First Cup: Monday

  • Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: It’s one thing to get someone to take your hot garbage. It’s another to convince them to pay you for it. On Sunday, the Toronto Raptors got the New York Knicks to take that human cluster-headache, Andrea Bargnani, off their hands. In return, the Raptors receive old-timey shootist Steve Novak and creaky centre Marcus Camby. The deal won’t be final for two weeks. Talking about it as if it is tempting fate. Since good karmic practice has never done the Raptors any good, we’re not going to bother with it. In our hearts, this is over. Bargnani for Novak and Camby was good enough. … From the Toronto perspective, the trade looked pretty solid. Then New York tossed in a protected, first-round pick in the 2016 draft and two second-round picks. Suddenly, this isn’t two teams agreeing to share a ride to the dump. This is one team beating another team up on a trade. It’s a fleece. What was new GM Masai Ujiri wearing when he negotiated this deal? A ski mask? … They called Bargnani “Il Mago” — the Magician. Finally (find wood; knock repeatedly) he’s about to vanish. Once the deal is done, it’s Masai Ujiri who’ll have the crowd squealing at his trick.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Knicks tried to obtain Bargnani last year by offering Stoudemire to the Raptors in an exchange of unwanted contracts. A potential deal along those lines was vetoed by the Knicks’ owner, James L. Dolan. Acquiring Bargnani, who turns 28 in October, at least stabilizes the frontcourt rotation, providing a backup to Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler and a safety net behind Stoudemire. Bargnani could help stretch defenses and keep the driving lanes open for Anthony, and he fits with the Knicks’ recent move to small ball. The Knicks are under immense pressure to improve their roster to keep up with a rapidly improving Eastern Conference — and to stay relevant in their own city. The Nets made a deal last week to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, two likely Hall of Famers, from the Boston Celtics.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With opening day — or late night — of free-agency shopping underway, the Rockets threw out the first sales pitch late Sunday. After years spent pursuing 6-11 center Dwight Howard in trades, months reshaping the roster to chase him as a free agent and weeks of preparations for this moment, the Rockets made their case that he would be best served to join them and their young team. For all they had prepared to discuss, described by an individual familiar with the preparations as “everything and anything you can think of,” the plan was to emphasize one point more than any other. “It’s pretty simple,” said another individual familiar with the pitch. “For him, the best chance to win championships is in Houston. Period.” Batting leadoff in the competition to win Howard, 27, the Rockets delegation gathered throughout the day Sunday in Beverly Hills to make their case directly to the player they have long hoped to make the next franchise center. At 9:01 p.m. L.A. time, the first moment teams can express official interest in free agents, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted: “Free agency kicking off! Hoping to meet with @DwightHoward tonight.” At 9:14, the Rockets contingent left the Wilshire in a Mercedes luxury van for their meeting at another hotel.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Amid all the teams about to clamor for his services, there remains one defining factor those close to Dwight Howard said will determine who he will play for next season. "Dwight is truly, in my opinion, going to make his decision (based on) where he has the best chance at winning an NBA title," said a source familiar with Howard's thought process. That process began Sunday at 9 p.m when he became an unrestricted free agent. According to a league source, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met with Howard in person and reiterated the Lakers' hope that he resigns with the team to a five-year deal worth $118 million, as opposed to a four-year deal worth $87.6 million with another team. The source said the meeting "went well." The Lakers will meet with Howard sometime Tuesday at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: The Portland Trail Blazers have acquired power forward Thomas Robinson, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, from the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kostas Papanikolau and Marko Todorovic. Robinson's people confirmed the deal to CSNNW.com. "I'm just glad to to get an opportunity to play," Robinson told CSNNW.com. "This is a business and Houston is a making a business move. I'm just happy to be in another situation to get an opportunity to play." Houston is clearing up cap space for the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. This is the second time Robinson, 22, has been traded as he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings before being dealt to the Rockets midway through the 2012-13 season. "It's all about being in the right situation," he said. "Hopefully I'll be in that situation in Portland. But I'm cool right now."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The free agency period starts at 11:01 p.m. CDT on Sunday, and a Mavs contingent led by owner Mark Cuban and forward Dirk Nowitzki will meet with Howard and his representatives in Los Angeles on Tuesday. “The time is here to make some noise,” said Nowitzki, who turned 35 last month. “We only have five guys or six guys under contract, so we got a lot of work to do.” A lot of that work would become easier if the Mavs can secure Howard who, when healthy, is the game’s most dominant center. “We’re going to LA and set a meeting date with a couple of different players,” Cuban said. “And I’m not going to get into details of who, when, where and how, because then you guys would show up and that would ruin the day.” Nowitzki has already reached out to the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s doing well,” Nowitzki said. “I guess he’s just weighing all his options. “He didn’t really say anything that was newsworthy. You have to wait until he makes his final decision and then I’ll get excited or I’ll be down.” The Mavs are about $2 million away from reaching the $88 million mark it’ll take to obtain Howard. But they already have players on their roster in place to waive/renounce/trade in order to obtain the remaining funds.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant says Thunder fans have nothing to worry about with his newly formed partnership with music mogul Jay-Z and his upstart sports agency, Roc Nation Sports. “He has nothing to do with if I'm going to leave OKC or none of that,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “I heard that before so put that out on the table. He has nothing to do with that. He knows his lane with me. Their team knows their lane with me. And they're letting me handle the basketball part. I would tell fans not to worry about that at all.” Durant became the first NBA player to join Roc Nation Sports, officially signing with the agency June 24. He joined NFL players Victor Cruz and Geno Smith, MLB All-Star Robinson Cano and WNBA rookie Skylar Diggins, who plays for the Tulsa Shock.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: In a surprising move, a league source said the Bulls will not renew the contract of lead assistant coach Ron Adams, whose deal expires Sunday. Adams, in his second stint with the Bulls, returned in 2010 after a successful run as Scott Brooks’ lead assistant in Oklahoma City. Adams left the Thunder in part to join longtime friend Tom Thibodeau’s first staff and also to live again with his family. It had remained in the Chicago area for school reasons following Adams’ first stint with the Bulls under Scott Skiles. According to sources, general manager Gar Forman made the decision, not Thibodeau. Forman informed Adams on Friday. … The move raised eyebrows within and outside the organization as perhaps the first public indication of tension between Forman and Thibodeau. Though management has final say, head coaches typically are in charge of their staffs and the Bulls have made three straight playoff appearances. Thibodeau, for instance, let go Pete Myers when he first took over, a longtime franchise fixture. … Adams could land back with the Thunder, who have an opening after Maurice Cheeks left to take the Pistons’ top job.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: Aldridge wrote, "I haven't demanded a trade. It's not true." I replied, "Are you happy to come back?" Aldridge shot back: "I'm excited to see who we get in free agency to make us better." I replied, "Is there any part of you that is frustrated?" Aldridge wrote: "This has blown up too far." There's your context. There's your comment. Read into it all you want. There was no denial of his frustration, and it's clever and telling that he steered that exact question into a concise statement about the Blazers' free-agent summer. Portland has $11.6 million in salary-cap room, and maybe the biggest reason Aldridge has to speak out now is that he'll be instrumental in the Blazers' ability to attract another front-line player in the negotiating period that begins July 1. We're about to enter one of the most competitive free agent summers in NBA history. There is $300 million worth of salary-cap room, and not $300 million worth of players. Houston hired Dwight Howard's former trainer this week, and the race for his services is on. So Aldridge's decision to go public, and make it clear that he's still engaged and hasn't formally asked for a trade, was big for the Blazers. He hasn't demanded a trade. He's demanded help. Feels like it's the front office's move.

  • Vince Ellis of the Pioneer Press: Q: Have you thought about what happens with Joe Dumars (he has one year remaining on his deal) after next season? Tom Gores: “I think you guys talk about it and Joe and I don’t talk about it. We’re really just focused on getting a winner on the floor. We need a winner. The franchise needs a winner. Both of us are just really looking to try to put the right team on the floor. He has worked really hard already in this off-season. His team, I’ve met with them many times. ... All the energy is putting a winning team on the floor.”

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: As free agency gets under way at 11:01 p.m. (Central time), Bucks guard Brandon Jennings weighed in on Twitter with this: "Hopefully i'm back in Milwaukee. Got some unfinished business." Jennings is a restricted free agent after completing his rookie contract and his first four NBA seasons with the Bucks. The Bucks made a $4.3 million qualifying offer to Jennings last week to retain the right to match any offer from another team. And on Friday Bucks general manager John Hammond said the team's plan was to sign the 23-year-old Jennings to a long-term contract or match any offer if an agreement could not be reached.

  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards finally have regained something they haven’t had in years: momentum. Now, President Ernie Grunfeld must keep it going. By adding rookie forward Otto Porter Jr. to a roster that already included guards Bradley Beal and John Wall, the Wizards have assembled a talented young nucleus that should lead them back to the playoffs. But for Washington to solidify its position as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference next season, Grunfeld has to strengthen the bench. Backup point guard is the key. … Grunfeld is having his best run since early in his long Wizards tenure. He’s putting together a squad that appears capable of bringing back the playoffs to the District for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Now, he has to finish the job.

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: The Jazz forward is visiting southeast Utah for the first time, despite the start of free agency just days away. In less than two years he has become a key member of the rotation and wildly popular among fans, despite being the team’s lowest-paid player. Now, as one of seven Jazz players whose contract expires at midnight Sunday, he is looking for his first big payday. But first he is obligated to perform what may be his final duty as a member of the Jazz, a two-week tour of rural Utah for the Junior Jazz program. Carroll is, in some ways, the ideal representative. While many NBA players fulfill their community obligations then happily slip back into celebrity hiding, Carroll has helped bridge the gap between fans and the players with whom they are eager to have a relationship. "He’s living in the moment," point guard Earl Watson says. "He’s taking in the opportunity to be in the NBA. He knows it’s a privilege, and he knows he has to work for it." Jazz fans always have identified with the players of Utah’s one major professional sports franchise, but their players historically don’t identify so much with them. Carroll is different.