during his eight seasons with the Chicago Bears. He is one away from surpassing mentor and former Falcon Deion Sanders for the most total return touchdowns in NFL history.

Hester's total doesn't even include his 92-yard touchdown off the opening kick in Super Bowl XLI.

Hester, 31, ranked his top five touchdown returns for ESPN.com. Over the next five days, we will review those returns, leading up to Hester's favorite.

Here is No. 5.

Scene: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis (Dec. 11, 2006)

Scenario: The Bears led 35-20 with just less than eight minutes remaining in regulation. With the Rams attempting a late comeback, the Bears prepared for the probable onside kick. Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub sent the "hands team" onto the field -- but the Rams boldly decided to kick the ball deep to Hester, who had already returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Hester sidestepped two defenders at his own 15-yard line, exploded through the hole and darted left, then blazed right by falling kicker Jeff Wilkins en route to a 96-yard score. Hester turned and taunted at the Rams' 25-yard line, then impersonated Sanders while high-stepping to the end zone.

The pair of scores were Hester's fourth and fifth kick-return touchdowns of the season, setting an NFL season record that he broke the next season. The Bears won the game 42-27.

Hester's take: "Coach Dave was saying we never had a kickoff return [for a score] on the hands team. When you put the hands team out there, you just make sure your guys don't give up on the onside kick. And you got guys out there that are not used to blocking. So, for them to kick it deep, it shocked us. And I took one back earlier that game. Even myself, I was thinking, 'It's going to be an onside kick. I hope it doesn't go through the guys and I have to run up and try to get it.' … He blooped it, and it wasn't like I could take a knee. And so I hit it through the hole and off to the races. And I think that was one when I set a record."

Blocker's perspective: "I'd like to think I was the one who sprung him for the touchdown because he ran right behind my block. When you go in on hands team, you're never thinking you're going to get a return. You're thinking recover the onside kick and get down. I believe that they lined up in a regular formation, but we stayed in our hands look. When they kicked it off deep, at that point, a lot of the times you're just kind of scattering. But Coach Toub, he always did a good job of having the special teams ready. You knew who you had to block. When you know you've got Devin back there, you stay on that block a little bit longer because you know if [you] give him a shot, he can take it all the way, and that's what happened.

"I remember looking at that film, and guys were on their men, but it wasn't like a regular kickoff return. Guys were kind of just hanging on. Once he found that lane … I would say that most of that was him. Everybody was like, 'There he goes. Uh-oh, damn, that's a touchdown!' Nobody was expecting him to take that all the way back to the house [end zone] because you don't practice a return off of the hands team a lot, if at all."
-- Desmond Clark, tight end and member of hands team

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Zoom in on ... left guard Orlando Franklin

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever the Denver Broncos' chief decision-maker, John Elway, describes the developmental process, he will routinely offer "we don't draft All Pros, we have to make them."

And over the course of the next week we'll take a glimpse at a few key players who are at various stages of the developmental process. Some have been named to the Pro Bowl, some will be starters for the first time in the coming season.

But what they all have in common is more is expected of them than they could give, for a variety of reasons, in last season's run to the Super Bowl.

Today: Left guard Orlando Franklin

When Franklin was set to enter the 2011 NFL draft, he had started 25 games at left guard for the University of Miami, 13 at left tackle. And while most scouts believed he could be a valuable swing player in most any offense, a guy who could play inside at guard as well as the more power-oriented right tackle in the pro game, many of those evaluators believed he was a far more natural guard prospect over the long term.

The Broncos had guards -- Zane Beadles and Chris Kuper -- when Franklin arrived in the second round of that draft and they put Franklin where the job opening was along the front, at right tackle where Franklin started 47 games over the last three seasons. But with Beadles having left in free agency and the Broncos' desire to beef up on the interior, Franklin has moved to the inside.

And in the recent organized training activities and minicamp, it already looks like the move will have the desired effect. Franklin will be a powerful force in the run game, and on the inside any issues he had in pass protection will lessen on the interior.

A look at game video has consistently shown when Franklin got in trouble in pass protection on the edge. It showed how Franklin was concerned about surrendering the corner to a speed rusher when he would spread his arms out, almost to hook an outside rusher, rather than getting himself in position for the sturdy first contact from a more stable set.

As a result, Franklin was the most penalized player in the Broncos' lineup last season having been flagged 11 times overall, seven of those for holding. Chris Clark, who was filling in for the injured Ryan Clady, was next among the offensive lineman, with seven penalties overall.

And with the Broncos set to, again, run most of their offense out of a three-wide -- they worked out of the three-wide set 73.6 percent of the time overall last season and were close to 90 percent in the postseason -- their tackles are going to have work alone much of the time in pass protection.

Also, a move inside puts Franklin -- a savvy, hard-working player -- where his strengths will help a Broncos' running attack, usually facing lighter nickel and dime formations lined up to slow down the Broncos' offense.

Their run-game numbers on the inside were middle of the road during the regular season -- 18th in the league in runs over left tackle, 7th in runs over left guard (they had just 38 carries behind Beadles last season, however, so sample size a little smaller) and 15th over the center. Those weak-side runs were often against those smaller formations with fronts built for speed. So, the troubling numbers came in the postseason when the Broncos couldn't make any room in the run game against formations built to stop their passing game.

The Broncos averaged fewer than 2.5 yards per carry in three postseason games on runs over either the left tackle or left guard. And while they are not a running team in either word or deed, they will have to be one at times to close out the coming season the way they hope to.

And they believe Franklin's move will help them do it.

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Jimmy Graham tops preseason tight end rankings

An early-season MVP candidate, Graham averaged 119 yards per game prior to his late-October plantar fascia tear and just 52 yards once his snaps were reduced following the injury. With Graham hobbled, the Saints' offense stumbled through a five-game November-December stretch, topping 17 points just once. Graham still led all tight ends with 86 receptions, 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.

Gronkowski was better than ever before his season-ending ACL injury in December. After struggling for the majority of the season, Tom Brady led the NFL with 35.75 points and 473.25 yards over a five-game span once Gronk returned to the lineup. From a statistical standpoint, Brady has been Aaron Rodgers with the Patriots' All-Pro tight end healthy -- and Andy Dalton when Gronkowski is sidelined. Keep in mind: Gronk is younger than 2013 breakout stars Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas.

It would be interesting to see Davis' numbers if he wasn't asked to concentrate as much on blocking at the expense of his pass routes in the 49ers' ball-control offense. It's telling that Davis' regular season averages of 43.7 yards and 0.44 touchdowns per game spike to 75.0 and 0.88 in the playoffs.

Cameron's smooth athleticism evokes memories of an early-career Tony Gonzalez. Hauling in errant passes from the Cleveland Browns' trio of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell, Cameron posted 15 more catches and 129 more yards than fellow former hoopster Thomas managed with Peyton Manning.

Witten isn't quite as spry after the catch as he once was, but he remains one of the NFL's most complete tight ends for the Cowboys.

Miller, meanwhile, is the AFC's answer to Davis. If Pittsburgh used Miller in a similar fashion to Graham, he would clear 70 receptions on an annual basis. It's no coincidence that the Steelers got off to an 0-4 start as Miller worked his way back from an ACL and finished with the conference's best record in the second half of the season once the tight end was back to full strength.

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Durant Scott To Play With Spurs In Summer League

Saturday afternoon a report surfaced stating the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs were trying to sign Providence undrafted point guard Bryce Cotton.

The initial report didn’t clarify if Cotton was in discussions for a full NBA season contract, or just a “Summer Contract,” where a player would join an NBA team for training camp and work to make the roster, but if that player didn’t, they would be let go, and not affect the teams salary.

It seems there is now clarification, as Kevin McNamara of the ProvidenceJournal.com is reporting Cotton will be participating with the Spurs at the Las Vegas Summer League in July (H/T pcbb1917.com).

Through his Twitter account, McNamara also reported that Durand Scott will join the Spurs’ Summer League team as well.

Though no official Summer League rosters have been released from the Spurs, the reported lineup will thus far will include:

Kyle Anderson (Spurs’ 2014 First Round draft pick), Marcus Denmon, Deshaun Thomas, Melvin Ejim, Darington Hobson, Bryce Cotton, and Durand Scott.

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Shane Larkin moving to the town his dad turned down

It’s not exactly like father, like son with Shane Larkin, who can’t wait to become a Knick and play in New York.

The young point guard’s father is Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, who famously nixed a trade from the Cincinnati Reds to the Mets in 2000, claiming he didn’t want to be a hired gun to help a playoff push. Larkin was then in the final year of his contract and was looking for an extension.

Father and son had a good laugh over the irony the other night after the younger Larkin was dealt from Dallas to the Knicks as part of a six-player trade. Larkin could assume backup point-guard duties to newcomer Jose Calderon despite his disappointing rookie season out of the University of Miami.

“I was actually talking to my father about it the other day,’’ Larkin said Friday. “I remember being at the press conference when he was stuck in a bind and didn’t know where he’d be — Cincinnati or New York. I’ve always liked New York, always liked the city. I was joking with him the other day, saying one of us finally has the opportunity to play for New York. It’s such a great sports city. I’m glad I’m the one who actually gets to play there.’’

The Knicks may not have been in this position had Shane Larkin not broken his foot during summer-league practice last July after being selected as the 18th pick. His rookie year became something of a wash, seeing limited action in 48 games, and the Mavs were willing to include him in the deal to get back center Tyson Chandler.

“I had a lot of steam coming off the ACC Tournament, playing well, confident in myself. The injury really set me back,” said Larkin, 21. “I was out 4 ½ months, put me behind the 8-ball. My first NBA game I was just thrown in there. A fresh start in New York offers me a new opportunity and go in there and create a different first impression and play the same game I played in college.’’

Larkin is a 5-foot-11 speedster.

“I’m a change-of-pace guard,’’ Larkin said. “With Jose coming in, I think I offer a different type of game from him. He’s more of a floor leader, always composed, takes control of the game. I’m a guy who can bring a different energy and pace and try to speed it up.”

Larkin will get his first crack at learning a new system when he plays in the Las Vegas summer league. The Knicks squad faces the Mavericks in the opener July 11.

“I think I can bring a lot to the triangle offense,’’ Larkin said. “Derek Fisher wasn’t the tallest guard, but what he did is succeed and have a great career. I’m looking forward to learning from him. I’ve never played in the system, so I want to get there early.’’

Larkin said he’s worked a lot in the offseason on his 3-point shot, noting he made 41 percent from beyond the arc in college but just 31 percent from NBA distance as a rookie.

Working hard is something he got from his father.

“I’ve just seen how professional athletes prepare and how fierce they take their job,” he said. “[Fans] don’t see the work behind the scenes, the extra work my father always got in. I’ve always had that advantage.’’

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Raptors Trade John Salmons To Hawks For Lou Williams

Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors have completed a deal that will send John Salmons to the Hawks for Lou Williams.

The Hawks can waive Salmons by Monday and pay only $1 million of his $7 million salary next season.  Toronto will get a pretty good point guard who can likely soften the loss of Kyle Lowry if he bolts in free agency.

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Barry Larkin Criticizes Rick Carlisle, Mavericks’ Development Of Talent, Praises Passion Of New York Fans

Barry Larkin retired from his excellent baseball career in 2004, but he’s still in the professional sports consciousness, as his son Shane is a point guard for the New York Knicks. Shane Larkin was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks last summer after an excellent season at the University of Miami in 2012-13, but had a quiet rookie year in Dallas, and was traded to the Knicks in the Tyson Chandler on Wednesday night.

It’s far too early to tell how much Larkin’s role will expand in New York, but his father Barry is excited for the move. Larkin told the New York Post that he wasn’t too thrilled with how things went for Shane in Dallas.

“Dallas doesn’t do a good job of developing players,’’ Barry Larkin told The Post in a phone interview from his home in Orlando. “They’re in win-now mode. [Coach] Rick Carlisle doesn’t know how to develop young players, and Shane was a rookie. It always was a struggle for him to figure out what was going on.’’
As for New York, the former Red respects the city’s passionate fans.

“I’m off-the-charts excited because of the passion of New York fans,’’ Barry Larkin said. “I went through the roof.’’

He’s since walked back the criticism a bit, saying that his comments were “spun negatively”:

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Reds sign LHP Scott Maine to minor league deal

MLB Insider Chris Cotillo reports the Reds have signed LHP Scott Maine to a minor league deal.

Cotillo says Maine will report to Double-A Pensacola.

Maine, who was pitching with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League, spent parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Indians, Blue Jays and Marlins. He compiled a 2-3 record with a 5.59 ERA in 50 games.

Jay Bruce hit the third of his only three-home-run game off Maine on August 27,2010.

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Chris Perez reflects on his tenure with the Tribe

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Chris Perez had an unceremonious exodus from Cleveland.

As the calendar flipped toward late September, he lost his grip on the closer's gig and became an observer as the Indians surged to a postseason berth.
Prior to a tumultuous final season with the organization -- one that included a misdemeanor drug abuse charge, a career-high 4.33 ERA and an injured pitching shoulder -- Perez twice earned his way onto the American League All-Star team to represent the Tribe. During his five-year stint in Cleveland, he compiled a 3.33 ERA and 124 saves, the third-most in franchise history. At times, he rubbed fans, teammates and those in the organization the wrong way by speaking his mind about attendance, shunning certain media members or riling up opposing players with hand gestures.

On Monday night, the Indians -- who released Perez last October -- will begin a three-game series against the Dodgers, who signed Perez to a one-year, $2.3 million contract in December.

Perez recently spoke with cleveland.com about his tenure in Cleveland, his new outlook on his career and his experience with the Dodgers. The right-hander has racked up a 5.20 ERA in 27 2/3 innings this season. He said outfielder Yasiel Puig, the 23-year-old Cuban sensation, "is like a big kid," and that Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter earlier this month was "probably the most dominant start I've ever seen. It was fun to watch." He also said he hasn't paid much attention to how the Indians have fared this season.

Here are the highlights from the interview with Perez.

CC: How would you explain your output this season (27 2/3 innings, 26 hits, 26 strikeouts, but 5.20 ERA)?
CP: I've had some bad luck and also some bad mechanics. The first month or so, I was still getting results and they didn't come to me with anything. Then I had a couple hiccups and now the last month or so, we've been changing stuff up. We're definitely going in the right direction. I had to take a couple steps back to go forward.

I got into some bad habits the last couple years, just because my arm wasn't feeling good. Just some lazy habits to try to generate velocity. I had to go back to step one with my mechanics and they've been really good with that here. Every outing, I'm working on a little thing here, a little thing there. It was feeling foreign to me. Hopefully in future outings I'll feel more normal and more like myself.

CC: Vinnie Pestano, who was dealing with mechanical flaws, was sent to Triple-A to sort out his issues. He said he could never have fixed his delivery at the big league level, because there was too much to correct and he couldn't afford to cost the team games. How have you managed to rectify your problems while at the big league level?
CP: It's tough up here because you're trying to win games. The way we play, we've had a lot of close games, so there's really not a lot of opportunities to go out there and just say, 'Hey, go out there and work on this. Try to get a guy out.' It's definitely tough up here to go through those kinds of things, but at the same time, luckily I'm still here at this level and I'm working on the side to figure it out.

CC: Your fastball velocity is back to 94.3 mph this season, after it tapered off to 92.8 mph last year. (It's currently at its highest average since 2010, when Perez posted a 1.71 ERA in 63 appearances with the Tribe.) How important has it been to be able to throw as hard as you used to?
CP: It's more frustrating than anything, going through this little stretch here, because it's one thing if you don't have your stuff and your arm is hurting and the numbers aren't there, but this is the best my arm has felt in two or three years, so it's more frustrating, just because I should be able to pitch like I used to since my velocity is back. The last few years, that wasn't the case. I had to hit my spots and rely on movement. This year, I've been able to challenge guys and blow it by them. It just hasn't been working.

CC: What triggered your late-season struggles last year with the Indians?
CP: It was just all the bad habits I got into in the first half of the year just to get by, when I got healthy and was throwing hard, it all flared up at once. I was flying open earlier. Early in the year, I was flying open and trying to throw it as hard as I could. When I had velocity, it just counteracted it. I was showing the ball to the hitter earlier. My front shoulder was flying open, so they could see the ball easier. And then also, just trying to get results while we were in a pennant race, it all kind of just came together and I had bad results.

CC: How difficult was it not to contribute during the final playoff push?
CP: It wasn't that bad. We won. Luckily I didn't cost us a playoff spot by my troubles or anything. We still ended up winning a Wild Card spot and making it to the one-game playoff.

But personally, it was tough. I had put in four years on a bad team just hoping to get to that point and when we got there, I wasn't a part of it. That's baseball. You live and learn. It was a good learning experience. It all worked out where I'm now able to be here with the Dodgers, which is awesome.

CC: You'll be a free agent at the end of the season. Have you thought about how your career might play out?
CP: Closing is fun, but I've been there and done that. Now I just want to win. If closing and winning go together, then fine. But if not, then I'd rather be on a good team and help try to get to a championship than close for a crappy team.

CC: Will it be strange to face some of your former teammates?
CP: It might be weird to face one or two guys, but other than that, I just hope we beat them. I don't care about facing anybody. I've faced some of them when they're on different teams anyways. The only guys it would be kind of weird to face would be [Michael] Brantley or [Jason] Kipnis, just because I played with them the longest. But everybody else, I'm just hoping it would be another out.

CC: Will it be nice to catch up with some of the guys while they are in town?
CP: A couple of them, like [Josh] Tomlin and [Justin] Masterson. But for the most part, not really. Nobody in the bullpen is really the same. Maybe [Cody Allen]. There are a couple guys. The coaching staff, I wouldn't care to see again, no.

CC: How would you evaluate your five years with the Indians?
CP: It ended a lot better than it started, team-wise. What we were able to do last year was great. Personally, I didn't pitch the way I wanted to the last two months of my time there, but overall, I gave it everything I had almost every time I went out there and for the most part, I did my job. I had a good time doing it. I have a couple good memories, but at the same time, there was a lot of turnover with coaches, pitching coaches, managers. It wasn't really stable. I think for the most part, I had a good time there, but it ended on a bad note for me, but overall for the team, it was great. So, it was fine. Things worked out for me. I had a couple good years there. They gave me the chance to close and I established myself. Hopefully it'll keep me in the league longer because of that.

CC: What was it like to see Progressive Field packed for a playoff game?
CP: It was exciting, with everybody waving their towels and stuff. It was louder than Opening Day, which is usually the only time it's sold out. It was a night game, so it was a little more energetic. But I knew I had no chance of pitching, so I was just observing, and we didn't score, so it was kind of a letdown. But at the same time, it was good what they accomplished. That fan base was probably really excited going into this year and trying to build on it. It was a good year for Tito and it changed the atmosphere and culture there.

CC: Do you miss anything about Cleveland?
CP: Not really. Maybe Lucky's Cafe in Tremont.

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