First Cup: Tuesday

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets and Nene are playing a dangerous game of chicken that needs to end before both parties get hurt. Nene would be dumb to walk out those arena doors as a free agent. The Nuggets would be stupid to let him go. So why let a little thing like $50 million stand in the way of a beautiful relationship? Do the deal already. The last great act of labor peace in the NBA before all heck breaks loose between players and owners should be Nene signing a contract extension with the Nuggets before the clock strikes midnight at the end of Thursday. When I asked Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri how the nature of negotiations would change should the team be unable to reach an agreement with Nene this week, his response was telling. 'I don't even want to go there,' Ujiri said. 'Nene is very important to us. So we want to attack it the best way we can this week.' ... It might be too strong to suggest it's now or never for Nene to remain with the team. The need for urgency from both sides in negotiations, however, must be underlined."

  • Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: "The Timberwolves' signing of Ricky Rubio and his subsequent appearance at Target Center last week resulted in sales of almost 200 replica No. 9 Wolves jerseys at $65 each, leaving the organization with smiles. The Wolves also sold about 540 full season tickets since signing the 20-year-old point guard from Spain, the team said Monday, bringing their total full season-ticket equivalent to about 7,100. Many of the new season-ticket purchases were part of a $9-per-game upper-level-seat promotion that runs through Friday. The Wolves said about one-third of the new season-ticket purchases, ranging from $20 to $750 (courtside) per game, were in the lower level of Target Center. Rubio, meanwhile, was to work out informally with some of his new Wolves teammates Monday in pickup games at Target Center, then return home to Barcelona that evening. ... By the way, a portion of Rubio's No. 9 jersey sales -- like revenue from all NBA jersey sales -- is shared equally by members of the NBA Players Association, regardless of the amount sold individually."

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "I found Kevin McHale lying on a training table getting his left ankle and hip worked on Monday afternoon. Is this guy making an effort to fit in or what? 'Arthritic ankle,' he said. Been there, done that, buddy. Torn this. Broken that. We've had our share. Besides, McHale's new team will be perfectly happy if he'sthe only guy using those training tables at Toyota Center next season. 'Too many sprained ankles,' he said. 'I played on it a couple of times when I shouldn't have. It's nothing really major -- just an inconvenience.' McHale had spent the morning on the practice court with his new team, beginning very gradually to evaluate what he has. That he's back in this position at all is a surprise to plenty of people who never thought he'd coach again after the Timberwolves gave him the boot two years ago. McHale probably thought the same thing, but after about six months, the only life he'd ever known began to tug at him. ... McHale is likely to have an odd first season with the Rockets. He's around his players only until the lockout begins, which probably will be Friday. After that, it could be months before the NBA is back in business. But McHale is back in the arena, back where he wanted to be and where he feels the most comfortable."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "In a more cynical world, it could be said that George Hill's public introduction was a bit over-the-top for a 30-minute-per-game player. It's not like Dwight Howard or Eric Gordon just walked through the door. And yet ... why not? Why not celebrate what's right now about the Indiana Pacers? Hill represents what the Pacers are becoming, a civically responsible organization that will no longer embarrass the city on the floor or off. Hill is not a star, not even close, and yet, he's the embodiment of a franchise that has finally shed the yoke of 'The Brawl' and all the other nonsense that had Pacers beat writers on 24-hour police-beat alert. 'I grew up a Pacers fan,' said Hill, who grew up on the city's Northside and graduated from Broad Ripple High School. 'I was heartbroken when things went bad for them. I hated seeing what happened here. But give the organization credit: They moved out a lot of those guys and they've rebuilt. And I'm glad to be a part of that.' Hill is a building block. Not a game-changer, but a building block. He's a building block on the floor, where he can play both guard positions and has the length to defend the other team's best backcourt player. The next time the Pacers face the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, Hill will get to defend Derrick Rose, instead of having Paul George exhaust himself in the process."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Is Joe Johnson’s contract worse than Jon Koncak’s notorious deal? Yes. Koncak re-upped for $13 million over six seasons, which was big money in 1989. Johnson stayed for $123 million over six seasons, which is huge money now. Koncak was 26 when he signed his new contract; Johnson had just turned 29. The Hawks will have little wiggle room so long as Johnson is a Hawk, and he’s under contract through 2016. Whoa. ... Is there any hope here? Sure. Horford and Smith and Johnson are good-to-excellent players, and Teague shows promise. If the Hawks make the right trade involving Smith, they could remain one of the better teams in the East. But the core, which has existed since 2007, needs to change. They didn’t sink from 53 victories in 2009-2010 to 44 last season because a bunch of guys got hurt; they got worse because the guys on hand stopped playing as well together. It’s up to general manager Rick Sund to rearrange the elements."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel "Brandon Jennings has a new supporting cast in the Milwaukee Bucks' backcourt. Bucks general manager John Hammond made some big changes in a draft-day shakeup last week as he traded away veterans John Salmons and Corey Maggette. And Hammond brought in wing player Stephen Jackson and combo guard Shaun Livingston from Charlotte and point guard Beno Udrih from Sacramento. If all goes according to the Bucks' plan, the changes will relieve some of the ball-handling pressure on Jennings and give the team more playmaking options on the floor. Say Jackson and Jennings are in the backcourt, with Carlos Delfino at small forward, Drew Gooden or Ersan Ilyasova at power forward and Andrew Bogut at center. That would be a conventional lineup. Or maybe put the 6-foot-7 Livingston in the lineup with Udrih, Jackson, Delfino and Bogut. There are plenty of options for Bucks coach Scott Skiles."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "There are myriad reasons general manager Gar Forman sounded confident the Bulls eventually will sign Nikola Mirotic, whose rights were acquired Thursday from the Timberwolves when the Bulls moved up in a draft-day trade. Two of them are Omer Asik and Ivica Dukan. Mirotic is under contract with Real Madrid through 2015 with a buyout of roughly $2 million Euros, according to sources. The Bulls' plan is to let him develop overseas for at least two to three seasons before negotiating a buyout. They took a similar approach with Asik, who just finished his rookie season after the Bulls acquired him in a draft-day trade in 2008. Dukan is the Bulls' longtime international scout who has a longstanding professional relationship with Real Madrid officials. 'We can't say for sure when he'll be able to come over, but we're hopeful he'll be a big part of what we're doing,' Forman said Monday at the Berto Center. 'In our speaking with him, his desire and dream is to play in the NBA at some point.' Monday marked Forman's first public comments about Mirotic, whom the Bulls projected as a lottery talent whose contract status scared off teams."

  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: "Given the chance to pick a more celebrated player in Texas forward Jordan Hamilton or Providence guard Marshon Brooks, Ainge traded down two spots in the first round and went with Johnson at No. 27. Late in the second round, when it became all the rage for NBA teams to draft foreign players they could stash away for a season or two, Ainge went with a player he felt could contend for playing time immediately in Moore at No. 55. Some might call them the safe choices in a weak draft with few, if any, sure things. But together they are determined to show betting on a pair of four-year college players was the smart choice as well. ... 'I would say it was a great choice,' Johnson said of returning to Purdue. 'That extra year really helped us develop our games. We matured and we won.' Yet, for all they achieved as seniors, they hit the draft circuit with a bit of a stigma. In the era of the one-and-done college phenom, there is a feeling among many that if a player were that good he would never have made it to graduation day. 'We both thought it was better to go back and get our NBA game ready,' Moore countered. 'That way we'd have a better chance to come in and play right away.' Ainge and the Celtics agreed. While other teams have spent the last few days touting the tremendous upside of their picks, Ainge has happily touted his picks' degrees in organizational leadership and supervision. 'That's not very common in this day and age,' Ainge said of the diplomas. 'These guys improved a lot over the course of their college careers. They played in a lot of big games in hostile environments.' "

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "Jeremy Tyler was the natural center of attention Monday, with a large emphasis on the 'natural' part of the entire event. We had questions, he had answers. The cameras and lights pointed his way, and he never flinched. Tyler wasn't aloof or distracted; he looked you in the eye, listened and was engaging, thoughtful and incredibly, incredibly patient. And at the tail end of the Warriors' introductory news conference for their three-player draft haul (along with Klay Thompson and Charles Jenkins), Tyler even helpfully pointed out one last raised hand after a team official got ready to end the session. He can, in a news conference environment, do it all, apparently. 'I knew I belonged,' Tyler said of his odd road to the NBA, 'I just knew I needed to find my place.' Of course, this scene had zero to do with running the right play, listening to his coach or battling in the low post. Some horrendous NBA big men have been particularly friendly to coaches, teammates and the media -- and so what? Some great ones have had no time or tolerance for most humans on earth. Yet they won. But because this was Tyler's first moment as a Warrior -- after a tour through Israel and Japan -- it was fairly significant. First impression: If Tyler is immature and tough to coach, it did not come across Monday."

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "NBA owners could give the go-ahead for a Friday lockout when they meet Tuesday in Dallas. During the Board of Governors meeting, owners will receive an update on the stalemated negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement from commissioner David Stern and Spurs owner Peter Holt, head of the owners' labor relations committee. Currently at an impasse over major economic issues, the two sides have no plans to meet in Dallas, and Stern has said that an owners' vote could be done electronically at any time before the CBA expires on Thursday at midnight. Seeking major changes in the way money is divided with the players, along with securing a more favorable split for its side, a majority of owners is said to be in favor of shutting down the league. Owners and players have made almost no progress during the last 18 months of talks. They're scheduled to meet Wednesday and possibly Thursday in Manhattan, but neither side is hopeful of an 11th-hour breakthrough."