First Cup: Monday
June, 17, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It has been a Finals marked by wild swings of fortunes, so why should Game 5 have been any different? For the third straight contest, the team blown out by double-digits bounced back to return the favor in kind. The Spurs, destroyed on their home court by 16 in Game 4, turned Miami back with a 19-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarter and held on down the stretch behind a resurgent performance from Manu Ginobili and Danny Green’s historic shooting. The former broke out of a series-long slump with his best performance of the postseason: A season-high 24 points and 10 assists, the first time he reached those thresholds in the same game since 2008, and only the second time in his career. The latter made six more 3-pointers to shatter Ray Allen’s Finals record. They led a starting lineup that combined for 107 points, pushing the Spurs to the brink of their fifth championship with a 3-2 lead. “We’re just trying to do all we can to will (a championship) to happen,” Tim Duncan said. “We hope we can respond better next game than we have after wins. I think every one of us wants this badly, from the top on down. We just need…to understand the kind of energy and aggression they’re going to come with next game.” For the Heat, their backs are against the wall yet again during the LeBron James era — a position in which they’ve thrived over the past two seasons, but utterly crumbled against Dallas in the 2011 Finals. “I like our chances,” Dwyane Wade said, “just like they like their chances.”
- Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: This night was about how Tuesday is going to feel. The way NBA Finals Game 5 ended here Sunday was about how South Florida is going to awaken the morning of the next game, and what will be on Heat fans’ minds as they attempt to concentrate at work and then traipse into the home arena that night. It might have felt so good, right? Might have been a party. Could have been. A victory for a 3-2 series lead and Miami would have been poised and ready to celebrate a second consecutive championship that night. Hialeah would have the pots and pans out. Anybody near Biscayne Boulevard might have anticipated getting zero sleep for the incessant bleat of car horns. Tuesday would have felt like a coronation in waiting. Instead? Piņatas replaced by Pepto. Stomachs, clenched. Hearts, palpitating. Fingers, crossed. The Heat had the chance to make the rest of this seem so easy — well, easier — but Sunday’s 114-104 Game 5 loss took care of that desired path and lined the Road to Repeat with treachery. Now, to be champions again, Miami must do what it has failed to do for the past 12 postseason games: Win two in a row. Now, Heat fans are left to pray the next game is survived as much as won and that Miami — team and city — gets to the scariest thing in all of sports: A Game 7. Do you believe, South Florida? How much do you believe?
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: In the four years since he made his last trip to the NBA Finals, Rashard Lewis had to deal with a stunning trade from Orlando to Washington, accept that his knees and age would prohibit him from being a regular NBA starter again, get traded from one lottery team to another and finally lose out on $9 million when he got bought out for the final year of a $118 million contract. So, while there was excitement when he signed with the Miami Heat last July, Lewis wouldn’t necessarily say that he was relieved when he got dumped by two franchises – the Wizards and then New Orleans – in less two weeks last June. “I don’t think it’s ever a relief to be traded, or bought out,” Lewis said with a booming laugh. “But the relief was when Pat Riley called to recruit me to come down and play for them. I think more than anything my goal was to be on a team that was trying to compete for a championship. Obviously, Miami had just won it.” … Lewis has an option worth $1.4 million but plans on returning next season to Miami, where a first championship is within his grasp. “You get that window of opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Lewis said. “I chose to play for the Miami Heat and you know, we here. We in the Finals, but the job is not done yet.”
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Are the Clippers looking at bigger prey? Will Doc Rivers be comfortable continuing as the Celtic coach if no escape route can be found? Has Paul Pierce hired a realtor for his Boston-area digs? The first issue that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will likely have to tackle is finding whether things with the Clippers can be revived. According to league sources, it appears a fairly solid bet that the Celts are not going to get exactly what they wanted out of this — a couple of draft picks for Rivers; Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett. … If the Celtics cannot get what they believe is proper compensation for him, they would have no problem welcoming Rivers back for his 10th season here. In fact, that’s been the club’s hope and expectation all along. But one has to wonder how strange it might be and what effect it would have on his communication with the players if Rivers is back after expressing at the very least a willingness to coach elsewhere. The Celtics — and their followers — can only hope to soon begin getting the kind of answers that will render moot most if not all the hypotheticals.
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: What could prevent the Magic from taking more baby steps ... is merely the formation of the next NBA superpower. That's all. If you believe the Internet intel, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Magic have been discussing a trade that would send promising young point guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler to Orlando for shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Big win for the Magic in a season of very few wins. They would acquire a talented replacement for agingJameer Nelson and shed the three years remaining on Afflalo's contract. With Butler in the last season of his deal, that is a very salary-cap friendly transaction all around for the Magic. Moving Afflalo likely influences Orlando to pick a shooting guard — Ben McLemore or Victor Oladipo — in the draft. The possibility of acquiring Bledsoe might remove any notion of the Magic taking Trey Burke. … There's speculation that the Clippers would offer the Lakers a sign-and-trade for Howard that could include Griffin and — you guessed it, Magic fans — Bledsoe. But the Clippers can't afford to move Bledsoe until they re-sign Paul, no sure thing with Dwight and CP3 exchanging text messages. It's as if The Dwightmare never ends in Orlando.
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: One coach who won’t be participating in the offseason NBA coaching carousel is the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau. Early Sunday afternoon, there were whispers that if the Boston Celtics trade coach Doc Rivers in a package to the Los Angeles Clippers, Thibodeau would be on the radar as a possible replacement. But an NBA source indicated Sunday evening that the Celtics would not pursue Thibodeau because they know the Bulls would not grant permission to speak to the former Celtics associate head coach. “He’s loved in Boston, but he’s loved a little more by Chicago,’’ the source said. The Bulls just gave him a nice raise when he signed a four-year contract extension that will pay him $17.5 over the next four seasons. Still, it will be interesting to watch when Thibodeau’s deal gets closer to running out. He was born and raised in Connecticut and has strong ties in New England. As this offseason has shown the NBA coaching world, anything is possible.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With roughly two weeks before the start of the NBA’s free-agency season, the poker player who owns the Rockets hopes to go all in. “I have enough money, but I don’t have enough championships,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. “If you’re not in it to win championships, you shouldn’t be in it.” Alexander said he could not comment about any detail of the Rockets’ free-agency plans, including the planned presentation to players. But he said he hopes to have the sort of team to dramatically increase the team’s payroll, including paying a luxury tax. Alexander said that watching the NBA Finals offered a reminder of how badly he wants to return his team to contender’s status. The Rockets won consecutive championships in Alexander’s first seasons as team owner but have won just one playoff round since 1997. Since the departures of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, they have been restructured with the acquisition of All-Star James Harden and salary-cap room to pursue a max contract free agent next month. “I would be thrilled to pay a tax if we have a championship-caliber team,” Alexander said. “Obviously, you have to get the players to pay the taxes. You have to get great players; otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels. When you get the great players, you don’t want to lose them. You have to pay whatever it takes to keep them. That’s when it becomes really fun to be an owner and to be a fan of the Rockets.”
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Fans here have been blessed in the superstar department with the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki. Now, the pressure rises for Nowitzki in the role-model department. He’s preparing to start a new chapter of life, one that most superstars before him have also been through -- fatherhood. Michael Jordan once said that being a role model for his kids was a lot harder and more important than being a role model for millions of fans. He’s right, of course. It’s a good bet that Nowitzki feels the same way. If you’ve watched his life since he arrived with the Mavericks as a stranger in a strange land, you’ve seen him grow more comfortable in the limelight. He’s become a superstar any fan would be proud to have on their team. And the uncharted territory he’ll enter into before the summer is over -- he’s been private about his wife Jessica’s actual due date -- will be more important than anything he’s done so far. “Test is a good word,” Nowitzki said this week about having a Dirklet.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: Look at the rest of the league, Joe Dumars insists. It’s not simply the Pistons blowing out coaches in quick succession. Kidd is the Nets’ third coach in the last nine months. And Brooklyn won more than 50 games last season. “It’s such an entirely different animal from what it was just 10 years ago,” Dumars added. “You have to adapt and adjust to the situation while still holding onto what you deep down believe is the right path to take. But at the end of the day, it should always be about winning.” There are explanations for the last five years but there are no excuses. Contrary to popular opinion, Dumars has never gotten a “free pass” from media criticism and accountability. However high his personal likeability remains in this town, there’s no hiding from the fact that the Pistons fell fast and hard following a six-year run of consecutive Eastern Conference championship appearances. Dumars is the last constant from that period that’s still around, making him the biggest target. He knows that time’s running out, especially in a league that’s in more of a hurry now than ever before.
- Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Pete D'Alessandro is the latest member of the team's brain trust to walk out the Pepsi Center door, agreeing Saturday to become general manager of the Sacramento Kings. NBA executive of the year Masai Ujiri fled to Canada, and coach George Karl is leaving such a trail of bitter tears in exit interviews that perhaps his next media stop should be with Jerry Springer. While Karl has done his best to portray Kroenke as an impulsive son of a billionaire whose recent basketball decisions have been stupid, the large hole in the team's organizational chart is the result of something else. The 33-year-old Kroenke has been too nice of a guy. Oh, not too nice for firing Karl. But too nice with Ujiri, whose departure was far more critical at a time when swingman Andre Iguodala is headed to free agency.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings have offered Hall of Fame player and former Golden State Warriors executive Chris Mullin a role as a consultant, The Bee learned. Sources spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the private nature of the offer. Mullin was the top basketball executive for the Warriors from 2004-09. New Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro worked for the Warriors from 2004-08, the final two years as assistant general manager. The Kings will introduce D'Alessandro at a press conference Monday afternoon at Sleep Train Arena. If the Kings do bring in Mullin, it would fuel speculation about the Kings' future pursuit of free agent guard Monta Ellis.
- Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: Pro sports is a ruthless business, and it can be an unfair and unfeeling one, too. We see that every spring when NBA jobs open up — and in the case of this spring, good jobs, jobs that aren’t necessarily dead-end jobs, jobs where the right man will find enough talent to win right away — and Patrick Ewing goes another year without being given a chance to coach. Ewing’s son and namesake, frustrated at seeing Jason Kidd walk right from a player’s uniform to a head coach’s suit, took to Twitter this week to express his anger. … Would Ewing be a great coach? It’s the same answer we have to give for Kidd: It’s impossible to know. And it’s the same question you ask about any coach. Did anyone in 1982 really believe the Lakers had hired themselves a Hall of Famer when they elevated Pat Riley to replace Paul Westhead? Was there universal acclaim in 1989 when the Bulls fired Doug Collins and replaced him with his oddball hippie assistant Phil Jackson? We know now those were smart hires because they worked out. But the point is, they were given a chance. So were the likes of Kurt Rambis and Marc Iavaroni, to name two — playing contemporaries of Ewing, fellow big men, both given the chance to fail on their own watch and their own merit.
- Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer: Assuming the medical reports on Nerlens Noel don't set off alarms, the Thin Man would give Mike Brown his defensive centerpiece for the next decade. The Cavaliers are thought to be split on Noel, which isn't unusual. In draft years offering far more certainty, opinions are often divided. We're not privy to the extent of concern over Noel's knee. Maybe the Cavs are already scared off by it. If not, Noel makes too much sense to pass up. Yes, Gilbert made a grand pronouncement on the night of the lottery that the bow ties would be retired, that the Cavs wouldn't be returning anything soon. Noel wouldn't be ready to play until December and would've missed a training camp. Raw offensively, he'd have serious catching up to do. But Gilbert made a grander pronouncement once before as I remember, one that flew in the face of the organizational rebuild. And that was easily forgiven and forgotten. … I'd give my head coach a dynamic shotblocker who has a huge upside, who can defend his turf and cover for those who -- despite Brown's best intentions -- don't turn into Gary "The Glove" Payton.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves once had a guy named Kevin Garnett who despised playing afternoon games, and they ended up doing all right with him. On Sunday, they swapped times for their predraft workouts and sprung a morning session on a group that included UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad, who never considered himself a morning guy until now. “Usually I don’t do that good in early mornings,” he said after working out in a six-player group that included Kentucky’s Archie Goodwinand former Gopher Rodney Williams. “I actually think this is one of my best workouts, so I prefer morning now.” Sunday’s workout was No./4 in Muhammad’s scheduled seven-city tour before the June 27 draft. He arrived at Target Center looking to show new Wolves basketball boss Flip Saunders that he has the scoring skills and temperament worthy of the ninth overall pick. … Saunders called his Friday visit to watch Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo work out near Washington, D.C., “more confirmation” about a player he’d have to trade up from the ninth pick into at least the top four or five to select. Saunders said he won’t travel to do the same for Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, but didn’t rule out leaving town to visit other players in the next week.
- Charles F. Gardner of The Journal Times: Ricky Ledo did not play a minute of college basketball yet could be a first-round pick in the NBA draft on June 27. That shows how impressive the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Providence has been in workouts with National Basketball Association teams. Ledo's workout with the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday was his 13th with an NBA team as he continued his campaign to show he belongs at the next level. And he said he will work out with at least six more teams before the draft. The NCAA ruled Ledo was a partial academic qualifier and thus ineligible to play as a freshman with the Friars. But rather than pouting, he practiced with his teammates and began to draw the interest of pro scouts. Ledo and possible top-10 pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went head-to-head during the Bucks workout and showed why they are considered two of the top shooters in the draft. "Ricky Ledo is a very skilled basketball player," Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney said. "He shoots the ball extremely well, but also his ability to create shots off the dribble is something that is going to work in his favor in the NBA. Everybody is trying to get a quick glimpse of him."
- Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com: Of all the questions posed over the last few weeks to draft prospects coming through US Airways Center, few have been more prevalent than the one focusing on the Phoenix Suns' end-of-workout sprints. General manager Ryan McDonough, head coach Jeff Hornacek and the rest of the Suns' staff have built up quite a reputation of late regarding their three-minute conditioning test, so much so, that when New Mexico standout Tony Snell visited the team's practice facility on June 9, he mentioned to reporters that he mentally prepared for the drill after hearing rumors from other players in the Class of 2013. While the obvious point of the run is to evaluate the prospects' stamina after a grueling practice, McDonough noted that there's also a mental element to the exercise. "We only have a limited window to evaluate these guys," McDonough said Saturday. "We actually started it in Boston and it's one of the best ways you can think of to push a guy in a short amount of time. It's a conditioning test physically, but it's also to see how the guys respond mentally; to see how tough they are and fight through some of the fatigue. I enjoy it, I know they hate it. I enjoy seeing how these guys are willing to fight through some adversity."