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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "You knew this night was different when Blake Griffin received a mighty roar in the Los Angeles Clipper pregame introductions. Not an oh-my-lord-Kobe-Bryant-is-in-the-building roar. A we-love-you-Blake roar. Then a funny thing happened. The love for Griffin stopped, rejected like a Serge Ibaka swat. First Griffin basket: no cheer. First Griffin foul: cheer. First Griffin missed foul shot: cheer. A throng that a few minutes earlier had waved palm branches at their worshipped hero suddenly treated Griffin like some nondescript Minnesota Timberwolf. Good for Oklahoma City. I'm proud of the crowd, which was no small reason the Thunder busted away from a monster Griffin start and waxed the Clippers 111-88 Tuesday night. Boomtown handled this homecoming wonderfully. Great welcome for a favorite son, then absolute apathy. Griffin is the enemy now, trying to take playoff food from the Thunder table."

  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: "Carmelo Anthony will make only a first impression Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. This will be a bit like an opening night for him, just one without real rehearsal, with new teammates and old ones. But he will hear something Wednesday night, be on the inside of a sound that will tell him how much basketball still matters to these fans, the ones who are still here after the worst 10 years in the history of the Knicks or the place. Not so long ago, basketball New York was obsessed with LeBron. Now Carmelo. Who is ours now. There have been only a handful of debuts such as this since the glory years for the Knicks. There was the night that Patrick Ewing officially became a Knick. There was the first time Pat Riley came out of the Knicks locker room and made the left turn and began to make the Knicks matter again. There was Amar'e Stoudemire's debut earlier this season. There have been some others. None bigger than this. This isn't about Dolan or Donnie Walsh Wednesday night or Isiah Thomas, the noted Dolan whisperer. This isn't about how the deal with Denver finally got done. This is about Anthony coming out of the tunnel as a Knick. The night is about that."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post "It's not every day -- or any day, for that matter -- that a player gets a personal apology from the front office that traded him. But then, Chauncey Billups wasn't just any player for the Nuggets. His inclusion in the trade to the New York Knicks was the name that really stung for Nuggets fans. Billups grew up here, played basketball atGeorge Washington High School and the University of Colorado and never wastes an opportunity to show his love for the city. That's why, said Nuggets executives Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri, it was painful to let him go. And that's why the duo opened their Tuesday evening news conference in an unusual manner. 'I want to offer a personal apology to the Billups family,' Kroenke said. 'They mean the world to me personally, and I know that Chauncey means everything to Denver. And when I say Denver, I mean just Denver basketball on every level. He is Denver basketball. He was a high school star here, he was a college star here, he was a professional star here. It was an incredibly tough decision to include him in this trade.' Added Ujiri: 'It was hard. This trade took this long because of Chauncey. We tried every way not to include him in this trade. It's one of the most difficult things. What a great professional, what a great person, what a great family. He will always be welcome in Denver, and he knows that.' "

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: "We all want to jump to conclusions, declare the Knicks’ acquisition of Carmelo Anthony to be the greatest deal in the history of the franchise since Dave DeBusschere. Or the worst case of destructive ownership interference since James L. Dolan tried to rehire Isiah Thomas (which, granted, was only last summer, but Dolan does seem to raise the bar on recidivism). In any event, in the interests of equanimity, let us say that time will tell whether the Knicks are finally back in the race for their first N.B.A. title since 1973, or if the pairing of Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire at the cost of the team’s youthful core is just another episode of big ideas hatched by little brains. With an eye on the roadblocks out of the Eastern Conference in Boston (for now) and Miami (for the foreseeable future), the Knicks’ future will probably fall somewhere between the extremes."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Are the New York Knicks, now that they’ve acquired Carmelo Anthony to go with Amar’e Stoudemire, better than the Orlando Magic? I don’t think this is such a far-fetched notion considering the Magic are a team that suddenly finds itself among the middle of the pack among Eastern Conference playoff contenders. Unless the Magic start playing significantly better after the All-Star break, it’s certainly not out of the question to think the Knicks might be able to beat the Magic in a playoff series. If I’m Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, I wouldn’t want to play New York in the first round of the playoffs. Here’s all you need to know about the Knicks: three-fifths of their starting lineup -- Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups -- would be starting for the Magic right now. Only one player on the Magic -- Dwight Howard -- would definitely be starting for the Knicks. Again, the Magic might be deeper, but the Knicks have better starters."

  • David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The question becomes: Who's next? Dwight Howard? Chris Paul? Will a third name be added to the New York skyline and threaten the Heat's dynasty before it happens? In one long-discussed move Tuesday, the Knicks traded a smorgasbord of players, money and draft picks for Carmelo Anthony, moved from an average to a decent team and made Sunday's Heat-Knicks game a must-see event. But what's next is what matters. Two top-15 players make the Knicks fun theater in the big city. Two does something else crucial, too. It makes the step to three stars easier. The Heat showed that last summer. ... What matters most in any NBA trade is who gets the best player. And the Knicks got Anthony. But the overriding point is they were going to get him anyway. Let's not dismiss the importance of a supporting cast, too. The Knicks got Billups back, but threw a heap of average players overboard here. On a team with two or three stars in the salary-cap era, they become harder to grab quickly. Ask the Heat. Of course, these two stars are a concern in New York only because they can spawn three. It's this search for the third that should scare the Magic and make the Heat nervous. But there's always hope when Isiah is in the mix."

  • Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News: "In an alternate universe, however, Tony Parker is still in the final year of his contract and, with Thursday’s trade deadline fast approaching, the Spurs could have been facing the same kind of deal-him-or-lose-him pressure the Nuggets faced with Anthony. Parker opted for an extension, in part, to avoid the season-long soap opera that engulfed Anthony and the Nuggets. By signing his name on the dotted line Oct. 30, Parker silenced media speculation that he, too, might be Big Apple bound. He credits Spurs management -- owner Peter Holt, general manager R.C. Buford and president/head coach Gregg Popovich -- for getting a deal done before the point of distraction. 'I’m just happy with the whole way it was handled,' Parker said. 'Pop, R.C. and Peter Holt wanted to do it fast, and I wanted to stay. It worked out well for both parties.' ... 'I’m happy with my situation,' Parker said. 'And I’m happy I didn’t have to go through what Carmelo went through.' "

  • Martin Frank of The News-Journal: "So, another group of superstars is about to form, this time in New York now that Carmelo Anthony has joined Amar'e Stoudemire. That would leave only Utah point guard Deron Williams or New Orleans point guard Chris Paul to complete the triumvirate by the summer of 2012. By then, the Knicks should be among the Eastern Conference elite, right up there with the superstar-filled teams in Miami and Boston. The 76ers, meanwhile, are stuck without a superstar, wondering whatever happened to the days of building from within for the long haul. Sure, it's easy to like the direction the Sixers are headed in. They have a young core of players and they're building a decent team. But you have to wonder if they can ever get to that elite level without their own group of superstars. The answer, of course, is no. ... The Eagles weren't exactly a desired destination 10 years ago, either. Yet they have enticed elite players like Terrell Owens and Asante Samuel and became a perennial playoff team (they could use another superstar or two to go even further). Their formula was simple: Build from within, then go after the elite player to fill in the blanks. It's a formula the Sixers have no choice but to follow. That's why it's crucial over these final 26 games that the Sixers build fast enough to pass the Knicks in the standings, win a first-round playoff series, and give an elite team a run for their money in the second round. Maybe then, a star player -- preferably a big man -- will see that the Sixers might be just a player or two away from challenging those elite teams. Maybe then, the Sixers can form a group of superstars all their own."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Indiana Pacers swingman Danny Granger sees the trend around the NBA. Major-market city. All-Star player. The two combine to make that NBA team a possible title contender. Granger doesn't like that trend because he said that hurts small-market teams like the Pacers. The latest move came when the New York Knicks acquired forward Carmelo Anthony to go with another All-Star, Amare Stoudemire. 'They're definitely better,' Granger said. 'Obviously I don't like it because we have to play against them three more times.' ... 'They're all taking a page out of Miami's book,' Granger said. 'I don't think it's good for the league. It hurts a team like us tremendously if everybody can pick where they want to go. No chance at all for us. We need to figure out a way to have teams more evenly matched.' The Pacers can spend big on free agents this summer if they don't pull a big deal before Thursday's trade deadline. Indianapolis doesn't have the bright lights of New York, the beaches of Miami or the warm weather of Los Angeles to entice free agents. 'Who would want to come here as a free agent?' Granger asked. 'Any small-market team will have that problem. If the trend is to go to the better city, you got teams like us, Milwaukee and Minnesota who don't have a shot.' "

  • Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News: "The NBA needs a harder salary cap, or at least a franchise tag like the NFL uses, to give a team leverage to keep its top talent. This isn't about restricting player freedom, either. Please, don't waste time decrying the trampled rights of millionaires. I'm talking about the viability of the NBA, which always has had a manufactured feel. The best players square off in predictable matchups and almost everyone else sits and watches. It should make you appreciate even more what it meant for the Pistons to break through for three titles, or the Rockets to win two, or the Spurs to be incredibly competitive. Only seven franchises have won championships since 1989: Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Spurs, Rockets, Heat. Without a revamping of the NBA's labor agreement, it'll be even harder for others to get good and stay good. Yes, it has been this way for a long time, but the superstars didn't jump like they do now. It threatens to get silly, with three more eyeing the market next season -- Orlando's Dwight Howard, New Orleans' Chris Paul, Utah's Deron Williams. And what happens to Oklahoma City when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook figure it's time for a bigger stage? Or the Clippers, when it dawns on Blake Griffin that he plays for the Clippers? Frankly, it makes you appreciate the stability of Kobe Bryant in L.A."

  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "The NBA has become the model for player empowerment, and that ticks off a lot of people. They're angry that 25-year-old millionaires dare to think for themselves regarding where they play. The most influential stars are turning the league into a caste system, distinguishing the haves from the haven't-got-a-chances. But rather than simply faulting the players, critics should look to the real cause of star consolidation: the erosion of the NBA draft as a viable tool in developing talent. The NBA trade deadline -- which comes Thursday -- remains a manufactured milestone. Its mission is to fool fans into believing that poaching another team's talented players for relative crumbs is the path toward building a championship team. ... When the draft no longer excites the public, the trade deadline steps in to turn snores into a palpable buzz. The NBA loved all the attention the 'Melodrama received, even if it was negative -- just as it did with LeBron James' 'Decision' last summer. But the league should take the brunt of the criticism this time, because drafts remain the great equalizers in sports. The way it's set up, the NBA draft has devolved into nothing more than a crapshoot. Well, actually, it has become more crap than shoot."

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: "At this point, the Suns don't care if Carmelo Anthony fits in with Amar'e Stoudemire and makes New York an instant contender in the Eastern Conference. But the blockbuster trade that sent the All-Star from the Denver Nuggets to the Knicks could help the Suns in the tightly bunched Western Conference race. The Suns, 10th entering Tuesday's games, have 28 remaining - beginning Wednesday night with the Atlanta Hawks at US Airways Center. One of those games is against the seventh-place Nuggets. 'You don't wish ill will on anyone,' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "But I'd like to see them lose as many games as they could.' Actually, that is ill will. 'I said it nicely,' Gentry said. Who can blame the Suns for hoping somebody struggles after handing an All-Star to the Knicks? The Suns have gone through two extreme makeovers since last summer when they didn't keep Stoudemire."

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "Daryl Morey was throwing offers at the Nuggets until the last hours before Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Knicks on Monday. Now what's left for the Rockets? 'We've got to get something done, or it's not good,' Morey said. 'If I'm a fan, I'm waiting for us to get someone.' If you pumped the Rockets' general manager full of truth serum, he'd tell you his offer of players, cash and draft picks for Anthony was better than the one the Nuggets took from the Knicks. Anthony had made it clear he wanted to play only for the Knicks, but Morey would have made the trade anyway and taken his chances on re-signing him. The Mavericks were also going hard for Anthony until the end. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have told the Rockets that center Nene isn't available, and unless they're bluffing, there goes another interesting option. What's left? Morey has two other trades in play: one for a potentially high draft pick, the other for an impact player. He said he'd feel better if he had five or six possibilities instead of two. There was fatigue in his voice, and he knows that gets him no sympathy. 'I'm not optimistic,' he says, 'but I don't think I ever am at this point in the process. Everyone is playing poker, trying to get the best deal they can.' Shane Battier and Courtney Lee are the Rockets whom Morey gets the most calls about, but neither is likely to get him a difference-maker."

  • Randy Youngman of The Orange County Register: "If the Sacramento Kings intend to move to Anaheim in time for the 2011-12 NBA season, the deadline is next Tuesday. March 1, as stipulated in the NBA Constitution, is the date by which any franchise interested in relocating must apply in writing to the commissioner if it wants to play in the new city as soon as the next season. ... There are growing indications that the Maloofs will ask for an extension on the deadline because of unresolved issues as the protracted negotiations continue with Henry Samueli's lieutenants at Anaheim Arena Management, the company that operates Honda Center for the City of Anaheim. ... If and when the Maloofs apply for franchise relocation, the process only begins. The commissioner will then appoint a relocation committee to study the application and within 120 days provide a report to the NBA Board of Governors, along with the committee's recommendation. The Board of Governors, comprised of one person (typically the owner) from each of the 30 NBA franchises, then must vote on the application within seven to 30 days after receiving the committee's recommendation. A majority vote of the other 29 owners is needed to approve the relocation. That means the final answer might not be known until late summer. And what happens if there is a lockout, as expected? Would there be a vote during a work stoppage? And will the Lakers and Clippers try to drum up opposition from fellow owners to prevent a third team from coming to Southern California? There are still a number of unanswered questions, but the distance from Sacramento to Anaheim seems to be decreasing every day."