First Cup: Friday

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: David Stern said he wanted to “apologize to all NBA fans,” and that was a start. Someone needed to be contrite about a schedule that matched the most rested vs. the most tired for a national television audience. But Stern has never apologized for a crushing schedule. He cares about marketing and television, which is why he decided to get into the business of coaching Thursday night. When that’s not his business. Gregg Popovich has gutted his roster before on behalf of the larger goal, and those who have disagreed with him in the past still have an argument. Other teams face similar schedule pinches, after all, and they have kept playing. Then there’s the point that Popovich has made in the past and did again Thursday. “If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game,” he said, “I’d want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren’t there, I’d be disappointed. So I understand that perspective.” Saying this Thursday, the media surrounding him, there was no defiance. Popovich ? looked uncomfortable. But he quickly added he hopes others would see his perspective, too, that it’s his job to take care of his team. And that’s why he reacted as he did. “It’s pretty logical,” he said. … Popovich has also been consistent over the years, and now Stern isn’t. He will fine the Spurs not because of what they did, but when they did it. On TNT.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: One of the NBA’s marquee games of the first half of the season turned into an embarrassment for the league on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Citing logic and a home game against the Grizzlies on Saturday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich showed up to the arena without stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Instead of taking on the NBA’s defending champions with his full roster of players, Popovich sent Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Danny Green home to San Antonio a day before the end of the Spurs’ six-game road trip. Then, after NBA commissioner David Stern publicly apologized to fans in a statement and scolded the Spurs, San Antonio nearly won the game. The Heat was pushed to the brink by the dregs of the Spurs’ roster, winning 105-100 in another come-from-behind victory. “Add that to something I’ve seen in my years throughout this league,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “Maybe next time we’ll get to play them at full strength.”

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Imagine if Erik Spoelstra said before a nationally televised game in San Antonio, one local fans paid big money to watch, that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen weren't playing. They played too much. They needed rest. Would that be as easy foreverone to accept? Would it be met with such a logical explanation about a too-busy schedule in a meaningless time of year? In fact, imagine all the teams San Antonio has stiffed with a Triple-A lineup in recent years doing the same on trips there. Do you think Popovich would begin to understand a little better what he's doing to the NBA product around the league? … It's one thing for Popovich to punk a market, as he's done in past years. But punk a broadcast partner spending hundreds of millions on the league? Here's who else makes you wonder: The Spurs players. They have the second-best record in the league. Their six-game road trip ended in the dregs of Toronto, Washington and Orlando on Wednesday night (San Antonio won by 21 points). If you're Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, don't you tell Popovich this is the game you want to play? That you'll sit out against any one of those other three? Instead they flew home.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: George Karl questioned the questioner with a question of his own. "The only question I would ask is," the Nuggets coach said Thursday, "is the commissioner in the right?" Here's the backstory: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided to send home and rest four key players instead of having them play a fourth game Thursday in five nights. But because the game was in Miami — and on TNT in prime time — NBA commissioner David Stern released a statement … At first, Karl said, "I don't think I'm touching this one." But then the prideful coach — and unofficial president of the NBA coaches fraternity — spoke up for his peer by saying, "If you're going to ask if 'Pop' is in the right, you've got to ask if the commissioner is in the right. And I'm not answering either one. To me, how you coach the team should be on the organization and the coach."

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors general manager Bob Myers, in the wake of the controversy surrounding Andrew Bogut's left ankle surgery, fell on the sword. "I know it's being perceived that it was mishandled and not handled appropriately," Myers said during the pregame show on "Chronicle Live." "Ultimately, that rests on my shoulders. ... Ultimately, the last thing I want to do, or anybody in the organization wants to do, is deceive the fans. So the fact that some people feel that way, I feel really bad about that." The Warriors' strong start had become obscured by the news that Bogut, who has played just four games this season, had a more serious surgery on his left ankle. Back in April, Golden State announced that Bogut had arthroscopic surgery and said he would be out three months after getting his ankle cleaned out. But Wednesday the Warriors admitted Bogut also had microfracture surgery that day. "It's a group of people. It's not one person in a room writing a script," Myers said. "In this specific situation, I feel like I could've done a better job, personally, as to how it was conveyed. ... There is no use really offering anything beyond that. " … To avoid speculation, no one in the organization is putting a timetable on Bogut's return.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Rajon Rondo, thoroughly unapologetic about his violent response to Humphries’ hard foul on Kevin Garnett, smiled. “A repeat offender? Is this a trial?” he asked, knowing the answer to that one. “I think I play the game the right way. I’m not a dirty player. Sometimes I let my emotions get to me, but I have no intention of hurting anyone out there. I compete every night, and that’s how I play the game. I play hard, I play with an edge, I’m not a trash-talker. One of my guys was disrespected and I retaliated. I shoved. Guys called it a fight, but no punches were thrown. It wasn’t a brawl. It was just five guys on the court.” That much is debatable. Several reporters in the front two rows of the media section saw Rondo swing at Humphries as they both careened into the front row of the stands. But the question now is one of leadership. The Celtics -- and especially Garnett, Paul Pierce, Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge -- have made a big deal about this being Rondo’s team. … Doc Rivers, who said yesterday that he didn’t believe the infraction was worthy of a suspension, admitted Rondo has to work on his self-control.

  • Dwaine Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The Dallas Mavericks are hoping Derek Fisher can do for them what Jason Kidd did the previous five years -- bring them some savvy leadership at the point guard position. Kidd was a major influence on not only the Mavericks' point guards, but also on the entire team with his leadership and the calming influence he brought to the court. The Mavericks are expecting the same thing from Fisher, who they signed to a one-year, pro-rated contract Thursday. "When you've had the likes of Jason Kidd on this team, that's a really tough act to follow," said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks' president of basketball operations. "This gives us an opportunity to add someone that's got a little bit of experience and knows what it takes to win, and it'll give us a little bit of that influence."

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: There isn't much to say when your team just lost for the third time in four games and scored only 77 points, so Mike D'Antoni didn't try. He was clear and concise when asked if he was seeing signs that the Lakers are starting to catch onto his fast-paced style. "No," he said bluntly. "Next (question)." The obvious question is how long will the Lakers stumble around in D'Antoni's system before the season becomes a bust? The Lakers (7-8) get another chance Friday to prove to their coach that they are learning the ropes in a home game against Denver. … The Lakers struggled to reach that mark in Tuesday's 79-77 loss to Indiana. D'Antoni said missing 20 free throws didn't help. He said the team has its share of problems. "That's hard to do," he said. "You have to be a special team to do that." Like everyone else, D'Antoni is counting on point guard Steve Nash to save the Lakers. The Lakers have been without Nash since he suffered a fractured left leg in the second game of the season and there is no set date for his return. He has not been able to jog on the leg yet.

  • John Feinstein of The Washington Post: Since Leonsis took complete control of the team, the Wizards are 44-117. The question, then, is what should he do to turn around the team’s fortunes? Here’s the answer: Hire Gary Williams as coach. Why? Because there’s no one who tolerates losing less than Williams. Because Williams will make Wall get back on defense, and if he doesn’t, Williams will find a seat for him on the bench until he does. Williams is a young 67 and won’t really care that much if he gets fired for ruffling anyone’s feathers. Randy Wittman is 53 and wants to coach a while longer, so he has to be more careful in his handling of his so-called stars in a star-driven league. … The last time Washington mattered in the NBA, when it won the title in 1978 and went to the Finals in 1979, the coach was Dick Motta, who went from Weber State to the Chicago Bulls to the Washington Bullets. Who then became the world champion Washington Bullets — led by a former college coach.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace loves to talk about the virtues of continuity. "Continuity alone can win you five more games in a season," Wallace will say. The Griz cap a five-game home stand Friday night against the Detroit Pistons with an NBA-best 11-2 record. Another byproduct of continuity is their improvement in team assists. Memphis is averaging 21.6 assists per game — the most since the 2003-04 season when Hubie Brown won the league's coach of the year honor. Brown's 50-win squad recorded 23.4 assists per game and ranked fifth in the league. Hollins & Co. are ranked 14th in the NBA this season. The improvement is noteworthy compared to the rest of Hollins' tenure when the Griz perennially ranked in the bottom third in assists.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Pockets.’’ That’s the culture for many NBA players. Not as recognizable as the statistics scream you should be with the fans? No worries. “Pockets.’’ An under-the-radar All-Star? The “pockets’’ don’t lie. “Outside this city, to the causal fan, yeah, Luol [Deng] is definitely under the radar,’’ Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But to the players around the league, they know him. And you know what? A lot of people might not know you, but as long as you got that good paycheck in your grasp … his pockets aren’t hurting, that’s for sure.’’ And if that’s all Deng was about, maybe that would be enough. Maybe being in the shadows of more popular small forwards such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce would be just fine. After all, Deng still has two more years on his current contract, bringing in $13.3 million this season and $14.3 million next. Meanwhile, amongst small forwards in the East, Deng was fourth in scoring (17.6 points per game), and rebounding (7.4). That doesn’t even take into account that he leads the league in minutes played, as well as the fact he usually draws the toughest defensive assignments on a nightly basis.

  • Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: If it seems as if second-year forward Tristan Thompson often has his shots blocked by an opponent, it's probably because he does. According to the website 82games.com, Thompson's shot is blocked 22 percent of the time when he throws the ball at the rim. Further, Thompson's attempts when "close" to the basket -- in essence, not a dunk but not a jumper -- is a staggering 37 percent. By comparison, Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao is blocked 4 percent of the time, overall, and 10 percent when he attempts a "close" shot. Enter the solution: Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Byron Scott brought in the former Cavaliers big man and current assistant to the general manager Thursday to teach Thompson a thing or two about how to avoid being blocked. Ilgauskas was strolling the Cavaliers practice facility in street clothes Thursday. The main thing Thompson needs to work on, Scott said, is making quicker decisions -- and moves.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic players and coaches held a team meeting before Thursday's practice to address several issues such as effort, accountability and defining roles. After Wednesday night's lackluster loss to the San Antonio Spurs, center Nik Vucevic and shooting guard J.J. Redick said the meeting was productive. "I'm certainly going to have some conversations with a few of the guys over the next couple of days," Redick said. "Coach [Jacque Vaughn] did a nice job this morning in our meeting trying to get everybody on the same page. The goal, ultimately, is winning and what can we do to get each other to play better. For us, it was good." Vucevic said the issues weren't so much about the loss to the Spurs "but the way we played. … We talked about people's roles on the team. [Vaughn] fixed a lot of stuff."