First Cup: Friday

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: To score 13.5 points per game, Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala is being paid $15 million per year, give or take a Porsche. Even by the wacky standards of the NBA, that does not compute. No way, no how, is Iguodala worth the money. So here's the key question for Denver coming down the stretch: Can the Nuggets afford to build a contender around Iguodala, given the constraints of the NBA salary cap and this franchise's aversion to paying the luxury tax on talent? Iguodala is a clamp-down defender, a true professional and a compelling interview. But the NBA is not a spelling bee. You don't get paid $15 million for giving intelligent sound bites or getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. For $15 million, was it too much to expect for the 29-year-old Iguodala to lead the Nuggets in scoring, be an all-league defender and stamp his personality on the locker room? His defense has met expectations. The rest of the shiny package? Empty.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Forget calling it the Pepsi Center. This place is the Manimal House. With every aerodynamic aerial assault on the rim, Kenneth Faried turns the arena into his own fraternity house-like party, as the beer-guzzling crowd erupts in ecstasy. During Thursday's 128-96 win, running the Bulls out of the gym, the guy they call "The Manimal" was potent — shoot, he was omnipotent, sprinting, shooting, soaring and skewering Chicago. He finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, doing so in just the 25 minutes his services were required. "Not a lot of people (nationally) see us when we play," Faried said, "so more people wanted to step to the stage on a nationally televised stage, and we brought it tonight. People might not respect us as much because we're not on TV as much like a Clippers, Lakers or Knicks. But today we made a statement on TNT, showing everybody - hey, pay attention."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: Two weeks before the NBA trade deadline, the Bulls landed on the rumor page after a report Thursday suggested they've had "exploratory" talks with Toronto about swapping Carlos Boozer for former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani. There was no suggestion a deal is imminent and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that any such trade would be made. ... The Bulls' primary goal in any sort of Boozer-Bargnani trade would be to trim payroll. There's a chance for that, because Bargnani is set to make $11 and $12 million over the next two seasons, compared to $15.3 and $16.8 million for Boozer. A Boozer trade would open a starting spot for Taj Gibson and lessen the need to deal Luol Deng — both positive achievements for the Bulls. Looking at the other side, though, Toronto just acquired a hefty contract when it landed Rudy Gay from Memphis. The Raptors already have $66 million in salary commitments for next season, not far from this year's luxury tax threshold of $70.3 million. So it's easy to see why Toronto would be hesitant to do this deal — even a version that would include Nate Robinson and ex-Bull John Lucas III — without giving back more salaries in return.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Despite the talks, there are no plans to use the amnesty provision on Boozer this summer. Boozer is having a strong season, but shedding his salary could improve the Bulls' long-term financial picture. Friday will mark just the second time Boozer has played in Utah since leaving the Jazz after six seasons as a free agent in the summer of 2010. Booed loudly every time he touched the ball on Feb. 9, 2011, Boozer posted 14 points and six rebounds in the Bulls' 91-86 victory. That game famously turned out to be Jerry Sloan's last as Jazz coach. The Bulls didn't play in Utah during the lockout-shortened season. "Lot of great memories," Boozer said. "We fell short (of a championship) but competed."

  • Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: Kevin Garnett ended his postgame press conference Thursday night with an unprompted message to reporters that he'd like to stay in Boston. "I just want to say that I love my situation here," said Garnett. "I don't know what all your sources are, or whoever's making up this [expletive] articles about me getting traded to Denver and all these other places. But I bleed green, and I will continue to do that. And if it's up to me I'm going to retire a Celtic." Garnett scored his 25,000th NBA point in the second quarter of Thursday night's game.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Kevin Garnett once again turned metaphorical, this time about the team’s ability to function without Rajon Rondo. The Celtics are now 6-0 since Rondo’s injury. “All I can say is that when a player like Rondo does so many great things for this team that you get lackadaisical,” he said. “It’s very similar to if you have someone cooking for you and that person is there every day, and all of a sudden that person isn’t there to do that, and it’s up to you to do that. All of a sudden you start making these gourmet dishes, and you ask more people over to the house to eat. You never knew you possessed that. It’s kind of like that.”

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Kobe wasn’t surprised the Celtics are doing all this without a short guy he so adores? “No, I mean, honestly, that’s what they do,” he said. “We’ve seen them in the (final) series twice, and they’re just a tough group. They’re a tough group. You know, whether or not they can sustain it for the remainder of the season going into the playoffs obviously remains to be seen. Rajon is a really, really special player, and so you’re missing a lot, particularly in the postseason. But if anybody can figure it out, this group can.” His point is one we’ve been making here — that the Celtics are playing better now because they’re playing the pass-ahead-instead-of-dribble transition game they should have been all along. But it’s still hard to picture them playing in June without takeover artist Rondo. Then again, if the 35-year-old Pierce and the 36-year-old Kevin Garnett can make a drive down memory lane, well, let’s just say the 34-year-old Bryant wouldn’t be completely shocked. He’s not caught off-guard at all by the work of the Celtic ancients. “No, man, it’s a generational thing,” Kobe said. “I mean, that generation, you know, we all seem to hold on or have found the same fountain of youth somewhere.”

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: As the leader of the rabble, it's usually up to Magic to set the agenda and speak the outlandish. But Magic's priorities were a bit off Thursday. He was seemingly more interested in being with the president and tweeting about it than waxing crazy about the hapless Lakers. So that left it to Shaq to sound ridiculous on behalf of former Lakers everywhere, and he let no one down. Speaking on TNT before the game, the Big Hypocrite said: "The great players before us showed they can play through pain. "My favorite clip in the world is Willis Reed walking through that tunnel [at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the Finals, 1970]. We have all played through pain. [Howard's] shoulder is not going to get any better. If you're so hurt all the time, stop smiling on the court." What's smiling got to do with any of this? But beyond that, isn't this the same guy who put off having toe surgery before the 2002-03 season, irritating Kobe to no end and leading to a disastrous 11-19 start to the season? Shaq really has no right to ask someone to do whatever is necessary to help a team after routinely reporting out of shape to the Lakers. James Worthy also let Howard have it on Times Warner Cable SportsNet, suggesting from 3,000 miles away that Howard wasn't mentally ready to play. But then it's so easy to pound Howard because he's been nothing more than a pushover since arriving.