First Cup: Wednesday

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Dwight Howard knows what people think. In Central Florida, many people who once adored him now regard him as a villain because he forced the Orlando Magic to trade him in 2012. In Southern California, many call him a "coward" because he left the Los Angeles Lakers via free agency and signed with the Houston Rockets. But here's the thing: Even though he still cares what people think, he didn't let that stop him from doing what will make him happiest. Houston, he said, is the best place for him, and when he chose the Rockets, he didn't repeat the mistakes he made during his painful, drawn-out final year with the Magic. "Everybody's saying I was a 'coward' for leaving [the Lakers], and I knew I was going to get that," Howard said Tuesday. "But I think with the situation I had to do what was best for Dwight. I know when I wanted to leave Orlando, and I decided to stay, I wasn't happy on the inside. I wanted to please everybody else and ended up hurting a lot of people by doing it the way I did. So, this time it's like I had a second chance. I said, 'You know what? People are going to hate me for whatever reason, so I can't allow that to stop me from making my decision.' I thought that my decision took a lot of guts because everybody's saying, 'How could you leave the Lakers and six billion fans?' But I don't care about being an outcast or about being somebody that may look bad. All I've got to do is win now, and I'm in the right situation."

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: When newly signed Heat forward LeBron James first played in the nation’s capital in 2010, the place hated him, strangely enough, for two competing reasons. Most importantly, James was the guy who, before joining the Heat, starred for Cleveland, which put Washington out of the playoffs three postseasons in a row. But in 2010, the Wizards also loathed James for leaving the Cavaliers, which is odd because, in reality, it was a fact that probably should have been celebrated in Washington. But perception was reality for James that first season with the Heat. Every arena was a bandbox of boos. Washington simply got in line with all the other LeBron haters. Compare 2010-11 and Tuesday night at Verizon Center and a perfect picture is painted of just how dramatically the reception of James has changed in some cities around the NBA. James received a standing ovation and raucous applause after back-to-back dunks in the second quarter of the Heat’s 100-82 loss. “It’s a lovefest right now,” Wade said before the game when asked about ESPN The Magazine’s NBA preview, which apparently is dedicated to James.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant is starting to make it look easy. Easier? Too easy?? The way he’s controlling the game and downright dominating with such confidence is incredible. He’s been hailed the secondbest player in the world for a while now. But something about the way he’s carrying himself now leaves no doubt. Perhaps it’s Russell Westbrook’sabsence. How KD is now taking patchwork lineups and carrying them while his team thumps opponents. Maybe he’s just that much better at the start of Year 6. Either way, this is shaping up to be a fun, fun season. Forget what you heard. Durant posted 36 points in 23 minutes. He made 13 of 20 shots, half of his eight 3-pointers and six of seven free throws. For good measure, he added six boards, four assists, a steal, a blocked shot and turned it over only once. If you’re scoring at home, that’s now a 12-assist game (really 11) and a 36-pointer for KD this preseason. Think he knows these games don’t count?

  • Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: Paul Pierce wore that color starting in 1998, when the Celtics drafted him. He wore it as he became one of the franchise’s most iconic players, as he helped win it a championship, cementing his legacy and that his jersey will one day hang from TD Garden’s illustrious rafters. But Tuesday night, in the first season since 1998 that he won’t wear the color that he once said he bled, Pierce wore white and black, with “BROOKLYN” across his chest, and he faced his old team for the first time in a preseason game that his new team won, 82-80, at the Barclays Center. It was weird, but it was always going to be weird — for Pierce and for the teammates he left behind after being dealt to Brooklyn in a blockbuster swap that also sent ex-Celtics Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets in exchange for a cadre of players and first-round draft picks.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: But when Pierce left to go stretch, Gerald Wallace cast a stark contrast in the same locker room. The small forward, whom the Nets traded in Billy King’s franchise-altering blockbuster deal with Boston, carries a different attitude about his former team. “(The Nets) have to point the finger at somebody like I was the guy to take the blame,” Wallace told the Daily News before Brooklyn’s 82-80 victory . “And that was the reason I was traded.” Wallace, 31, said this was just his feeling because he hadn’t talked to anybody in the Brooklyn organization. That’s part of his issue. After he signed a $40 million contract and was being hailed as an integral part of a championship contender, Wallace was dumped unceremoniously, without “the courtesy call of saying, ‘We’re thinking about trading you,’ or, ‘We’re going to trade you.’ Didn’t even get a courtesy after the trade to tell me I’ve been traded.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: No franchise is studied, dissected and emulated more than the Spurs. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti arrived there from San Antonio years ago, implemented the "Spurs Way" — and in the process created another blueprint to follow, which former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri is intent on accomplishing now in Toronto. Orlando GM Rob Hennigan is a Spurs AND Thunder alum. The Atlanta Hawks hired Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer. Philadelphia hired Spurs assistant Brett Brown. All looking to recreate the stability, the accountability and the professionalism that have been the hallmarks of a Spurs franchise that has won four NBA titles. Here, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is looking to do the same. Because he knows if a team is a bunch of frayed wires, there is a good chance those wires will spark a fire that cannot be controlled.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Dion Waiters appreciates tough love. The Cavaliers shooting guard admits he loves the way Mike Brown is coaching him. “He takes me out, talks to me and then puts me back in,” Waiters said after the Cavs’ 92-74 loss to the Bobcats on Tuesday before a sold-out crowd of 4,047 at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. Brown yanked Waiters out of the game at least three times to correct mistakes. “He can be a high-level defender,” Brown said. However, he wasn’t doing things at a high level in the first half when Bobcats shooting guard Gerald Henderson was scoring on him at will. Brown called time out and brought the second-year shooting guard to the sideline. “You’re better than this,” he told Waiters. “To his credit, he tried harder. He has a lot of room to grow.” Brown said the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Waiters knows how good he can be, but he might not realize how hard he’ll have to work to get there. “It’s hard to play at a high level for every possession,” Brown said.

  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: As Royce White’s confidence grows, he’s more involved in the offense. The 2012 first-round pick from Iowa State occasionally brought the ball upcourt and initiated the offense vs. Brooklyn. “He scares the hell out of me (when he does that),” Brown said. “That’s what he did in college and that’s what you see. You’re going to dribble down the floor and reverse it to Royce and ‘Oh, what’s going to happen now?’ Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. “He’s a runaway train. And that’s OK right now because, I’ll tell you what, when he starts making good decisions, he’s dangerous. But right now, it’s hit or miss.” White said Brown encourages him to push the ball when he grabs a defensive rebound, but that he must hit the boards harder to have more opportunities. “I’m excited,” said White, who didn’t travel to the Sixers’ first two exhibition contests in Europe primarily due to a fear of flying and anxiety disorder. “I like to do that.” White told reporters he plans on driving to Charlotte for Thursday morning’s preseason game with the Bobcats if he doesn’t go with the team on its charter flight. Either way, he’s determined to continue improving each time out.

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: He is known as the "Greek Freak" for his spectacular athleticism and sometimes "The Alphabet" because his name challenges spell-checkers the way he takes on defenders. But it's important to remember that Giannis Antetokounmpo is 18 years old and on his own in a foreign city while trying to learn a grown man's game. … Too young to enter the clubs his teammates might patronize, Antetokounmpo walks the streets near the downtown hotel where he lives after practice. But he really lives for the moments he can return to the Cousins Center, where he is among the first to arrive and last to leave. … “Basketball-wise, he needs to improve his strength," Nick Van Exel said. "Being stronger with the ball." Otherwise, the Bucks are beginning to suspect they may have caught lightning in a bottle with this very raw but potentially explosive talent. "He is capable of grabbing the rebound and taking it the length of the court," Van Exel said. "He has to get to the point where he is comfortable doing that here. I tell him all the time, 'Look, sometimes when you get that ball off the rebound, don't be afraid to make a play.' What he's doing now is dribbling it across half-court and just passing it to the guards. We want to see him make plays because he has that capability. If he's able to do that, it strengthens our ballclub."

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: It didn’t feel right when the Suns dismissed Gentry last January because it sure looked at the time as if he’d been set up to fail. And he did. But as it turns out, Gentry and the Suns might be in a better place. Gentry sure has landed on his feet. He was a candidate for head-coaching jobs in Memphis and Charlotte, and when those didn’t pan out, he had the choice of joining Mike D’Antoni as a Lakers assistant or to serve as associate head coach with Doc Rivers, who had just left the Celtics to join the Clippers. Gentry chose the Clippers job, and what does that say about how far that franchise has come? Who goes back to the Clippers, after all? Meanwhile, the Suns figured out pretty quickly after Lindsey Hunter moved from a player-development role to the head-coaching gig that maybe their problems ran a little deeper than the person coaching a team with no go-to scorer. Hunter is gone. Ryan McDonough was hired to replace Lance Blanks as the general manager. And McDonough hired Jeff Hornacek to take over as coach. Just as important, the Suns appear now to have a go-to player in Eric Bledsoe, whom they acquired in trade from, of all places, the Los Angeles Clippers.

  • Tony Bizjak and Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee: Still three years away from its planned opening, Sacramento’s proposed downtown arena is drawing attention from fans for several innovative design ideas, but also drew a potentially tough new opponent Tuesday. Speaking at a series of recent public arena planning workshops, Kings President Chris Granger dropped the surprise news that the $448 million Downtown Plaza facility may have far fewer seats than originally proposed, possibly fewer than at old Sleep Train Arena, but could pack more patrons in, nonetheless, by offering special standing-room-only ticket sections and a dramatic outdoor plaza seating area. Even as Kings officials continued refining the arena concept, the movement to challenge the arena subsidy gained momentum of its own: Tuesday a new group announced it would oppose the city’s plan to contribute a $258 million subsidy.

  • Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World: KU’s Andrew Wiggins figures to be a rich man shortly after the end of the 2013-14 season. Bleacher Report writes Tuesday that as basketball’s next “chosen one,” Wiggins is ticketed to land a shoe contract in the vicinity of $140 to $180 million over 10 years. He can’t negotiate a deal, of course, until he declares for the NBA following his one-and-done season. As an amateur, he — as well as his family members — cannot negotiate with agents. Bleacher Report says Adidas has “pegged Wiggins as their prime target and would be willing to open up the bank for him.” Nike may or may not make an offer, considering it has lucrative deals with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. Sports Business Daily says each of them earn between $10 and $20 million a year. Also, the company may not want to risk angering those players by making Wiggins its No. 1 client.