First Cup: Monday

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "Looking back on it all now, Kobe Bryant said: 'We learned a great deal in that series.' It ended with a 39-point loss in Boston in Game 6 ... and the Lakers' team bus being pelted by debris and rocked off its wheels by delirious Celtics fans. The Lakers had no choice then but to swallow their pride. They finally get to fight back now, which is convenient when fight was lacking in them as recently as Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in Phoenix. The Lakers know how fired up they are about Boston, which is why they gaze upon the present on the doorstep and are no longer concerned about being perishable or fragile. They just need to be careful with how much they care -- and channel all that energy into execution."

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "One of my Herald colleagues said Dwight Howard was looking for me Friday night after the Celtics eliminated his Orlando Magic from the NBA playoffs, 96-84. I was in the winners’ locker room. He wasn’t there. Thursday, when the NBA Finals begin in Los Angeles, I’ll be looking for him. He won’t be there, either. Both circumstances are because the Celtics did against his team the same things they did against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. They played harder longer and they played more consistently intelligent basketball than the younger, faster, more highly regarded teams the wise guys in Las Vegas said were supposed to beat them."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Paul Pierce played at Inglewood High School, just minutes from theForum, and his career for the Sentinels was stellar, earning him a scholarship to the University of Kansas. While his numbers were impressive and the Sentinels won a division title during his tenure, Pierce left Inglewood as one of the handful of standout players from the area. Leaving Kansas fifth at the school in scoring in just three seasons added to Pierce’s résumé, but his reputation has grown exponentially as his NBA accomplishments have multiplied, and being on the verge of a second NBA Finals appearance against his hometown Lakers has added to his legend. There have been some great players from the Los Angeles area, including Marques Johnson, Gail Goodrich, Byron Scott, Reggie Theus, and Paul Westphal, and Pierce has joined that group. He is on the verge of the 20,000-point mark. An eight-time All-Star and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, he could be poised to join the Mount Rushmore of Celtic greats. That arguably makes him the best player ever to emerge from the Los Angeles area."

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: "It's easy to appreciate both for their talents and their triumphs this time of year. It's harder to acknowledge the truth and just say it: If Kobe Bryant wins his fifth title in the next two weeks and wins two more championships before he retires to give him seven rings, he has to be given the nod as the greatest individual talent ever to play in the NBA. As hard as that might be to hear for Michael Jordan and his legions, that's not heresy anymore."

  • Randy Hollis of the Deseret News: "All of you who are sick and tired of seeing the Celtics and/or the Lakers in the NBA Finals seemingly every stinking year, raise your hand. Yeah, me too. Boston, which beat the Lakers for the title two years ago, has taken home the NBA's top prize 17 times. Yes, that's right, the boys from Beantown have won a whopping 17 championships -- the most by any team in league history. In the league's marquee matchup, the Celtics and Lakers have met in the Finals 11 times in all. And, thanks primarily to those powerhouse Bill Russell-led teams of the 1960s, the Celtics own a commanding 9-2 championship showdown advantage over the Lakers. With Friday night's victory over Orlando, the Celtics earned the right to shoot for an 18th NBA title when this year's Finals get under way Thursday. It's no wonder that, with all they've accomplished, often beating the odds, there's this fierce feeling called 'Celtic Pride.' And, somewhat sadly, Jazz fans can only marvel at the way those guys in green repeatedly find a way to get things done in the postseason, a place where Utah's hopes continually end in frustration."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "The NBA conference finals had a familiar feel. Don't they always? Three of the four teams -- the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and Orlando -- had been there at least once in the past two years. Phoenix made it for the third time in six years. Truth is, the entire NBA playoffs usually have a familiar feel, which explains why those signs read: 'Beat L.A.' as opposed to, say, 'Beat Memphis.' Since 1990-91, 77 percent of playoff teams made it back the next year. Just four new teams made it this year, and three lost in the first round. The Indiana Pacers used to be in the perennial playoff group but now are dealing with the dark reality of NBA have-nots, specifically: Once the engine goes, it takes years to rebuild. The Pacers have missed the past four playoffs, but that's hardly unique, and in some cities, they'd just be getting started. Since 1990-91, 23 teams have had playoff droughts at least that long. Eight missed at least eight consecutive years. Dallas missed the playoffs 10 consecutive years before Dirk Nowitzki changed their fate. When the Pacers will return to prominence is anybody's guess. Only Boston has won the NBA championship after missing the playoffs the previous season. Its trick? The Celtics traded for two future Hall of Famers to go with All-Star Paul Pierce."

  • Mike Colias and David Sterrett of Chicago Business: "Bob McDermott has seen the LeBron James effect firsthand: Crowds at Beer Bistro, his West Loop restaurant, more than doubled on the four occasions the NBA phenom played at the United Center last season. 'The Bulls landing LeBron would be a huge boon for business,' Mr. McDermott says. He's not the only one seeing dollar signs as the Bulls pursue Mr. James, arguably the most-coveted free agent in sports history. Broadcast execs are giddy over the prospect of ratings and ad sales leaping back to Michael Jordan-era levels. Apparel shops, ticket brokers and bar and restaurant owners say the 25-year-old megastar would spark a frenzy of spending by local high-rollers and out-of-town professionals. Tourism officials gush over the exposure Chicago would get from near-constant national telecasts. The LeBron effect could add up to as much as $2.7 billion if he plays here for six years, estimates University of Illinois at Chicago economist John Skorburg. The catch: He'd have to take the Bulls on deep, annual playoff runs, sprinkling in at least a few NBA championships along the way."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Once upon a time, David Falk was a powerhouse agent in the NBA and his impressive client roster included Michael Jordan. These days, Falk has a much lower profile, but he got some rare media attention recently by commenting on the impending free agency of LeBron James. 'He should not play in Chicago; he will always compete with Michael Jordan,' Falk told SI.com. 'He should not play in L.A.; he will always compete with Kobe Bryant. LeBron needs his own identity. The worst place in the world for LeBron to go is Chicago. If he doesn't win six championships, he is a failure. If he doesn't win the MVP five times, he is a failure. Every night he walks into the building he will walk past the statue of Michael Jordan. LeBron is too big. He should not have to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan.' There are so many things wrong with that statement, I don't know where to begin. For starters, the players enter the United Center from the West side of the building and the Jordan statue in on the East side. Unless he makes a special trip, James never will see the Jordan statue. That's a minor issue, though. The major problem with Falk's comment is that he appears to assume there can only be one great player per franchise."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: "William Wesley's influence is either strong or on the periphery, depending upon whom you talk with. After the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers from the playoffs in Boston 17 days ago, Wesley, Carter and Rose huddled with James alone in the visitor’s locker room for about 30 minutes, until midnight, before James finally marched toward his press conference. His advisers were all there as he talked about his 'team executing a game plan this summer.' A Knicks official said the club has tried to ascertain how much effect Wesley will have in July -- but still are unclear about how much influence he wields. 'Wes is the best insider in knowing people. Wes has an affinity for people and they just like him,' longtime Adidas sneaker king Sonny Vaccaro said. 'He can do anything, but what he has to do with this decision is unclear because of LeBron’s Akron friends.' Steve Kauffman, a longtime player agent and now a prominent representative of coaches and general managers, unintentionally gave Wesley his start. Kauffman was the agent in the 1980s for Sixers’ Kenny Payne, a cousin of Wesley’s. When the Sixers’ Rick Mahorn opened up a nightclub in Cherry Hill, N.J., called 'Bump and Thump,' Kauffman got the 17-year-old Wesley a job as doorman. 'That’s where he met Michael [Jordan] and a lot of players,' Kauffman said. 'Back then, they flew commercial, stayed overnight and the club became a hangout after Sixers games. Wes took it from there. I accidently got him started.' "

  • Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News: "Dear LeBron. Or King James. Whatever you prefer: I'm writing to pick up where Mark Cuban left off recently, before David Stern fined him $100,000 for saying publicly he'd like to employ you. Like you didn't know that already. I mean, who doesn't want you? It's like fining kids for mailing their Santa letters early. You've got no problem with Santa, right? If so, me, too. Anyway, all the hubbub gave the NBA a little pizzazz that it wasn't providing with its postseason. We were all getting a little bored. You, too? Sure seemed like it in that last series. Not that I mean it in a bad way. Heavens, no. Had to be Mike Brown's fault, right? That's why the Cavs fired him. Probably for the best if he can't win it all with the greatest player in the game. Here in Dallas, we were all ready to roast Rick Carlisle just because he wouldn't play Roddy Beaubois, the skinny French kid. If you come here and the Mavs don't win it all, we could blame it on Carlisle and you wouldn't have to own up. Probably write it into your contract. Or his. Whichever. ..."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Perhaps more than any other league, the NBA is a player's league in which superstars carry more weight in the locker room and even in coaching decisions. But as we saw during the end of the Nuggets' season, a strong-willed coach is vital to a team's success. The Nuggets were 42-21 with George Karl, but finished 53-29 while he battled cancer and then bowed out to an undermanned Utah team in the playoffs' first round. During an 82-game season, the coach has to play the roles of boss and babysitter, as well as sage and psychiatrist. A coach brought in by a player loses his credibility, his credentials notwithstanding. It appears that the owners are willing to take this risk. Getting LeBron is a franchise- changing, multimillions-making acquisition. But they feel they can always get another coach. That said, just ask Michael, Shaq and Kobe the importance of coaching (then again, that's why the Phil Jackson- to-LeBron's-team rumor is such a juicy story line)."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "As we’ve said many times in this space, Amare Stoudemire is not a max player but nonetheless likely will be paid like one. A team such as the Knicks has to pay someone, and if Bosh is off the table to New York, Amare likely gets max money there, if only because New York then can claim an upgrade over David Lee. But with the Heat, it is different. It already has Michael Beasley. It certainly has the inside track on Haslem, if it chooses. And it has a prospective addition in Boozer who clearly would undercut Stoudemire to land in a preferred destination. The Heat, unlike other potential suitors, therefore has leverage when it comes to Stoudemire. Fact is, the Suns and Knicks, and possibly Nets, need him more than the Heat. So, no, the offer from the Heat should reach the max in terms of neither dollars nor years. If Amare truly wants to land in South Florida, he can show it during negotiations. Otherwise, the Heat has other chips it can play, chips that might provide better investments in terms of rebounds, post play and defense."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "They still plan to take the best player available regardless of position during the June 24 draft. They still plan to re-sign Rudy Gay and Ronnie Brewer during the free-agent period. They still plan to negotiate with Zach Randolph regarding a contract extension. They still are lecturing Randolph on being more careful about the company he keeps. The Grizzlies are in the same mode of operation they employed a week ago before Randolph produced his latest double-double: mentions in two separate police reports in less than 24 hours. Randolph was implicated in an Indianapolis drug investigation and Los Angeles-area strip club fight but the All-Star forward has avoided charges and arrest in both cases. Yes, the Grizzlies are frustrated in the wake of this public relations hit. But to the question of whether Randolph's latest controversy will re-shape the Grizzlies' draft and/or free-agent strategy, the answer is no."

  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: "With the Pistons hoping to transition from a lottery team back to playoff contender, the question arises as to which holdover from the 2004 championship team is more important -- Tayshaun Prince or Richard Hamilton? Hamilton? Since the team has too many players at small forward and shooting guard, Prince or Hamilton is the most likely to go so the team can move forward. ... 'Tayshaun is more versatile and he's younger,' said Bill Duffy, Prince's agent. 'He's the perfect complementary player, and I don't think there's any question that Rip is the kind of player who is in need of the ball. He's a great scorer, but obviously not as versatile as Tayshaun. Tayshaun can blend better with the new players that they have and the younger crew.' Prince turned 30 in February; Hamilton turned 32 the same month. Both are coming off injuries; Prince missed his first significant time as a pro with a back issue while Hamilton suffered an ankle injury the first game of the season and was never the same. Duffy is obviously biased, but Prince does provide more versatility -- he can play point guard and shooting guard in a pinch. Also, Prince is still a better-than-average defender and an above average decision-maker with the ball, while Hamilton is still a prolific scorer and a great mid-range jump shooter."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "Granted, no two sales of NBA teams are alike. No three sales, if you take into consideration the New Orleans Hornets’ current ownership situation, which has been fluid only since early April. Yet the nearly yearlong sale dramas that surrounded the New Jersey Nets and Charlotte Bobcats could serve as a template, of sorts, for Hornets fans to follow while the process of ownership transferal from George Shinn to Gary Chouest and his still-to-be-determined minority partners heads toward the final details of a sale. Last week’s revelation that Chouest, who reportedly has an agreement in principle with long-time majority Hornets owner Shinn, is seeking to put together a cadre of minority investors is one explanation why the pace of the expected sale of the team is dragging. Yet aside from that, a transaction that will no doubt top out in the hundreds of millions of dollars isn’t as simple as a department store credit card purchase. 'You’re talking about a major investment and doing it right,' Hornets President Hugh Weber said. 'And this was the same type of process we did when Gary bought in in a minority share (in 2007). That was a little bit less complicated. But I think it’s important that everybody feel confident in how it’s going.' "