First Cup: Friday

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Of all the things that David Stern has been accused of being during the NBA’s long labor fight, funny was not among them. Then Shecky Stern went from heckler in the audience to open mic night comic, and it didn’t matter quite what he said. There was a surge in optimism that a deal with the players’ association was within sight and the NBA lockout could soon be over. A week after Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher ripped the owners, calling the Spurs’ Peter Holt and Stern’s right hand Adam Silver liars, Stern sat in the back as Hunter and Fisher spoke of the day’s 7 ½ hour negotiating session and the progress made in nearly 23 hours of talks over two days. Hunter sounded relatively optimistic, but when he was asked when he thought the significant steps toward a deal would be made, he happily called on Stern sitting in the back of the room."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Not that you need any more evidence that the NBA labor contretemps is all about money, but the fact the league and players’ union are racing toward a new collective bargaining agreement largely can be attributed to the calendar and the potential game dates contained therein. The carrot in the narrowing distance is an 82-game schedule. The players want it so they can collect a full year’s salary. The owners want it because, assuming they get the deal they want, and they will, they’d love to spread it over a complete schedule of games. There is local television and radio revenue to be pocketed here. The NBA has talked about the need to create a level playing field for teams in the smaller markets, but the only real competitive balance at stake is on the bottom line, not the baseline. So, as the sides spoke again yesterday, the number 82 was a Holy Grail of sorts. Speaking of the lure that brought the NBA and players back to the bargaining table after an ugly break six days earlier, union executive director Billy Hunter mentioned the schedule."

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times: "With one pen stroke, the Lakers apparently drew a cloud over the NBA and the players union and their negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. he team's 20-year agreement with Time Warner Cable, starting next year, didn't just angerLakers fans who only have access to network channels. The deal angered other NBA owners, who believe it gives the Purple & Gold another unfair advantage. The contract, which Times columnist Bill Plaschke reported could be worth as much as $3 billion, won't just enrich the Lakers. It may enrich the small-market owners, who believe that they're entitled to revenue sharing. ... But the jealousy over the Lakers' television deal also points up what should be a misconception among some owners -- that they're entitled to such revenue without making the smart business moves and taking the risks that ultimately ensure such a lucrative deal. The Lakers may have announced the cable deal on Feb. 14, but what made it possible came long before. Such a deal, like the Lakers' 10 titles under Jerry Buss' watch, was a product of how well he's run the organization since buying the team, the Forum, the NHL's Kings and a 13,000-acre Kern County ranch for $67.5 million in 1979."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "So can they finally close the deal? That's what everyone wants to know. Can the four people intimately involved with the NBA's labor negotiations the past several months – make that the past two years – reach agreement and persuade their colleagues to scream 'uncle' and sign the deal despite an enduring belief that they were robbed? David Stern, Billy Hunter, Adam Silver and Derek Fisher have miserable jobs. In their respective roles with the NBA (Stern, Silver) and its players' association (Hunter, Fisher), the four will be asked to overwhelm the opposition – inside and outside their own ranks – with the brute force of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the gentility of Mother Teresa. Once this impasse is all over, remember, everyone affiliated with the league will sit around a campfire and croon about making love instead of labor war. ... If an accord is reached within the next day or two – and NBA teams are prepping as if the end of the lockout is near – they can pat themselves on the back for ending the second regular-season work stoppage in history. If not? Let's not even go there."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Last week, that had New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony in full recruitment mode when it came to New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul, who cannot become a free agent until at least next summer. Thursday, LeBron James playfully hit his own recruiting trail in cyberspace. First, the Miami Heat forward posted on his Twitter account, 'Would love to see @JCrossover in a Heat uni! What u guys say?' That Twitter account belongs to Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, who happens to be an impending free agent, albeit one expected to fall beyond the Heat's salary-cap means. Crawford and James have been spending time together in recent NBA lockout exhibitions, including the one hosted by James at Florida International University. James then posted on his Twitter account, 'Maybe @SteveNash in a Heat uni! So we can help each other get our 1st ring.' That would be point guard Steve Nash, who is under contract to the Phoenix Suns for $11.7 million this coming season. Under NBA rules, which are not in force during the lockout, players may not publicly lobby for the acquisition of a player under contract to another team. The only way the Heat could trade for Nash under current salary-cap rules would be a deal involving James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant's latest Nike commercial is set to make its viral debut Friday, The Oklahoman has learned. The spot will debut on network television during NBC's coverage of Sunday Night Football. In the commercial, the Thunder star will be featured alongside Miami Heat star LeBron James, New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. Hip-hop artists Questlove, who is best known as the drummer from the Grammy Award-winning group The Roots, and J. Cole also make appearances, as well as Jimmy Kimmel's 'pop-a-shot' champion Ricardo. The spot is centered on Nike's 'Basketball Never Stops' campaign, which has become the slogan of many Nike-sponsored NBA players throughout the league's near four-month-long lockout."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "Like the Brewers, the Bucks draw way disproportionate to market size when they are merely competitive. When they're good, the support borders on remarkable. If anyone doubts that for reasons beyond insecurity, let them go to an NBA game in places like Atlanta and Charlotte to compare how relatively healthy the Bucks are against a number of struggling franchises around the league. It's true, fans can be as fickle here as anywhere. They were quick to bail on the Bucks last season, when injuries and bad chemistry robbed them of a chance to build of their success of the previous year. But that's not letting the Bucks off the hook; it is always incumbent on them to put an entertaining product on the floor if they expect to sell tickets. It's also true that the NBA has been fairly ridiculous in the way it has conducted itself leading up to the recent lockout. It forgot about its place in the market, promoted itself in all the wrong ways and then tried to blame it on the players at a time when it was convenient to ask the workforce to take a pay cut. Again, it's convenient to say the league and the Bucks will be irreparably harmed. But it's not only easy for those who just do not like pro basketball for whatever reasons, it also ignores history. Against a lot of odds, the NBA was popular beyond expectations last season. It's also easy to forget just how good the scene was in 2009-'10 for the Bucks, whose surprising showing was met with typically good support from an appreciative market. It's not unreasonable to expect that again."

  • Robert MacLeod of the Globe and Mail: "The 2011-12 NBA season is in limbo because of a contract dispute between the owners and players, but Bryan Colangelo is already tempering any optimism that might exist about the team’s chances. 'We may be looking at a year where we actually take a step back,' Colangelo said, noting that the uncertainty of the labour dispute and the new rules that a new collective agreement will bring will all play a role. Colangelo elaborated that it really doesn’t make sense right now, with such a young roster, to chase after free agents. 'To go out and spend money this summer just to spend money would be probably swimming against the current of what the plan actually is all about,' he said. 'And the plan is to acquire the right pieces, the correct pieces, to keep adding to this young nucleus that we have. Or to put championship pieces together.' With a new coach in Dwane Casey itching to instill his defensive ideals to new group, Colangelo suggested it makes more sense to let the young players develop as the Raptors take their lumps in the won-loss column."

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "Ed Stefanski has 'sat in my chair,' says Raptors president/general manager Bryan Colangelo and that is a major reason why he is now on the Raptors’ payroll. No, Colangelo does not expect to step aside anytime soon, but he said on Thursday that he and ownership are pleased that the option now exists. 'Whether or not Ed ultimately succeeds me is an unknown, but at least I’ve got a guy with certainty who has been there and done that,' Colangelo said. 'But last time I checked, I’m not going anywhere, I plan to stay around as long as they’ll keep me. I don’t anticipate my role changing a great deal.' Colangelo lauded Stefanski as a great deal-maker with a vast wealth of experience."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Larry Brown will be the featured speaker at Harvard coach Tommy Amaker’s clinic on Sunday, and the arrangement seems vaguely sacrilegious. Since when does Dean Smith’s first point guard appear at the behest of a Mike Krzyzewski prodigy? Isn’t there a secret societal code that prevents Tar Heels and Blue Devils from appearing in peace on the same floor? 'Oh, I’ve had my heart broken by a lot of Duke guys,' Brown said yesterday. 'I tried to recruit Tommy, Billy King, Quin Snyder, a lot of them. But when (Amaker) was at Michigan, he let me come and hang out at his practices, so this is more of the same. I’m going to (Kansas) next week. I’ve been speaking a lot — Villanova and Rutgers. I hang out in Philadelphia, so I’ve been at Villanova a lot.' This is about Brown re-connecting with everyone he knows in the business, which is an epic concept. Though dismissed by Charlotte last season, he wants to coach again in the NBA. He’s understandably even more dismayed than most by the lockout. But until the next contract is signed, Brown plans to travel the country as a 71-year-old patriarch, checking out all of his former haunts and players."

  • Brian T. Smith The Salt Lake Tribune: "A charity exhibition basketball game featuring former Brigham Young standout Jimmer Fredette, Chauncey Billups and Jazzmen Al Jefferson, Devin Harris and Paul Millsap is planned for Nov. 7 in Salt Lake City, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned. The game will likely be held at Salt Lake Community College. Pro Player Tours is organizing the contest, which is also expected to feature Stephen Curry, Derrick Favors, Corey Maggette, Anthony Tolliver and Ronnie Price. ... The contest could be canceled, though, if the NBA lockout ends soon."