First Cup: Wednesday

  • Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "The Lakers want to make trades but are a little short on available, desirable players. They have an aging roster tied down by cumbersome salaries and have already traded their only expiring contract of value -- Sasha Vujacic's $5.5 million -- in a December salary dump that cost them this year's first-round draft pick. They're fading quickly in the race for the best record in the Western Conference, and there's increased concern in the upper reaches of the organization that they might not get back to the NBA Finals, but there isn't much room to maneuver because 10 of their 14 players are 30 or older and the franchise is already burdened by the league's highest payroll ($90 million). Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, however, said Tuesday that the 'door's open for business' before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a follow-up to similar comments from General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Monday. Jackson added that 'it was a good calling card that Mitch threw out there,' but who could the Lakers realistically trade?"

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "If the Lakers really are considering all possibilities to improve their team right now, Andrew Bynum could be gone. Should be gone, in fact. Let’s go a step farther: Why is he still here? He is this team’s most attractive asset, given his age and potential. His contract -- two years and $31.5 million left (counting a team option for 2012-13) after this season -- is something other teams could work with. Think about it. Bynum is the Lakers’ only viable trade asset at this point, at least in making a significant deal. Lamar Odom has some value certainly, but who else? And we mean real value, not Luke Walton-type value. The Lakers aren’t trading Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol and who would want Derek Fisher or Ron Artest right now, even though Artest is affordable? The issue, of course, is Bynum’s shaky health, the reason we’d move him in an instant in the right deal. So package him up, Mitch, with whoever else is necessary to make the salaries work, and ship him out. But now Bynum’s hurt again. And that’s a problem, too. Other teams see the same injury reports the rest of us do."

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "What if Carmelo Anthony is right? What if the Nuggets are pursuing a new business model that mimics what owner E. Stanley Kroenke is doing across the hall with his hockey team,which has a player payroll half that of the basketball team and a similar competitive position? What if the Nuggets' contract proposal to Melo would essentially give him the role of Todd Helton for the Rockies in the aughts, a star in his prime with his team rebuilding around him? Demonizing players as disloyal is easy for organizations in which fans have a vested interest, as the Broncos demonstrated under Josh McDaniels. But Anthony has been more forthcoming than Nuggets management through all this, and that should count for something. Kroenke has every right to cut payroll after years of paying the NBA luxury tax without a championship. But Anthony, in his eighth pro season, also has a right to say he doesn't want to be a part of it."

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: "Call it confidence, call it cockiness, call it whatever you wish. But one thing is clear: Eddie House certainly doesn’t lack it. With his gunslinger mentality, House relishes taking and making the big shot, then reveling in the demonstrative look-at-me histrionics than usually follow. After falling out of the rotation in December and part of January, House recently has given the Heat exactly what it envisioned: an off-the-bench spark with a penchant for delivering in the clutch. Last Friday, he tied the score against Detroit with a three-pointer with four minutes left, then hit two free throws to put the Heat ahead for good with 6.5 seconds remaining. On Sunday, his three-pointer with 22 seconds to go lifted Miami to a victory at Oklahoma City. 'He’s not afraid of big moments,' LeBron James said. 'He has a lot of confidence in his ability.' Even beyond the late-game heroics, House’s overall work has been impressive. After being held out of 11 consecutive games, House has played in eight in a row, hitting 50 percent from the field (29 of 58) and 47.2 percent from three-point range (17 of 36)."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Since the report surfaced over the weekend from a German sports publication that Dirk Nowitzki would consider playing in Germany next season if the NBA goes through a protracted lockout, Nowitzki has done his best to calm any fears that he’s going to be sporting another professional team’s colors anytime soon. 'If it’s a long lockout, we all have to check over all our options,' Nowitzki said Tuesday. 'You don’t want to lose a whole year. But that’s a long, long way away. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the collective-bargaining and even then, there are a lot of other things that go into it. This was mainly just a bunch of speculation.' That much is true, but Nowitzki would be well within his rights to play for a pro team in Germany -- or elsewhere, if he so chose -- should the NBA owners lock out the players on July 1, a possibility that many observers believe is quite likely. Even if that happens, however, the ramifications could be far reaching for players who try to play in another pro league. Complicating matters is Nowitzki’s sprained knee that he suffered in late December, which has given him a renewed outlook on keeping his body as fresh and healthy as it can be for his No. 1 goal -- winning an NBA championship."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "It's a bit ridiculous to debate the merits of Randolph, Love and Griffin no matter the argument or who delivers the bravado. Love is putting up staggering numbers, averaging 21.6 points and 15.6 rebounds. He has six games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds and three 30-20 games -- the first player to do that since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990-91. Love is on pace to become the first player since Moses Malone in 1982-83 to average at least 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. Griffin is no slouch with averages of 22.8 points and 12.7 rebounds. He's got a long list of awe-inspiring dunks too. And then there's Randolph, who has a resume of consistency that is unmatched. Randolph, who averages 20 points and 13.2 rebounds, is the only NBA player who has averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of the last two seasons. Randolph is the only Western Conference player to win two Player of the Week awards in a single month and one of three players in the West (Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook) to earn multiple Player of the Week honors this season. ... The Grizzlies' record is what ultimately might separate Randolph. Love's Timberwolves (11-36) own the worst record in the conference while Griffin's Clippers (19-28) are still well below average."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "The Bulls have excelled this season on focusing at the task at hand, taking a business-like approach with them to Los Angeles, where they begin a five-game trip Wednesday against the Clippers. Part of their first-game focus is simple: Avoid landing on a poster, courtesy of wunderkind Blake Griffin. 'I'm going to either try to get the block or take a foul,' a determined Taj Gibson said. 'Nothing easy.' Griffin, on the contrary, has made plenty look easy in his spectacular transition from an injured, inactive first season to runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year. The 6-foot-10 matchup nightmare is averaging 22.8 points and 12.7 rebounds and smoked the Bulls in the Clippers' 100-99 victory on Dec. 18 at United Center. Griffin posted 29 points and 12 rebounds in that contest, throwing down two alley-oop dunks before Benny the Bull had time to try to match him during a trampoline-toting, first-quarter timeout. Griffin also put so many big men in foul trouble that broadcasters Stacey King and Bill Wennington almost started warming up."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Bass' injury could intensify General Manager Otis Smith's search for an additional big man to fill the void created by the trade of Marcin Gortat in mid-December. It should make for an interesting February for the Magic, who have lost six of their last 12 games. The first half of the month will be tougher now. The Heat have Chris Bosh at power forward. The Celtics have perhaps the deepest frontcourt in the league, especially now that center Kendrick Perkins has returned from a knee injury. Next Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers will feature rookie power forward Blake Griffin, an emerging star and a regular contributor to SportsCenter highlight reels. 'They said X-rays are negative,' Bass said. 'So, I'm just going to ice it and hope for a speedy recovery.' The team needs him back as soon as possible."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Only one player this season can lay claim to holding NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant scoreless in the fourth quarter. New Orleans forward Trevor Ariza. In the last meeting between the Thunder and the Hornets on Jan. 24, Ariza's defense helped keep Durant off the scoreboard in a closely-contested final period that featured three ties, two lead changes and neither team holding more than a six-point advantage. Durant went 0-for-5 in the quarter. He played 6 minutes, 58 seconds. Ariza played 6 minutes, 48 seconds. The Hornets won, 91-89, on a game-winner by David West. Remember those facts tonight. While the point guard battle between Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul serves as the sexiest matchup in the teams' fourth and final meeting this season, the more significant chess match will be between Durant and Ariza."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "Fans and pundits will surely debate the extent and the quality of the Knicks’ progress this season. They have a winning record (but just barely). They are on a pace to make the playoffs (as a lower seed). They might win a first-round series (though it seems unlikely). They have an undisputed star in Amar’e Stoudemire (but he is not LeBron James). Yet the progress is both tangible and indisputable, and a credit to Donnie Walsh, the team president, who over two years dismantled a dysfunctional, overpaid lineup and replaced it with a cohesive, respectable, reasonably priced team. As Walsh awaits word about his future, it is instructive to look back to the roster he was handed on April 1, 2008, which may look even worse in retrospect than it did at the time. Six of the 15 players Walsh inherited are out of the league -- not counting Eddy Curry, who might as well be. Three others are on N.B.A. rosters but barely playing. That leaves only five players of any significance."

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: "Anthony Morrow is long on confidence, just as he's long on range. From a statistical perspective, the Nets' shooting guard deserves to participate in this month's three-point shooting contest more than any other player. And if given the opportunity to become the Nets' first participant since Drazen Petrovic in 1992, Morrow is positive he will leave with the title. 'I know I'll win,' he said Tuesday, a day after hitting all four of his three-point attempts in a victory over the Nuggets. 'Oh, I know I'll win.' The NBA will announce the participants next week, using criteria that left Morrow off the six-man list the last two seasons. The 25-year-old is the leader in career three-point percentage (45.5%). And as a member of the Warriors last season, he finished with a better percentage than all the three-point shooting contestants - including the winner, Paul Pierce, and Danilo Gallinari. It's a talent that Morrow is eager to demonstrate during All-Star weekend (Feb.18-20) in Los Angeles. He has been pining for a spot for years and even created a video last season to garner attention for the bid. Morrow went through a practice round in the video, hitting 23 of 25 shots, including all the 'money' balls worth an extra point."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Jamal Crawford has shot better than 50 percent from the field in one of his past eight games, when he made eight of 15 field-goal attempts and scored 19 points at Miami. In the other seven games Crawford made 25 of 76 shots (32.9 percent) while averaging 12.3 points. Both Crawford and coach Larry Drew said Crawford isn't forcing shots. ... The Hawks' fortunes seem to rely heavily on which way Crawford is going. They were 3-4 in his seven recent poor shooting games, which continued a season-long trend. The Hawks are 12-3 when Crawford scores at least 15 points and 18-15 when he doesn't, including recent losses to New Orleans and Dallas. Crawford has averaged 17.6 points in the Hawks' 30 victories and 13.1 in their 18 defeats. That's the largest spread on the team by far and among the top differentials in the NBA. The Hawks managed to defeat the Knicks despite one of Crawford's worst shooting nights. He made his first four shots, then missed 10 in a row before finishing 5-of-16 -- and the one additional made shot bounced high off the rim before falling through the basket. Though he's the NBA's reigning Sixth Man Award winner and a natural scorer, Crawford said missing so many shots can affect his confidence. 'At that point, you start kind of thinking a little too much,' Crawford said. 'You still get open shots, but you start thinking too much because you don't usually go through stretches like that. You have to have enough resolve mentally to say, ‘OK, I can make the next one.' ' There are, of course, other ways for Crawford to help the offense when he's not making shots. When Crawford had a similar dip in shooting numbers in late November, he compensated by increasing his assist rate and earning more free-throw attempts. That hasn't happened recently."

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "It is about time Andrea Bargnani decides if he is going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Long ago Bryan Colangelo hitched his wagon to the idea that Bargnani would be a big part of the latter in Toronto but the man he put his faith in has been a massive disappointment of late. Granted Bargnani’s 17-for-62 shooting over his past three games makes it easy to fire shots at him, but this goes far beyond what he does or does not provide at the offensive end. The issue with Bargnani remains his frustrating inability to get the best out of his talents by outworking opponents and showing commitment at both ends of the floor. That means not allowing big men such as Roy Hibbert (24 points, 11 rebounds vs. Raptors), Kevin Love (6-for-10, 12 rebounds in 24 minutes against Toronto), Ersan Ilyasova (9-for-10) and Andrew Bogut (10-for-12) to do whatever they want inside. It means chasing down loose balls and doing a much better job keeping opponents off of the boards (Indiana outrebounded Toronto 56-38 on Monday -- including 15-8 in a first quarter that saw Bargnani play 10.5 of 12 minutes). Bargnani has the height and base to do a better job in those regards. It is a matter of effort and will. There should be some pride shown in trying not to post the worst rebounding numbers for a big man in the history of the league."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "The NBA hasn’t had a major problem with steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, certainly not like the NFL, Major League Baseball, professional cycling or track and field. Education helps, and the league dispatches advisors to visit each team several times each season, touching on all manner of topics with the intent of helping players avoid all manner of mistakes that might end up embarrassing them and the league. Today, running afoul of the policies pretty much requires a willful disregard for one’s own self-interest. The first order of business when an NBA player program team dropped in on the Spurs on Sunday, in advance of the rodeo road trip: What happened to Mayo, and why. 'When we do our meetings, they tell us right away, ‘Don’t take anything from outside,’?' Spurs point guard Tony Parker said. 'Everything we have to take is what the Spurs want us to take. They don’t want us to take anything else. On our team, everyone is pretty much disciplined. We’re serious about taking care of our bodies. Every day, you can talk with ‘Brungy’ or Will (head athletic trainer Will Sevening).' Mayo had the same opportunities in Memphis and regrets he didn’t check with his athletic trainer before sloshing down whatever it was he drank that cost him 10 games and about $400,000. Knowledge can be costly. Regret always comes with a heavy price."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: This is a bit off-topic, but it relates to the Charlotte Bobcats being here and it needs to be said on the day Charlotte got a fantastic economic-impact opportunity in the Democratic National Convention: Malcolm Graham, you made a great argument years ago. Graham, then a Charlotte city council member, said the single most intelligent thing in the arena debate. The NBA was offering to replace the Hornets with an expansion team if the city had the will to replace Charlotte Coliseum. ... He told his colleagues that if they see this town replacing the Coliseum anytime in the next 25 years, then it would be pretty foolish not to partner with the NBA in covering the cost of construction and maintenance. That registered on Graham’s colleagues, both Democrat and Republican. Some 35,000 people will be in Charlotte for the DNC Convention because there’s infrastructure that might not exist had Graham not been so eloquent in that meeting. It was never about caving to the NBA. The NASCAR Hall of Fame has produced a lot less, and there wasn’t nearly the debate about whether that was a good deal for our city."