First Cup: Thursday

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "If the Celtics' offseason forecast was deemed cloudy from all the uncertainty surrounding the team's future, news that Doc Rivers will return to the Boston bench next season is the sun potentially breaking through. While there's still plenty of work to be done in order to keep the core of this team together, Rivers' return is as good a sign as any that the team will do whatever it takes to keep the nucleus together for another title run. It's unlikely Rivers would come back to basketball -- sacrificing time away from the family that nearly pried him out of the final year of his contract -- if he wasn't convinced the Celtics will do everything in their power to bring back Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for the upcoming season. For a fan base left reeling from the news that Pierce will opt out of his contract's final year to become an unrestricted free agent, Rivers' decision renews confidence that the Big Three era might not yet be over."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "According to multiple sources, LeBron James entered free agency with an open mind and had made no final decisions on his future. It was exactly the way he said he'd enter the process 18 months ago and he's stuck to his plan. That process includes holding a series of meetings with suitors. Those will start Thursday when the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks are expected to meet with James. The meetings are expected to last three days and include the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavs are expected to be one of the last team to meet with James."

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "No matter what happens to the Bulls from this day forward, Jerry Reinsdorf always will be the chairman who presided over six NBA championships. John Paxson always will be best known as the Bull who hit the 3-pointer that clinched the 1993 title against the Suns, regardless of what Paxson does in a boardroom at the Berto Center. Gar Forman? So far he's the general manager who drafted Taj Gibson, traded for Flip Murray and hired Tom Thibodeau. As a body of work over 14 months, it lacks definition. But Forman is also the same guy empowered by Reinsdorf and Paxson to build another championship roster, the guy on the verge of either getting credit for the biggest free-agent coup in NBA history or blame for screwing it up. Chicago anxiously awaits Forman's signature on the moment. More than Reinsdorf or Paxson, fair or not, Forman's professional legacy rides on whether the Bulls land LeBron James. ... Sign James and it justifies every salary cap-conscious decision as well as makes Forman one of the most secure, celebrated sports executives in the city. Lose LeBron and, depending what two players are behind Door No. 2, there will be some explaining to."

  • Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: "Should one of the myriad of rumours be true -- and Chris Bosh is on his way to the Miami Heat -- then Bryan Colangelo will have only himself to blame. It was his deal back in February, 2009 that sent Jermaine O’Neal and his monster contract packing that has provided the Heat with the salary cap flexibility and strength to take a run at the Raptors best player in either a free agent signing or a sign-and-trade arrangement. And if not Bosh, the Heat can take a run at LeBron James or whomever else the Raptors can’t even think about. The deal with the Heat two seasons back led to the eventual and expensive acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu, that now has the Raptors in this incomprehensible and almost helpless position as the greatest free-agent class in sports history begins to unfold Thursday."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "To win big, former Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning said on the eve of the midnight start of NBA free agency, you have to think big. So at an event to rally support for the team's effort to re-sign All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, Mourning said there was nothing wrong in hoping the Heat also could land two other top-tier free agents, with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh among the options. 'That's why the Yankees have been so successful. That's why, traditionally speaking, the Lakers have been successfully, traditionally speaking Boston has been successful,' Mourning said of dominant sports franchises, 'because they put talent on the floor that created championships. Period. We have an opportunity as an organization, and Pat Riley and Micky Arison understand this, and we're going to take advantage of it, not just for the organization but for the fans' sake.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "The Rockets’ courtship of Chris Bosh has begun. Early Thursday, a Twitter post from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said: 'Just finished meeting with @chrisbosh -- great player & person. He is about winning so I focused on how w/Houston he can win a championship.' The Miami Heat appeared to be in position to reach a rapid agreement to sign Bosh, the Rockets’ primary target, with a sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors. However, the 6-10 forward indicated Wednesday through third-party intermediaries he "definitely" would consider the Rockets and specifically cited an interest in playing with Yao Ming and the chance to play on "a world stage," a person with knowledge of Bosh’s planning said. With Bosh’s input, the Raptors have worked out the framework of sign-and-trade agreements with several teams, including the Rockets, the individual said, but have not been told to complete any deal. ... One of Morey’s arguments for the Rockets is that their deep roster will offer Bosh a better chance to win than a Miami or New York Knicks roster gutted to create the salary-cap room needed to sign free agents. In one sense, the Rockets are in line behind suitors with salary-cap space. But they expected that."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Yes, our good, old lovable Clippers have positioned themselves quite nicely to make a major run at LeBron James, their major selling points being a lot of cash and a ready-made roster for James to hook up with. Not to toot our own horn here in Tinseltown, but if James truly is serious about playing on a contender, it would be difficult to pass up what the Clippers have to offer. If you put LeBron on a team with Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and a motivated Baron Davis -- and this time he means it -- you are talking about a team with all the necessary pieces to compete for a title. In reality, it isn't going to happen, and for all the wrong reasons. It's the Clippers, they are cursed, they don't have any history, they play in the shadow of the Lakers, blah, blah, blah."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Spurs fans who celebrated the news that Richard Jefferson opted out of the final year of his contract — and questioned his sanity for passing on the $15 million he is guaranteed to make next season — were as misguided as they assumed Jefferson to be. Unless it's payday and you're Peter Holt, there is no reason to feel good about the prospect of having Jefferson disappear from the Spurs roster, no matter how underwhelming his first season in silver and black may have been. The Spurs chairman won't have to sign any more of those bloated paychecks with Jefferson's name, but he is a basketball man at heart, so he knows this is true: From a basketball standpoint, losing Jefferson does not help his team. Should Jefferson sign with another team and leave the Spurs high and dry, the team's payroll still will be at, or near, the league's salary cap figure. ... Incredulous at Jefferson's decision, respected NBA basketball executives pondered preposterous pecuniary precedent. 'This one is right up there with Bonzi Wells,' said one Western GM, recalling how Wells walked away from a five-year, $37 million offer from the Kings in the summer of 2006, then ended up with a two-year, $4.5 million deal in Houston. 'This is like Spree,' said another."

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "Mark Warkentien is interviewing for other jobs, which represents an unusually quick fall from grace considering his peers voted him the 2008-09 NBA executive of the year. Odd as it sounds, the organization seems to resent the public credit he's been given for the team's success. Strangely, Warkentien's biographical sketch in the Nuggets' media guide makes no mention of the 2009 award. Warkentien's apparent expendability only adds to the impression that the man actually pulling the strings is owner E. Stanley Kroenke's friend and confidant Bret Bearup, who has no official title with the organization and does not appear in the team's media guide. As if all this were not enough, the organization is now putting out word that it might have to trade Carmelo Anthony if he doesn't sign a contract extension. The truth is the Nuggets are running out of options to improve the cast. Aside from Anthony, only Nene has significant value on the trade market, but trading the one healthy big man on a team looking to get bigger doesn't really help."

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: "I'll be the first to hold my hand high and tell you I thought Doc Rivers wasn’t coming back next season to coach the Boston Celtics .... the pertinent issue in Central Florida is how will this impact the Orlando Magic. A lot, I think. It means that the Celtics now have a legitimate shot to defend their Eastern Conference championship, assuming they re-sign Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Pulling it all together is a bit complicated because Pierce is likely looking for a three-year deal, wanting to avoid getting left in the cold should there be a lockout a year from now. But if the Celtics come back with their core group _ not many people were banking on that a few weeks ago _ the Magic will have to go through Boston to win a championship. And once again, they will be led by one of the best coaches in the league who has 100 percent buy-in from his players. Not a lot of guys you can say that about in the world of egos and me-me-me satisfaction. And should the Miami Heat put together their little fantasy team with three max players, and if LeBron James stays in the East, it’s going to get very crowded at the top. Speculation City, I know. But the one tangible piece -- Doc will be back, only makes it tough for the Magic to regroup and reload for another run."

  • Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post: "Since Ted Leonsis assumed control of the Washington Wizards, he's talked frequently about following the example of the Washington Capitals, and why not? The Caps were ranked 11th in ESPN the Magazine's just-released 'Ultimate Standings,' which measure how much teams give back to their fans. No other D.C. team was in the top 90. This Caps emulation counts for on-ice strategy -- building through the draft, trying to form a young core of players who can grow together, not going crazy on long-term deals for pricey free agents until success is near -- and it counts for off-ice matters, too. Which helps explain why Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld picked up a phone to join a conference call with about 1,500 ticket buyers Wednesday afternoon and spent more than 45 minutes answering their questions."

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: "The Bobcats are standing on the shore, but a whole lot of teams are about to go fishing way out deep. Not Charlotte. The Bobcats have, sadly, turned into a pretty good NBA team with a pretty bad upside. Once derided for not spending enough money, they now have spent too much. Consequently, they now have no real shot at the Class of 2010 stars -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (who could actually form a super-team in Miami or Chicago, although my guess is LeBron ultimately stays in Cleveland). Also, no Carlos Boozer. Or Joe Johnson. Or Amare Stoudemire. Or Dirk Nowitzki. It's somewhat doubtful any of the 'A' list would have come to Charlotte, anyway -- although I still think playing the Michael-Jordan-as-owner card early and often might have led to one big surprise. Still, Charlotte has little NBA basketball tradition, no beach and a small market by league standards. But if the Bobcats had the cap room they used to have, they at least could have leveraged that to end up with another good player basically for free."

  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "David Falk, who represents first-round Pistons draft pick Greg Monroe, told reporters at a Pistons news conference last week that instituting maximum free-agent salaries perhaps hasn't achieved the equity among teams that the NBA might have desired. These players are going to be megastars wherever they go, and since the money is the same, why not consider peripheral perks such as the excitement surrounding the city? Detroit can't compete with that. Cleveland can't, either. Chicago is the only Midwestern city that could. That's why it's pointless to complain that Joe Dumars didn't save his salary-cap space last summer. The Pistons must accept who they are and where they play. They must draft their stars. Free agency is only an opportunity for picking at the scraps. That was true last year, and it would have been true for them this year, too."