First Cup: Monday

  • Rick Brunson of the Orlando Sentinel "Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard can bring an arena full of fans to their feet with one of his powerful dunks. But on Sunday afternoon, a crowd cheered wildly as the big man got himself dunked -- into the chilly ocean waters off Bethune Beach just south of New Smyrna Beach. Howard was baptized, along with dozens of others, as part of a beachside service held by Orlando's Summit Church. With the sun fading about 5:45 p.m., Howard waded into the cold surf, the last person in a long line of folks to be baptized. He grimaced slightly and tensed up in reaction to the water as he walked toward the pastors. Howard, who is accustomed to double coverage, was flanked by two pastors -- who had to back up with him into deeper water to accommodate his 6-11, 265-pound frame. After making a profession of faith in Jesus, Howard was dunked into the Atlantic Ocean. As he emerged from the water, about 500 onlookers on the beach cheered, clapped and snapped pictures with cell phones. As he walked from the beach to the parking lot, Howard greeted church members while he toweled himself dry. 'It feels great, man,' he said."

  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: "Something that doesn't have a lot of precedent in American sports happened then. Dwyane Wade called Chris Bosh and asked him to cut $15 million off his salary for Udonis Haslem. Wade called LeBron James and asked him to do the same. Bosh and James barely knew Haslem. Just a few short conversations here and there. But Wade told them this team needed someone hungry and gritty and unselfish like Haslem, and promised to cut $17 million out of his own contract to make it happen, too. 'They said 'I'm in' without hesitating,' Wade said Sunday. What? 'No questions asked,' Wade said. None? 'Not one,' Wade said. 'They respected UD as a player. And they trusted me as a leader and friend.' ... Haslem reached out to James and Bosh after his agent explained what they had done. 'Thank you,' he told them. 'You didn't make a mistake. I won't let you down.' And he called Wade with words not often heard in this muscled world. 'I love you,' he said."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: "New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul worked in practice Sunday with a brace off over his surgically repaired left knee. During the portion of the practice open to the media, Paul took free throws and jump shots on an alternate court from his teammates as strength and core trainer Carlos Daniel and assistant trainer John Ishop observed. Hornets Coach Monty Williams said Paul was getting used to the brace he'll probably use throughout the regular season. 'We're just trying to stay on top of anything that could be nagging,' Williams said. 'It's such a long season. When a guy is coming off a surgery, you want to be as cautious as you can to keep him from having any setbacks.' Paul, who could not be reached for comment, missed 37 games last season after requiring arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "Less than 24 hours after the Trail Blazers traded Jerryd Bayless to New Orleans for a first-round draft pick, coach Nate McMillan revealed his plans for a new-look player rotation. Bayless was penciled in at backup point guard and McMillan said he will be replaced by a host of Blazers -- Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews and Armon Johnson -- in a versatile and potentially dynamic second unit. 'Wesley has shown that he can play some point, Brandon can play some point and Armon did a good job for us in training camp and showed that he can play a few minutes at the point guard position, too,' McMillan said. 'There’s a number of guys that we can use to bring the ball down to initiate the offense.' McMillan joked that Roy had “asked for the ball a little more” in training camp, and it appears the Blazers’ All-Star will be a prime beneficiary of the trade. As starters are pulled from the first shift, specifically point guard Andre Miller, Roy will stay in and play alongside Matthews and Rudy Fernandez in a backcourt that will feature three guards who can shoot, score and set up an offense."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Carmelo Anthony remains a Nugget and said he's excited about opening against division rival Utah, the team that knocked Denver out of the playoffs last spring. 'With all the (trade) talk that was going around and still is going around, for me to be able to open up here against Utah, I like that,' Anthony said. After practice, the team met with George Karl on the court, and the coach and Melo had a funny give-and-take. Karl told the team that if a shot is missed, then it's a bad shot. 'So we were just trying to distinguish what is a bad shot,' Anthony said. 'I asked if my defender is three feet off me, if it's a bad shot. He said, 'If it doesn't go in.' ' "

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "Mike Heisley is on the phone from Hawaii. He is celebrating his wedding anniversary. It is 4 a.m., and he has picked up his cell phone, and someone who didn't know he was in Hawaii -- and, boy, do I feel lousy -- is asking him about the future of the Grizzlies. 'They're celebrating their 10th year in Memphis, but will they make it to a 20th year in Memphis?' I ask. 'I don't know if I'll make it to a 20th year!' he says. Heisley laughs. Even at 4 a.m., the man has a point. Who knows what will happen over the course of the next decade? Who knows if the Grizzlies will still be here in 2020? Who knows if Heisley -- now 77 -- will even be around to own the team? 'I don't think it's something for people to worry about,' Heisley says. Easy for him to say. If there's one thing this city is good at, it's doom. ... The critics who predicted the Grizzlies would leave Memphis after two or three seasons had no idea what they were talking about. The lease set up a schedule of 'early termination payments' that precluded any serious discussion of moving the team. In 2002, it would have cost the Grizzlies $114 million to get out of the lease. Today, it would still cost $103 million. But the payments continue to decline so that by 2020, it would cost a more manageable $63 million to terminate the lease. In 2027, the penalty would be just $8 million."

  • Kate Fagan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Who knows how these things spread? Maybe some of it is Twitter, some word of mouth, some the Internet, and some just plain old scouting and observation. However it happened, by the time ESPN the Magazine released its NBA preview edition, the majority of its experts -- three out of four -- had determined that 76ers rookie guard Evan Turner would be this season's 'bust' pick. In a city waiting for a U-turn from its professional basketball team, and believing the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA draft would provide that much-needed redirection, the assessment of Turner as a bust is about as easy to swallow as a basketball. It can't be true, can it? Wasn't Turner supposed to be the draft's most NBA-ready player? The pick was a no-brainer. (Except, of course, in retrospect, where other players now look brighter and shinier.) But Turner's development is going to take a quality not necessarily flowing freely within the veins of Sixers fans: patience."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "How big an upset was it that two undrafted rookies -- Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels -- made the Cavaliers' final roster? OK, maybe not as big as the Browns upsetting the New Orleans Saints. But it's still pretty big. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were just 12 undrafted rookies playing in the league last season. There were 12 such rookies in 2008-09 and 14 in 2007-08. Those are considerable drops from the 26 who played in the league in 2006-07 and the 34 in 2005-06. Add that neither Jamario Moon nor Jawad Williams was drafted, and the Cavs have four players who earned their way into the league the hard way. 'How about that?' said general manager Chris Grant with a smile. So what's the secret to their success? Is there an art to finding these diamonds in the rough, which seems to be getting harder and harder to do? Not really, according to Grant. But he does take the opportunity to praise director of player personnel Wes Wilcox and his scouting staff. 'We give our scouts a lot of credit for being open-minded and continuing to evaluate and watch players and trusting their gut instincts,' he said."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "Eleven Knicks are on Twitter, a number matched only by the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics each have 10 players issuing messages. 'It’s kind of cool to be on Twitter,' said Turiaf, the Knicks’ backup center and leading chatterbox. Among professional leagues, the N.B.A. is at the forefront of the social media boom. It has the most fans on Facebook (5.3 million), the most followers on Twitter (2.1 million) and the most viewed videos on YouTube (438 million). All 30 teams have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Nearly 200 players -- more than 40 percent of the league -- have Twitter accounts. Between the two services, the N.B.A. has a combined 60 million followers. Finding the Knicks among the league leaders is, however, a stunning development. Until two years ago, the franchise had the strictest media policy in the league. Players generally could not speak to reporters without a public relations person present. Every interview with the head coach or the team president was monitored and transcribed. Staff members avoided reporters for fear of violating the rules. Paranoia reigned. ... The Knicks mostly stick to safe subjects: food, movies, music, traffic complaints and Bible passages. They are more likely to discuss the Book of Revelations than offer revelations about the playbook. They have devoted more time to the Kings of Leon than the Kings of Sacramento. Players say the feedback is generally positive, but the freewheeling dialogue might seem less inviting after, say, a five-game losing streak. "

  • Mike Brudenell of the Detroit Free Press: "Tracy McGrady, who signed a one-year deal with the Pistons in the off-season, has seen limited action with his new club, playing 8 minutes at Miami in the first exhibition game and being restricted at practice since. 'Tracy did a nice job,' said John Kuester of the seven-time All-Star who needed microfracture surgery on his left knee in February 2009. 'We were able to have a good practice and the guys got after it, and it was pretty impressive. Tracy played with great intelligence out there; he obviously picked things up pretty easily.' McGrady took shooting practice to end the two-hour session. He was almost perfect on more than a dozen shots. After cooling down on an exercise bike, McGrady took questions for about five minutes, appearing relaxed and confident. 'I got a chance to go up and down and it felt pretty good,' said McGrady of practice. McGrady, 31, said he believes he can help the Pistons bounce back from the disappointments of last season while silencing some critics who think he’s done. 'I want to prove the doubters wrong -- (saying) that you can’t play anymore, and this and that,' McGrady said. 'It’s been some time that my body has felt the way it is.' McGrady said he’s raring to go Wednesday if called upon."

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: "Events like the Toronto Raptors’ Fan Jam on Sunday, a glorified scrimmage open to the public, are known for two things: plenty of screaming from a lot of people (many of whom are well beyond the age of consent) and the public embarrassment of team rookies. However, yesterday’s event was notably short on the latter. Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi were not forced to sing, dance or wear short shorts. 'Normally, when you got rookies who are hardheaded and don’t want to listen, those are the guys you make go do stuff,' point guard Jarrett Jack said. 'We have got two rookies who are really good. You tell them to be here, they’re here. They work their asses off everyday, hard as hell. 'The guys that want to get here late and think they’re too cool for school, those are the guys who get their cars filled with popcorn and can’t find their car keys at the end of the day, or their luggage goes missing.' 'I was worried,' Alabi admitted. 'I thought they were going to do that.' He should not have been. There is nothing about Alabi that screams “too cool for school.” In fact, if he were not a legitimate 7-foot-1, there would be very little to tip one off that he was in the NBA at all."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Even with size 22 feet, Shaquille O’Neal is not disinclined to step into shoes that may be bigger than his. And we are not, for the moment, even talking about joining the storied Celtics. But the 7-foot-1, 325-pound Shaq chose to initially dispute the premise that he’s not even the most famous athlete to ever live in Sudbury. 'I know about that,' he said. 'But I think I surpassed Babe Ruth. That’s what I think.' When that statement was greeted by an incredulous look and the question of whether youth basketball leagues will someday be named after him, Shaq pressed on. 'I’m just saying, how do you remember people -- for their records or their championships?' he said. 'I got both, too. How many rings he got?' Told that the Babe had won seven World Series titles, Shaq, lord of four rings, shook his head. 'Damn,' he said. 'He got me.' Bloodied but unbowed, Shaquille wouldn’t give in completely. 'OK, but I’m the most famous African-American athlete from Sudbury,' he said. 'Ha. Got him,' he went on, breaking into a wide smile and evoking laughter. 'Got him. There’s always a loophole, baby.' "