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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: In one year Larry Sanders has gone from relative obscurity to becoming the centerpiece of the Milwaukee Bucks' rebuilding plans. Even he has a hard time digesting it. But the 24-year-old center said Monday he is ready to embrace his sudden leadership role on a Bucks team that has undergone a huge makeover this summer. … Last week he signed a four-year, $44 million extension that will keep him with the Bucks through the 2017-'18 season. "This organization has put so much trust in me as a person, as a player, as a worker, as a leader," Sanders said. "That's definitely the role I want to take. It's not a spontaneous thing. We've been working in this direction for a long time. Now, them investing this faith in me is awesome. But it comes with a lot of responsibility and I embrace that. I've had my mistakes; I've had my ups and downs. All in all, I keep pushing in a forward direction and it's allowed me to get here today. It's the same direction I want to push this team." Sanders went from a reserve role his first two seasons to a standout third season as he became the Bucks starting center. He ranked second in the league in blocked shots and averaged nearly a double-double (9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds), a showing that led to a third-place finish in the NBA most improved player balloting.

  • Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press: This was always the thing about Chauncey Billups, of course. Toward the end of his time here, when he wasn’t hitting as many threes or keeping opposing point guards in front of him as easily, some figured his leadership role was overstated. I didn’t buy it. Not then. Not now. Few teams depend on player-led direction the way basketball squads do. Baseball can be a collection of individuals. Football relies on a patriarch and an encyclopedic playbook. Basketball, though, plays out as a near nightly improv in which the one who controls the ball becomes the central ad-libber. In Detroit, Billups filled that role, in ways both subtle and obvious. Richard Hamilton played with unending endurance and precision, but he couldn’t see two steps ahead. He needed Billups for that. He also needed him in the locker room. That dynamic, which helped propel the Pistons to six straight conference finals, showed up at the country club Monday. While Hamilton playfully jabbed at Billups, the point guard stayed in the moment. When he was finally done making his point to me, Billups acknowledged his buddy, “Aw, this clown right here?” He smiled. Then walked away. I got the feeling the scene had unfolded in dozens of ways on hundreds of nights in NBA arenas around the country, and that it will continue to unfold as long as the two hang out.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: There has been considerable ink spilled wondering what-if various things had changed the course of Tracy McGrady’s career. With good reason, McGrady, who retired Monday, was one of the most talented players to grace the NBA over the past 20 years. A seven-time all-star and two-time scoring leader, McGrady at one time also was an elite defender, passer and a steady rebounder, one of the most complete players in the game. Still, though he played a team sport, unlike some similar stars, McGrady will be remembered only as an individual. His squads never made it out of the first round of the playoffs while he was a main cog. … It’s impossible not to ponder how good Toronto could have been if he had stayed put, or, if the Magic would have taken Toronto’s place had Grant Hill been healthy (not to mention if Tim Duncan had signed there as a free agent). Or, would Houston have challenged for rings with McGrady and Yao Ming at 100% at the same time? We’re all left to wonder. Until the day comes that Toronto is even a quasi-contender, Raptors fans will always look back and try to imagine just how far the McGrady-Carter combo could have lifted the franchise. When he left, the NBA changed the rules, making it harder for emerging players to bolt from their first team. In the end, McGrady only played three season in Toronto, but he’s the best pick in the history of the franchise, a steal by Isiah Thomas at No. 9 overall.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Seven-time All-Star and two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady announced his retirement from the NBA on Monday, but no one who saw it will forget one of the most memorable nights of his career. On Jan. 26, 2004, when he was with the Orlando Magic, he made eight 3-pointers in the first half of a game at then-Gund Arena, tying an NBA record for a half and setting a Cavs opponent record for a half, both of which still stand. The only thing that stopped him was aggravating a toe injury in the third quarter. After straining his right big toe while missing an alley-oop dunk attempt, he left midway through the period and did not return. He finished with 36 points, 34 in the first half. … Then coach Paul Silas said at the time, "Oh my God. I was just happy to see him out of the game. I’ve never seen that before. It was an amazing performance.'' Before injuries derailed his career, there were plenty of those kinds of performances.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Details were extremely limited, but French sports daily L’Equipe reported that Spurs point guard Tony Parker is scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday after injuring his right knee for the second time in exhibition play leading up to next month’s EuroBasket tournament. The injury does not appear to be serious. Parker was hurt at some point during France’s 85-84 loss to rival Spain in Montpellier. He scored 26 of his 29 points in the second half, but missed a 3-pointer at the end. The injury was not referenced in a wire story about the game, nor did Parker address it in comments published by L’Equipe. EuroBasket will be held from Sept. 4-22 in Slovenia. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are among the notable players who are skipping the tournament. The Spurs open training camp on Oct. 1.

  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Pau Gasol is currently in Spain, working to rehab his knees after May procedures to help relieve tendinosis. On Sunday, Gasol sent out a short video clip of his workout. … Gasol has spent much of the last few weeks on the exercise bike, in the pool and the weight room. Although he isn't quite ready to return to the basketball court, the Lakers are optimistic he'll have a strong year — returning to his role as the team's primary inside option. Gasol still has two months to get ready for opening night on October 29 against the Clippers at Staples Center.

  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: In a chat with Dallas Mavericks fans on the team’s official app, Dirk Nowitzki shed some light on his life as a dad. When asked about how fatherhood has changed his life Nowitzki replied jokingly: “I gotta change diapers now. Never done that before.” On a more serious note, he also stated that he wouldn’t be opposed to having more kids. “I always wanted two or three,” he said. “We will see” Nowitzki continued the chat by answering questions about books and movies. But he was also asked about some of the additions made this offseason, specifically his former teammate Devin Harris. “Always liked DH,” Nowitzki said. “He is fast and smart. Hopefully he can get healthy and have a good year for us.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Much of the good feeling about Miles Plumlee stems from his play at the summer league in Orlando last month. After logging more appearances in the D-League than the NBA as an Indiana rookie, Plumlee gave more credence to Indiana making him a surprise pick at No. 26 last year. In four games, Plumlee averaged 10.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks with only seven fouls in 108 minutes. Plumlee is tremendously athletic for a big man, bouncing off the floor well for a 6-foot-11, 255-pounder. Plumlee is no future All-Star center. He is too limited offensively for that, although he has a jump hook and will get Suns coach Jeff Hornacek’s expertise on fixing his shooting form. For $4.4 million over the next three seasons, Plumlee could prove to be a valuable big man because of how well he runs the floor, protects the rim and rebounds, particularly on the defensive end. Plumlee needs encouragement after an uneven rookie season that included days when he would practice with the Pacers and then drive two hours to Fort Wayne to play a D-League game. He is known for a tireless work ethic but also as a nice guy who could trust his skill set more and acquire a little P.J. Tucker constant aggression to cut out his niche. … Every team could use an unselfish, blue-collar player, especially one as big, smart and athletic as Plumlee.