North Carolina head coach Roy Williams is retiring from college basketball, the university announced on Thursday.

Williams is a legendary figure in college basketball following spells with Kansas and North Carolina; he has coached 52 players who have gone on to play in the NBA.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, he retires with a career record of 903–264, winning the NCAA title on three occasions with the Tar Heels, in 2005, 2009 and 2017.

Williams holds two records in the NCAA: he became the fastest to reach 900 victories and is the only head coach to record over 400 wins with two different schools.

His teams have won 18 regular-season conference championships, while he bows out with an impressive 77.4 win percentage.

The 70-year-old's 33rd and final season as a head coach came to an end when North Carolina lost to Wisconsin in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament.

With the return of Major League Baseball on Thursday already sparking excitement among fans across the world, could Tom Brady be suiting up on Opening Day next year?

Of course not! But the NFL superstar enjoyed pretending it was a possibility on April Fools' Day.

Brady was actually drafted by MLB's Montreal Expos in 1995 but did not sign with the team as he instead pursued a career in football.

That worked out quite well for the great quarterback, who last season claimed his seventh Super Bowl ring.

The Expos did not fare quite so well, with the Montreal franchise folding in 2004 and relocating to DC to become the Washington Nationals.

But Brady's hijinks on Thursday suggested he was ready for a sensational return - as player, coach and owner.

"With opening day today, excited to announce we're bringing the Expos back to the MLB in 2022," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB posted on Twitter.

"Excited to be the first player/coach/owner in MLB history."

That move would certainly not wash with the Bucs, who extended Brady's contract this offseason as they go for a second straight championship.

The 43-year-old will instead have to leave America's pastime to neighbours the Tampa Bay Rays, as they start their 2021 season against the Miami Marlins on Opening Day.

The times they are a-changin' in the AFC North, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to spend one more season led by a veteran quarterback ill-equipped to help them stem the tide.

Pittsburgh made no secret of a desire to move on from Ben Roethlisberger this offseason, but the best the Steelers could do was to restructure his contract, with his new deal voiding after 2021, making him a free agent and likely ending a glittering career next year.

But that means they will have to go into the new season with a 39-year-old signal-caller coming off one of the most inefficient seasons of his time in the league, in which the Steelers started 11-0 only to fade badly down the stretch and suffer a humiliating playoff loss to long-time AFC North whipping boys the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland and the Baltimore Ravens look well-placed to contend again, and the Steelers are in a position where the team around Roethlisberger must elevate him to levels that now appear beyond the two-time Super Bowl winner to ensure they can compete.

How should Pittsburgh go about achieving that goal? We attempt to find the answers by using Stats Perform data to analyse their 2020 campaign and their offseason moves so far.

Offense

Whenever he decides to bring his career to an end, Roethlisberger is a near-certainty to reach the Hall of Fame.

However, in 2020 he was at the helm of one of the least dynamic offenses in football, with Pittsburgh's struggles illustrated by a yards per play average of 5.13 that ranked a lowly 26th in the NFL.

The lack of a consistent downfield element to the passing game was a significant contributor to the Steelers' problems on offense.

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career across seasons in which he has played double-digit games - it was 5.7 in his two appearances in 2019.

He had 43 pass plays that went for 20 yards or more, tied for 17th, though yards after catch was clearly a massive contributor to those plays. Pittsburgh ranked eighth with 50.4 per cent of the Steelers' gross passing yardage made up by yards after the catch.

His passer rating of 81.0 on throws of at least 21 air yards was 18th among quarterbacks with 25 such attempts and he completed only 30.2 per cent of those attempts (22nd of 28 QBs with a minimum of 25 attempts).

There were still bright spots on the passing offense even in a down year, the most prominent of which was rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool led all rookies with nine receiving touchdowns. Five of those were of a distance of at least 20 yards, with only Tyreek Hill (nine) and Nelson Agholor (six) recording more such touchdown receptions

Beyond Roethlisberger's issues pushing the ball downfield, the running game was a source of major frustration for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers were last with a yards per carry average of 3.62, their 32 runs of 10 yards or more were also the fewest in the league and only three teams had fewer rushing touchdowns than their 12.

If the Steelers want to maximise Roethlisberger's hopes of a bounce-back year, they must give him more support from the ground game.

Defense

The Steelers succeeded despite the travails of their offense in large part because their defense was again one of the best in the league.

Pittsburgh finished the year with the third-best mark in terms of yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 4.91.

Conceding 55 scores (touchdowns or field goals) from 188 opponent drives, the Steelers were second in opponent scoring efficiency behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Their stingy performance on defense was fuelled by a ferocious pass rush, which led the league in sacks (56) and knockdowns (129) while finishing fourth in hurries (180).

T.J. Watt was the leader of that potent front seven, the 2017 first-round pick missing out on Defensive Player of the Year despite leading the league with 15.0 sacks.

He lost out to Aaron Donald, who had the edge in terms of combined knockdowns and hurries, posting 94.5 to Watt's 83.

The efforts of Watt and Bud Dupree, who had 8.0 sacks before tearing his ACL in Week 12, helped the Steelers finish second with 27 takeaways.

Five of those takeaways were produced by Minkah Fitzpatrick (four interceptions and one fumble recovery) in another stellar campaign for the All-Pro safety.

While this was a second successive year in which the Steelers were a top-five defense in yards per play, elite play is typically tougher for defenses to maintain than offenses.

Performing to that standard for a third straight year will be a substantial challenge, and one that may prove beyond them if they cannot find a replacement for the departed Dupree.

Offseason

While there are elite talents at running back that should be within the Steelers' reach in the first round of the draft, the priorities should be two positions at which they now have holes.

The Steelers may hope Alex Highsmith can step up and fill the void left by Dupree - five of his six quarterback hits as a rookie came after he took over the starting role from the now Tennessee Titans pass rusher - but they will have much better odds of effectively replacing him by adding a draft prospect into the mix.

Of more pressing concern, however, is likely to be the left tackle position. The Steelers did not make an effort to bring back veteran Alejandro Villanueva, a move likely motivated by the depth of this year's tackle class in the draft.

If the Steelers can land a rookie tackle who can step in and can maintain solid protection for Roethlisberger while improving the line's ability to open holes for the backs, he will do more for an offense that badly stuttered down the stretch than any of the top runners in the draft.

Assuming they succeed in doing so, Roethlisberger will have an excellent support system around him once more, with Juju Smith-Schuster surprisingly returning to keep an excellent receiving corps intact.

Yet, after a dismal end to 2020, Roethlisberger's ability to make the most of that support system is firmly in doubt. As such, it would be no surprise to see the Steelers spend a day-two pick on a rookie passer who can provide better competition for a quarterback who is certainly not their long-term future and may not even be a short-term solution.

Andre Drummond struggled to describe a gruesome toenail injury without laughing after the Los Angeles Lakers lost another star player.

LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) both remain on the sidelines, meaning the signing of Drummond - bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers - came as a big boost to the defending NBA champions.

But the center, playing for the first time since February 12, lasted just 14 minutes in a 112-97 debut defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Drummond was stepped on by Brook Lopez in the first quarter, he later revealed, and eventually succumbed to the injury in the second half after taking his sock off to assess the damage.

"In the first quarter when I came out, Brook stepped on my foot and I didn't really think anything of it," the two-time All-Star said.

"I came back in the second quarter and it was hurting a little bit more. After halftime, I finally took my sock off to look and my whole toenail was gone. It was all bad from there. I couldn't walk or run so I told coach to take me out."

X-rays returned negative results, meaning Drummond should avoid a lengthy lay-off, but the player was not entirely sure how to manage the injury.

He said: "What do you do for a toe? I don't know. I'm not really sure what to do. I'm just going to talk to the training staff and find out what's the best thing to do to get back as quick as possible.

"I've lost a toenail before, but this one was very painful.

"You see me looking down at it because I can't even put shoes on. I have flip-flops on right now. It's very, very painful."

Despite his limited minutes, Drummond showed what the Lakers might be able to expect when he can return to the court.

The 27-year-old had four points, two assists, a rebound and a block.

He also missed two free throws - Drummond's career percentage of 46.6 per cent is the worst of all players to attempt 1,000 or more - but felt he had a positive impact overall.

"If you saw the first couple of minutes of the game that I was out there, just the energy defensively that I brought, it kind of boosted everybody on both ends of the court," Drummond said, although his plus/minus was negative eight.

"It's just unfortunate to have this happen to me in my first game. It was a little deflating for me.

"But my head is high, I'm going to take it day by day and come back better than ever."

Coach Frank Vogel, eager not to mull on more fitness problems as the Lakers fell to 30-18, added: "We've got a 'next man up' mentality with this group.

"Obviously we were all excited to see Dre in a Lakers uniform and it didn't play out as long as we wanted."

An investigation into Tiger Woods' car crash in February has been concluded by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD).

The golf superstar required surgery on serious leg injuries following a single-vehicle incident that saw his car roll "several hundred feet".

An officer from the LASD said in the aftermath that Woods was "very fortunate" to survive, although the 15-time major champion has since returned home.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva offered an update on Wednesday as he revealed the LASD had finished its investigation.

However, the department cannot yet release details of the incident.

"A cause has been determined," Villanueva said in a live Instagram video. "Our investigation has concluded.

"However, we have reached out to Tiger Woods and his personnel. There are some privacy issues on releasing information on the investigation, so we're going to ask them if they'll waive the privacy.

"Then we'll be able to do a full release on all the information on the accident.

"We have all the contents of the black box, we've got everything. It's signed, sealed and delivered. However, we can't release it without the permission of the people involved in the collision."

A short statement on the LASD's Twitter page followed to clarify why a report had not yet been released.

"The release of accident reports is governed under California Vehicle Code Section 20012," it said.

"When we are able, we intend to release the information learned during the traffic collision investigation involving @TigerWoods."

The Brooklyn Nets are well and truly stacked for a championship run.

If superstars James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were not enough, the Nets turned to the buyout market and acquired former All-Stars Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Nets now boast a combined 41 All-Star appearances on their roster – Durant (11), Harden (nine), Aldridge (seven), Irving (seven), Griffin (six) and DeAndre Jordan (one). On the all-time list, only the Boston Celtics have managed more, across three different teams in 1977-78 (42), 2011-12 (43) and 2010-11 (56).

Jason Collins was part of the franchise, then known as the New Jersey Nets, that reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and he told Stats Perform News: "I know KD and James have played together in the past [with the Oklahoma City Thunder]. Kyrie, at this point, realises this team is something special, especially when you're adding Blake and LaMarcus, and already have DeAndre Jordan.

"All of these guys recognise they are playing for a championship. They might only get one shot, these newer guys who haven't already won. This team reminds of me of the Houston Rockets from a few years ago when they had Chris Paul, who was clicking on all cylinders, and Harden. Then Chris got injured. They had a shot to beat the Golden [State] Warriors that season.

"Now, you see with the Nets – you have these tremendous playmakers. If one goes down or has an off night, oh by the way, you have two other guys who can make plays and for team-mates who are former All-Stars. They have a squad right now. I know Space Jam is coming out soon, maybe we're getting a glimpse at the Monstars."

The foundations were set last season, when Durant – recovering from an Achilles injury that meant he sat out the entire 2019-20 campaign – and Irving made the move to Brooklyn via the Golden State Warriors and Celtics respectively. But the Nets cemented 'superteam' status after trading for former MVP Harden in January.

There were question marks when first-year head coach Steve Nash and the Nets acquired Harden from the Rockets, with the three-time NBA scoring champion, Durant and Irving predominately ballhandlers.

Harden, Durant and Irving, however, have managed to make it work in the small time spent on court together – Durant has been absent since February due to a hamstring injury, having also sat out because of health and safety protocols, while Irving has also missed time this season.

Per 100 possessions, Harden – who has a franchise record-equalling 12 triple-doubles this season – has been averaging 21.1 points, 15.1 assists, 9.4 rebounds and 13.9 field-goal attempts when sharing the court with Durant and Irving.

Durant's numbers read 32.8, 3.5, 9.2 and 23.8, while Irving is averaging 31.3, 5.5, 6.7 and 21.3 at the same time.

Despite the continued absence of former MVP and two-time NBA champion Durant, the Nets have won 19 of their past 22 games to top the Eastern Conference.

Prior to Wednesday's win over the Houston Rockets, the Nets have been leading the NBA in points per game and field goal percentage this season – only the Stephen Curry-led Warriors (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and the Nash-led Suns (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) have managed to do that in the last 30 years. As of March 30, the Nets were also leading the league in points.

In terms of effective field-goal percentage, the Nets (57.6 as of March 30) are on pace to set an NBA record, which would eclipse the 2017-18 Warriors (56.9).

"For all the injuries and the games that have been missed by one or all of those superstars, they have been doing great. Especially when you have new talent coming in, new pieces," said Collins, who spent his first seven years in the NBA with the Nets before leaving in 2008 and returning briefly in 2014. "It takes a while. Sometimes it can take half a season and in this shortened season, they're doing great. You have to tip your cap to the players, but the coaches, they are doing an excellent job making sure all the pieces are fitting.

"You're still adding the mix with LaMarcus and Blake. It seems he has found his ability to jump and dunk, it's glad to see his body is responding well. It's pretty obvious to see with this team that they're not necessarily playing for positioning in the regular season, this team is built for the postseason. That is why I think they're being so cautious with KD and his return. My hats off to Kyrie Irving for recognising that he needs to step away from time to time.

"With Harden, in his mind he is the MVP. A lot of people who follow the NBA are recognising the James Harden who started the season with the Houston Rockets, that guy is no longer in the building. The guy in the building in Brooklyn is the guy we have seen for the past several years, who is an MVP candidate."

Harden's 11.2 assists per game this season is on pace to be the most by a player averaging 25.0-plus points since Tiny Archibald averaged 11.4 in 1972-73 (as of March 30). He, Irving and Durant dominate the headlines, but the likes of Joe Harris, Nicolas Claxton, Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet have proved to be an effective support cast in a further sign of frightening depth.

"When you're going to go up against them [Durant, Harden and Irving], you're going to have to leave someone open and it's going to be those other guys. I think Shamet will be huge in the playoffs, Harris also," Collins, the 42-year-old former center, said.

"Just because of reputation, you're going to be hesitant to leave DeAndre Jordan, if you're the center, you know you can't let him get behind because you know it will be a dunk. So, you're afraid to step up and help. With those big three, you're not going to leave them either so it's going to be the others on the guard – a shooter or somebody who is going to get a lot of good looks."

Eyebrows were raised when the Nets appointed two-time MVP Nash to replace Kenny Atkinson ahead of the season, despite his lack of coaching experience.

The Nets were coming off a first-round playoff exit inside the Orlando bubble last season when they handed Hall of Famer Nash his first head coaching role.

But Nash – supported by veteran Mike D'Antoni in Brooklyn – has impressed from the outset, juggling a superstar trio, injuries and the coronavirus pandemic in the pursuit of NBA glory.

An NBA ring eluded Nash during his stellar playing career, but a championship in his first season as head coach would see him follow in the footsteps of Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse (2019), Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016), Warriors counterpart Steve Kerr (2015), Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers in 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers in 1980) – who are the last five men since 1977 to achieve the feat.

"I think he was thrown into the deep end but as athletes and competitors, you kind of like being thrown into the deep end because that's what you work hard for," Collins said. "He isn't alone, he has great staff and players who have played at the highest level. It's definitely a group effort.

"I have to add, nothing would be possible without ownership. Ownership in the NBA is so important. Joe Lacob has done a phenomenal job with the Golden State Warriors. Also now Joseph Tsai with the Brooklyn Nets. He has told [general manager] Sean Marks, do what you need to do to create this culture and you'll have support. It's just great to see when an organisation, from ownership, to general manager, to team president, head coach, assistant coach and it all falls in line. You're setting yourself up for success."

The Nets have never won a championship since their first NBA season in 1976-77 – a run of 44 consecutive seasons. Byron Scott's team – featuring Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Collins – came close in the early 2000s, but in two appearances in the Finals they were swept by the Lakers and beaten 4-2 by the San Antonio Spurs.

Among active streaks in the league, the Nets have the eighth-longest drought alongside the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers, behind the Sacramento Kings (69). Their rivals, the New York Knicks, have been waiting 47 years.

"The elephant in the room that we're all dealing with [the pandemic]," Collins said. "I can't think of any other part of our country hit harder than New York City. To end this year in the pandemic, if they were to win a championship, it would give so much hope to a lot of people. I lost one of my uncles to COVID recently and he lives in New York. People are still being affected and dying. It would mean a lot just to see the Nets win a championship for the city of New York.

"I think it will be huge if the Nets are able to win. It's all set up because they now have the target on their back with all the All-Stars on their team. Even if they don't get the number one seed, even if they finish at number three or four, which I doubt they will, they will still have the target on their back because they have all those names.

"If they are playing at all cylinders, they have the best chance out of the east. I love what Doc Rivers is doing in Philadelphia and I love the season Joel Embiid was having before injury.

"I'm really looking forward to that Eastern Conference championship between the Nets and 76ers, no disrespect to the others. I think the Nets just have more horses than the other squads."

Steve Nash was "optimistic" NBA MVP candidate James Harden did not suffer a long-term setback as the Brooklyn Nets went top of the Eastern Conference with a win that gave Kyrie Irving cause for concern.

Playing the Houston Rockets, his former team, Harden played only 27 minutes - registering 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists - before succumbing to hamstring tightness.

Irving led the way in his stead, as 31 points and a season-high 12 assists secured a 120-108 victory that moved the Nets ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers at 33-15 in the East.

But with Kevin Durant still out, having played just 19 games this season, Harden's injury prompted some concern.

The nine-time All-Star has averaged 26.1 points, 11.2 assists, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals since moving to Brooklyn in January.

Harden's 11.1 assists on the year, including an initial stretch with the Rockets, lead the league, while an assist rate of 46.2 per cent trails only Russell Westbrook.

The superstar guard has taken an unselfish approach as the Nets aim for a championship, attempting 17.6 field goals per game in 2020-21 - his lowest rate since 2013-14 - and seeing his usage drop to 29.3 per cent, its lowest since the statistic was first tracked.

But Harden has still carried Brooklyn for long stretches while Irving and Durant have sat out, meaning head coach Nash was relieved to relay a major issue was not anticipated.

"We're going to monitor it. We'll see how he feels in the morning," Nash said. "I don't have a lot to tell you.

"We feel optimistic it's not a long-term thing and we'll just monitor it. I haven't spoken to him yet. I came in, addressed the team and then came to speak to you guys.

"I think he told the trainer when he was on the sideline and they went back to look at it and decided that it wasn't worth risking it. We'll just see how he feels in the morning and go from there.

"They just decided it wasn't worth risking him going back out there, but we haven't done any scans. We'll see how he feels in the morning and decide what the next step is."

Harden's problem could mean another reshuffle for a Nets team who, through injuries and trade, have had nine different starting fives this season.

That makes their achievement in reaching the top of the conference even more impressive, according to Nash.

"We're first and foremost really proud of our guys," he said. "They've had a lot thrown at them this year, we've had a lot of different lineups, a tough schedule and a new group - three new groups, in a sense.

"For them to stick together, to continue to pursue what we're asking them to pursue, big picture and in the short term with the details, it's impressive."

But Irving saw cause for concern in the Rockets win as Houston ran out to a 42-29 first-quarter lead before the point guard helped reel them back in.

Slow starts are a theme for Brooklyn, who led only one game through three minutes in the whole of March.

"We're going to get every team's best shot, so that's something that we've come to accept," Irving said.

"We know the game plan that we need to execute and it's up to us to go out and do it at a very high level.

"Sometimes we don't make that choice in the first four minutes or the first five minutes where we get down 18-6 or 18-4 and we're just digging ourselves out of holes on the scoreboard.

"I'm listening to the chatter from other teams on the court and they just continue to say, attack us, attack us, attack us, and I'm here on the court as well with all my team-mates just saying, it'll turn over for us.

"We've just got to be resilient, persevere through this, and we'll start making shots, but more or less it just comes with our effort.

"We've got to bring it from the first five minutes. In the last few games, we've failed to do so, so we played catch-up and we got away with this one, but against the great teams we know we've got to bring it from minute one."

Kyrie Irving was the hero for the Brooklyn Nets after James Harden exited due to hamstring tightness as he inspired a 120-108 win over the lowly Houston Rockets.

The Nets trailed by as many as 18 points, while NBA MVP hopeful Harden sat out the fourth quarter against his former team the Rockets with right hamstring tightness.

Harden finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes on Wednesday.

But star team-mate Irving picked up the slack, posting 31 points and a season-high 12 assists to guide the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Nets, who have won 19 of their past 22 games, are a half-game clear of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Meanwhile, the NBA-leading Utah Jazz feared 'the end" before their 111-107 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Utah's charter flight was forced into an emergency landing after the plane collided with a flock of birds, causing an engine fire and failure.

After scoring 26 points to lift the Jazz, All-Star Mike Conley told reporters: "For a good 10 or 15 minutes, I think all of us on that flight were questioning if we were going to be here today.

"That's how serious it was for us. I can't speak for everybody, but I know that guys were trying to text family just in case, you know? It was that kind of situation."

"It got to that point where we were all on the plane like, 'This might be really the end'," Utah's Jordan Clarkson added in the absence of Donovan Mitchell. "I mean, it was a crazy situation. I understand fully why Don didn't come."

 

Giannis and Bucks take down Lakers, Booker has Suns sizzling

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers 112-97. Jrue Holiday top-scored with 28 points for the Bucks, who snapped a three-game losing run.

Devin Booker put up a season-high 45 points in the Phoenix Sun's 121-116 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Chris Paul added 19 points and 14 assists.

Luka Doncic had a game-high 36 points as the Dallas Mavericks held on to defeat the Boston Celtics 113-108. Doncic is now tied with Nikola Jokic for the most NBA games with 30-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists this season – 15.

The Portland Trail Blazers were 124-101 winners over the Detroit Pistons thanks to a double-double of 33 points and 10 assists from Damian Lillard.

 

Painful debut for Drummond

Andre Drummond's Lakers debut did not go according to plan. Acquired by the defending champions after clearing waivers on Sunday, the two-time All-Star hobbled off the court with a toe injury. Drummond was two-for-six shooting, while he missed both of his free throws prior to exiting after 14 minutes.

 

Family time

It was a special moment as the three Antetokounmpo brothers took to the court in Los Angeles. Two-time reigning MVP Giannis was joined by brother and team-mate Thanasis and Lakers forward Kostas post-game.

 

Wednesday's results:

Portland Trail Blazers 124-101 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 92-87 Indiana Pacers
Dallas Mavericks 113-108 Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets 120-108 Houston Rockets
Utah Jazz 111-107 Memphis Grizzlies
Minnesota Timberwolves 102-101 New York Knicks
Oklahoma City Thunder 113-103 Toronto Raptors
San Antonio Spurs 120-106 Sacramento Kings
Phoenix Suns 121-111 Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks 112-97 Los Angeles Lakers

 

76ers at Cavaliers

The 76ers (32-15) will look to snap a two-game losing streak and keep up with the Nets when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-30) on Thursday.

Francisco Lindor has agreed to a mammoth 10-year, $341million contract extension with the New York Mets, according to reports.

Lindor arrived in New York as part of a blockbuster six-player trade with the Cleveland Indians on January 7.

The four-time MLB All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner – who was due to become a free agent after this season – had set a deadline of Opening Day to reach a deal over a new contract in New York.

MLB.com and ESPN reported on Wednesday a deal had been struck on the eve of the 2021 season, with the 27-year-old shortstop's contract beginning in 2022.

It is one of the richest contracts in MLB history, only behind Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout ($426.5m) and Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, ($365m), though it trumps the $340m deal signed by San Diego Padres sensation Fernando Tatis Jr. this offseason.

Lindor hit .258 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

A career .285 hitter, Lindor has averaged 29 home runs, 86 RBIs and 21 steals over his six major league seasons. 

Amid speculation over Lindor's future with the Mets, team-mate Pete Alonso had told reporters on Tuesday: "I hope they pay him $400m. He's worth every penny."

Maria Sakkari insisted there was still room for improvement despite ending Naomi Osaka's 23-match winning streak in stunning fashion at the Miami Open.

Osaka had not lost for over a year prior to Wednesday's outing, putting together the ninth-longest unbeaten run seen on the WTA Tour since the start of 2000.

However, this year's Australian Open champion was simply unable to match her opponent's high standards in their quarter-final clash, resulting in a 6-0 6-4 triumph for the excellent Sakkari.

World number 25 Sakkari had battled hard to get past Jessica Pegula in the previous round – including saving six match points – but needed just 69 minutes to see off four-time grand slam champion Osaka, who managed just five winners during her surprisingly brief stint out on court.

Afterwards, Sakkari revealed how coach Tom Hill helped devise a strategy to trouble the second seed – albeit she had to come from 3-0 down after a difficult start to the second set.

"I don't think tennis-wise it was like the best tennis I have ever played in my life," said Sakkari, according to the WTA Tour's website.

"I think I executed our strategy with Tom really well. I just did what I had to do. I'm not gonna tell you what. What we discussed before the match, I just did it most of the match, except maybe a couple of games where things didn't go right."

Osaka's previous loss was back in February 2020, when she was also beaten in straight sets by Sara Sorribes Tormo at the Billie Jean King Cup.

Since then, she has won last year's US Open and then the first grand slam in 2021, though the loss to Sakkari did not come as a complete surprise to her having struggled for rhythm in Miami.

"She's a really big fighter so I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I felt like I haven't been playing well this whole tournament," Osaka said.

"I couldn't find a groove, so mentally it's really hard for me to play against really high-quality players with what I feel is low-quality tennis."

Next up for Sakkari in the semi-finals is another former grand slam champion – Bianca Andreescu.

Triumphant at Flushing Meadows in 2019, eighth seed Andreescu outlasted Sorribes Tormo 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the day's final match at the WTA Premier event.

Victor Oladipo is expected to make his Miami Heat debut against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, according to head coach Erik Spoelstra.

The Heat – who reached the 2020 Finals – acquired two-time All-Star Oladipo from the Houston Rockets at last week's NBA trade deadline in exchange for Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley.

Oladipo started the year with the Indiana Pacers before he was moved to the Rockets as they dealt James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

Now, Oladipo – who is averaging 21.2 points per game in 2020-21 – is preparing to make his second bow of the season.

"He's ready to go," Spoelstra said ahead of Wednesday's clash with the Pacers.

"We’ve had several Zoom sessions just to review and try to fast track our system. But he's a savvy, high-IQ veteran player. He's going to pick up things very quickly.

"He's been able to work out the last couple of days with Caron at the Arena, so they've been able to review some things, as well. I've talked him and we’ll see him when we get to Miami.

"All these circumstances are different than in a normal season, and these are just another example of how you have to adapt."

Spoelstra added: "I feel like I know Vic. I did reach out to Dwyane [Wade]. They've been working out together for years. And Dwyane, Vic and Coach Crean would always do like a weeklong training camp during the summer and get together. And I was always aware about what was going on during that week.

"So we're very familiar with him. We feel comfortable with guys that have been coached by Coach Crean, because you're going to get developed the right way and held accountable to the details. And I think you see that in his play. He's an IQ player that sees the game."

Before facing the Pacers midweek, the Heat (23-24) were eighth in the Eastern Conference.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he would have "loved" for superstar Tom Brady to retire with the NFL franchise.

Brady left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 after a trophy-laden two-decade spell in New England, where he won six Super Bowl titles.

The 43-year-old quarterback enjoyed immediate success with the Buccaneers, guiding Tampa Bay to victory in Super Bowl LV.

"Well look, I would've loved for him to have retired as a Patriot," Kraft said on Wednesday. "Everybody knew that. But in life, things just happen in a way that you have to balance a lot of things.

"After 20 years, I thought he was entitled to make a decision that was what he thought was best for him, and where he was at. And we gave him the ability to do that."

Brady signed a contract extension with the Bucs through 2022 after helping take down the Kansas City Chiefs.

He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, his passer rating of 102.2 his highest since his MVP season of 2017 (102.8) in his first season with the Bucs.

Only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes had more completions of 20 yards or more than Brady's 63 as he experienced a revival as a downfield passer in Tampa.

It came as the Patriots struggled to fill Brady's void – Bill Belichick's team missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 with Cam Newton under center.

Kraft said: "Well, after 20 years … with any player, I'll make this commitment to any player in the future: Anyone who spends 20 years with us and helps us win six Super Bowls, we're not gonna keep — look, we could've, contract-wise, kept him in our camp. But it's just not the right thing.

"Naturally, we want to win. But who knows what would've happened if he stayed here? Look what happened at the end of his last season here."

"It's like marriages sometimes," Kraft added. "No one knows on the outside everything going on, and you try to balance a lot. You know …  It is what it is."

The Patriots have splashed the cash this offseason in an attempt to bounce back after a disappointing 2020 campaign.

Matthew Judon, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills are among the free-agent signings, but Kraft insisted New England's activity has nothing to do with Brady's success in Tampa.

"I mean, look, I love Tom Brady, and he's great. But he's moved on. What happened here last year was not something to our liking. And we had to make the corrections," Kraft said after the Patriots finished with a 7-9 record.

The Toronto Blue Jays will be without prized recruit George Springer on Opening Day after he was added to the injured list with an oblique strain.

Springer – lured to Toronto on a six-year, $150million contract via free agency, the largest deal in franchise history – was in doubt for Thursday's season opener against the New York Yankees after straining his oblique muscle during Spring Training.

The youthful and exciting Blue Jays, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, have exercised caution over their big-money addition as they prepare to face American League (AL) East rivals the Yankees in New York.

"I'm hoping for as soon as possible but we have to go day-to-day," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters on Wednesday.

"Of course he's got to face pitchers, live BPs and stuff, so how he responds from there we'll know more [about a timeline].

"Hopefully, the first or second day when it's time to come back, he'll be ready."

Springer – World Series champion and MVP with the Houston Astros in 2017 – leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

The Seattle Seahawks have agreed a lucrative new long-term contract with wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

ESPN and NFL Network both reported Lockett is to receive a four-year extension worth $69.2million, of which $37m is guaranteed salary.

A third-round pick by the franchise in 2015, the 28-year-old has managed 376 receptions at an average of 13 yards per catch in the NFL, while he has 37 receiving touchdowns in his career.

He has started all 16 games in the previous two seasons and finished the 2020 campaign with a career-high 100 catches, making him one of only eight players to reach three figures in the league.

His total of 1,054 receiving yards was a touch below his 2019 number of 1,057, while he had 10 touchdown catches for the second time in three years.

Quarterback Russell Wilson targeted Lockett 132 times in a campaign that came to a disappointing conclusion. They suffered a first-round exit in the playoffs, going down 30-20 in a Wild Card showdown with the Los Angeles Rams after finishing top of the NFC West with a 12-4 record.

Wilson's future has been a hot topic during the offseason. While willing to stay with the Seahawks, the eight-time Pro Bowler reportedly provided a shortlist of teams he would play for, should the franchise consider trading him.

The commitment to Lockett follows on from Seattle handing a new deal to Gabe Jackson this week, the offensive lineman who arrived this month from the Las Vegas Raiders via a trade.

Jackson received a three-year contract worth $22.575million that, due to how it is structured, eases the impact on the 2021 salary cap.

The guard started 99 out of 100 games played during his seven seasons with the Raiders, who were reportedly considering cutting Jackson before working out a deal that saw them net a fifth-round draft pick.

The Baltimore Ravens entered the 2020 season out to silence the doubters having posted the NFL's best record in 2019 only to fall to a shock playoff defeat.

After a frenetic regular season that they ended with a five-game winning streak to reach the playoffs, the Ravens avenged that loss to the Tennessee Titans with a Wild Card Round win.

Yet they finished the campaign with more questions to answer in 2021 after the Ravens were throttled by the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round, exiting the postseason at the same stage as in 2019.

With a former league MVP calling the shots, the Ravens should be better equipped to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC, and those waiting for clear signs of progress in terms of their ability to truly contend for the Lombardi Trophy may be growing impatient.

What do the Ravens need to do in the remainder of the offseason to ensure they are set up to challenge for a third Super Bowl title in 2021? We used Stats Perform data to answer that question by analysing their 2020 performance and their moves in free agency.

Offense

Regression from Lamar Jackson was always likely after his spectacular 2019 season that saw him named as the league MVP.

His completion percentage dropped from 66.1 to 64, his net yards per passing play from 7.13 to 6.41 and his touchdown percentage from 9.0 to 6.9.

Meanwhile, Jackson's interceptions increased from six to nine and he was slightly less effective as a runner, his yards per carry average falling from 6.9 to 6.3.

Yet even with Jackson's drop-off from MVP form, the Ravens still finished 10th in yards per play with 5.85, with his abilities with his legs helping Baltimore finish first in rushing yards per play with 5.53.

Where the Ravens continue to have issues, however, is in making explosive plays down the field in the passing game.

Jackson had 37 pass plays of 20 yards or more in his 15 regular-season games in 2020, putting him 20th in the NFL.

His passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards (89.1) was 17th among quarterbacks to have attempted at least 25 such throws.

The Ravens' passing game was not helped by protection issues, with Jackson sacked on 7.16 per cent of his drop backs, the 11th-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks.

Baltimore did not waste time in making a move to address the weaknesses that were apparent on the offensive line in 2020.

However, if their offense is to jump from top 10 to top five in 2021, Jackson will improved support from a receiving corps that featured just one wide receiver (Marquise Brown - 769) who topped 500 yards in 2020.

In an increasingly imposing division, Baltimore must give their AFC North rivals more reason to fear their aerial attack.

Defense

The offense may have taken a step back, but the Ravens stayed consistent in terms of being one of the better defenses in the NFL.

Having allowed 5.22 yards per play in 2019 - good for 11th in the NFL - Baltimore finished seventh in that same category in 2020 with an average of 5.19.

That marginal improvement was largely a product of the Ravens' strength against the pass. Baltimore gave up 5.57 yards per pass play, with only three teams conceding fewer. 

However, the Ravens were substantially more susceptible to the run game.

Opponents put up 4.55 yards per carry against the Ravens, well above the average for playoff teams of 4.19.

Additionally, while playoff teams gave up an average of 44 rushes of 10 yards or more, the Ravens conceded 50, bettering the league-wide rate of 51 by the finest of margins.

Yet the Ravens' defense should remain in the top half of the NFL if it continues to excel at limiting opposing passing attacks.

Only seven teams forced more negative passing plays than the Ravens (51), with Matt Judon's ability to pressure the quarterback and some stellar play in the secondary contributing to that tally.

Judon led the team with 21 quarterback hits while Marcus Peters recorded four interceptions and Marlon Humphrey led all cornerbacks with eight forced fumbles to go with his 11 pass breakups.

But with Judon and Yannick Ngakoue each heading for pastures new, the Ravens will need to reinforce their defensive front if their pass defense is to be as effective in 2021. 

Offseason

The Ravens will see Ngakoue go against them when they face the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 while Judon will attempt to help the Patriots enjoyed a bounce-back year after signing a lucrative deal in New England.

Baltimore is unlikely to miss either of them given the Ravens' proclivity for successfully developing pass rushers.

Their faith in their own ability in that regard was illustrated by the four-year, $22million contract handed to Tyus Bowser, who had only two sacks last year but whose 27.5 combined knockdowns and hurries were just nine fewer than the tally of Judon, who played 20 more defensive snaps.

An increased role for Bowser, along with the infusion of some rookie depth, could help the Ravens fill the void left by Ngakoue and Judon.

On the other side of the trenches, head coach John Harbaugh will have been delighted to land guard Kevin Zeitler, who was signed after being released by the New York Giants. Zeitler, who has not allowed more than two sacks since 2014, should improve Baltimore's interior protection.

Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr's desire to seek a trade so he can play left tackle may force Baltimore to prioritise the offensive line in the draft, and wide receiver should still be prominent on their to-do list despite the signing of veteran Sammy Watkins on a one-year deal.

Watkins is still a dependable third receiver but his career-low yards per reception average of 11.4 in 2020 hinted at declining big-play upside. A rookie who can be an immediate focal point of the offense is a must in the draft.

The slight step back Jackson experienced in 2020 may not have come as a shock, but there will be significant questions asked of those running the Ravens if it carries into 2021.

Francis Ngannou plans to have two more fights in 2021 and has reaffirmed his desire to take on Jon Jones, whose future with UFC remains unclear.

Ngannou claimed the heavyweight title in style on Saturday, dethroning Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 thanks to a second-round knockout in a rematch of their meeting back in January 2018.

The 34-year-old made clear in the immediate aftermath that he is ready and willing to face Jones, a fighter he described as the GOAT of MMA.

A two-time former light-heavyweight champion, Jones has not fought in just over a year amid contract negotiations. Whether he returns or not, Ngannou understands he is now in a position to call the shots.

"I don't know what exactly happened between Jon Jones and the UFC, but I think there's something wrong, and I also think he handled it maybe a little in the wrong way," Ngannou said during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show.

"Listen, that's not my business. There's a lot of contenders ready to fight. For the first time, I'm the man who's making the call.

"I don't have to sit down and wait for people. They're waiting for me, and I'm ready.

"I can choose to fight, and I want to fight maybe two [more] times this year. I hope that [Jones] fight happens."

Jones provided an update on his own situation via Twitter on Wednesday, revealing negotiations are continuing with the organisation.

"I had a brief phone meeting with UFC's lawyer Hunter [Campbell] a few days ago. As of right now I expressed to him that anywhere around eight to $10million would be way too low for a fight of this magnitude. That’s all that has been discussed so far," he tweeted.

"I'm supposed to be waiting for what their offer is going to be. Really hoping the numbers are nowhere near that low. I guess we will see what happens."

If Jones is not available, Ngannou could instead be set for a rematch with Derrick Lewis, who won a forgettable first fight by unanimous decision back in July 2018.

However, the new champion promises there will be no repeat, should the rivals go up against each other once again.

"I think we'll have this fight that never really happened. I will have to give the fans what they deserve," Ngannou said.

The NFL made the right move to increase the regular season to 17 games and an 18-game slate is likely in the future, says Brian Baldinger.

Team owners voted on Tuesday to approve the first expansion to the NFL's regular-season format since 1978.  

Beginning this year, teams will play 17 regular-season games, with the preseason reduced from four games to three. 

Contrary to some proposals in previous years, each team will still have just one bye week.  

The approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in two additional playoff games and an estimated $150million in added annual revenue.  

A majority of players had already approved an added regular-season game as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave ownership the ability to expand as early as this season.  

Earlier this month, the NFL announced a new broadcast rights agreement that secured the league's media distribution through the 2033 season. 

Tuesday's deal allows for additional international games, with each team playing abroad at least once every eight seasons.  

Commissioner Roger Goodell called it "a monumental moment in NFL history that [provides] the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world".

Baldinger, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles and now works for NFL Network, agrees the change was a positive one, despite the opposition of some high-profile players.

He told Stats Perform News: "Look, 12 teams every year, 14 teams now, play that 17th game every year, you know, going to the playoffs? 

"To me, the players have always adjusted. They adjusted when it was a 12-game schedule to a 14-game schedule to a 16-game schedule. 

"It's hard on the body, there's no question about it. 

"But these players – they are in so much better condition now than they than they ever have been. 

"And so players will adjust to this and I think it's going to be eventually accepted. 

"They just signed a new TV deal that's off the charts, the amount of money that is coming into this league, the amount of money that it generates, and they're a big part of it. 

"And so they're getting their share I think. 

"There are safety concerns, but really a 17th game, they just have to take care of themselves.

"I think that eventually it's just going to be business as usual once we get used to 17 games, because I think eventually it's going to be an 18-game schedule. 

"Eventually. I mean, I can see that. 

"I'm not predicting anything [for] right now [but] I think that players will adjust to it and the amount of money that had just come in and the labour peace and everything else. It's there. 

"I think it's the right time and I think the league, part of them generating this type of money from the television partners was a 17th game."

Team owners voted on Tuesday to approve the first expansion to the NFL's regular-season format since 1978.  

Beginning this year, teams will play 17 regular-season games, with the preseason reduced from four games to three. Contrary to some proposals in previous years, each team will still have just one bye week.  

Tuesday's approval came one year after owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 games, resulting in two additional playoff games and an estimated $150 million in added annual revenue, according to ESPN.  

The players had already approved an added regular-season game as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, which gave ownership the ability to expand as early this season.  

Earlier this month, the NFL announced a new broadcast rights agreement that secured the league's media distribution through the 2033 season. Tuesday's deal allows for additional international games, with each team playing abroad at least once every eight seasons.  

"This is a monumental moment in NFL history," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "The CBA with the players and the recently completed media agreements provide the foundation for us to enhance the quality of the NFL experience for our fans.  

"And one of the benefits of each team playing 17 regular-season games is the ability for us to continue to grow our game around the world."

The added game will match inter-conference foes, with AFC teams getting an extra home game in odd-numbered years and NFC teams in even-numbered years.

Some of the most anticipated matchups in the added game in 2021 include a showdown between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts hosting the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and two former number one overall picks at quarterback squaring off when the Arizona Cardinals visit the Cleveland Browns.  

The season is scheduled to begin on September 9 and end on January 9, 2022.

Despite the NFL Players Association approving a schedule expansion in last year's collective bargaining negotiations, some players have been vocal about their disapproval of the change.  

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara took to social media to call the expansion "dumb…as hell," while Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos tweeted: "We really let this happen."

Players will not see an increase in salary in 2021, and their wages will be split over 18 weeks instead of 17 weeks.  

In future seasons, the added revenue from a 17th game will contribute to a rise in the salary cap, providing the possibility for additional compensation for players signing new contracts.  

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