First Cup: Wednesday
October, 23, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald: A few weeks ago, Derrick Rose appeared to be a man on a mission, and perhaps capable of winning another MVP. But that's not exactly true. Turns out he's completely possessed and he is going to win the MVP this season. Rose is playing like a man who wants to stick it to each and every person who doubted him, criticized him and crucified him for having the gall to believe he — and those he trusts most — understood more about his health than those without the same knowledge. This version of Rose is not only angry, but he's also physically imposing compared to previous versions, having spent his convalescence rebuilding himself to endure the brutality of driving among the trees and surviving an NBA season. Combine that with Tom Thibodeau's need to win every regular-season game the Bulls play, and it adds up to a 60-win season, validation for Rose and his second MVP award in four seasons. Don't doubt him.
- Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, told Derrick Williams by phone Tuesday that the team would pick up his option for the 2014-15 season. It is a decision the team had to make by the end of the month, one Saunders had hinted almost certainly would happen. The agreement will be formalized Friday, when both Saunders and the Wolves are back in town, guaranteeing Williams nearly $6.7 million. The team will also, of course, pick up Ricky Rubio’s $5 million option for next season. That’s not to say Williams will be with the Wolves through next season, but it does give him a guaranteed contract. “It helps, the security,” Williams said after the team practiced Tuesday. “You’re guaranteed at least one more year in the NBA.” But the question is what Williams will do with the security. He has struggled to find a permanent position since he was drafted, bouncing between the big and small forward positions. Last season Williams averaged 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds, getting extensive time at the power forward position with Kevin Love injured. This fall Williams reported to camp 20 pounds lighter, hoping he would add the quickness needed to defend at the small forward position. Still, since camp began, he has split time between both positions.
- Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant changed his Twitter avatar to "1225," presumably in response to ESPN ranking the Lakers as the 12th-best team in the Western Conference and Bryant as the 25th-best player in the NBA. What's another jab, besides extra inspiration? "I like it because Kobe always finds ways to motivate himself and to keep those things in mind," Lakers center Pau Gasol said after the Lakers' 108-94 exhibition victory over the Utah Jazz, "so it kind of pushes him to push himself harder and be better." Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said he figured the 56.7% of general managers who voted Houston's James Harden as the best shooting guard in the league, according to an anonymous survey released Tuesday by NBA.com, must be taking into account Bryant's torn Achilles' tendon. Bryant received 20% of the tally, the first time in the 12-year history of the survey that he had not led the voting at his position. Bryant, 35, is coming off a season in which he displayed no discernible dropoff, averaging 27.3 points a game and playing heavy minutes until his injury ended his season in mid-April. He is not expected to return before next month at the earliest.
- John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Unbeaten after six preseason games, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams has seen his players jell together, score quickly and emerge in the fourth quarter to pull out close victories. Now he will see how they respond in front of their home crowd in the newly renovated New Orleans Arena on Wednesday night against an elite opponent, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. The Pelicans are the only remaining unbeaten team in the Western Conference, but they haven’t faced a player like LeBron James, who has a supporting cast that includes All-Star guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh. … “We know they got the best player, one of the best coaches and the organization from top to bottom has just been stellar,'' Williams said. “We have great respect for Miami and what they’ve been able to do in a short period of time, there’s no hiding that. But every game for us is a measuring stick, no matter who (we) are playing. I never want our guys to think that we got Miami and whomever we have the next game, we can take a break.”
- Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: For now, the Miami Heat are enjoying the silence. Even though it's just preseason, the Heat are having one of the most distraction-free training camps of the Big Three Era. The outside "noise" coach Erik Spoelstra often talks about is non-existent. At least for now. "Most of the things you hear outside are probably anything that LeBron (James) does when it comes to ESPN and what's coming up next," guard Dwyane Wade said. "It has been quiet from that sense. There's other story lines right now but the season is just starting so there's still a lot of time." The Heat are content with other teams making the headlines. Carmelo Anthony recently put the New York Knicks in the spotlight by saying he will explore free agency in the offseason. There's also the chatter about the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers becoming legitimate threats to prevent the Heat from completing a three-peat.
- Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: A buzz is building about Milwaukee Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo. Already he is being compared to Nicolas Batum, Paul George and Kevin Durant. Not bad for a skinny 18-year-old from Greece, a player who is getting his first taste of NBA action during the current exhibition season. But wait a second. Coach Larry Drew is not ready to commit to putting the 6-foot-9 youngster into the playing rotation when the regular season begins next week. The Bucks may want to be cautious when it comes to a player they value so highly. "I think he's made the most of his minutes in the preseason," Drew said after a workout Tuesday. "Still there's a lot he has to learn. He has to learn the pace and the speed at this level. We're still trying to work with him from the language side of it, making sure he understands our terminology. I can see at times he's still lost out there, but that's going to be part of it with an 18-year-old kid coming from a different country. He has definitely shown some flashes. But we just have to continue to work with him and hopefully he can get to the point where we can get him out there."
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Perhaps the biggest story entering the new season was how Kawhi Leonard’s role would be expanded after two seasons of solid growth, capped by his tour de force in the Finals while matched up with LeBron James. Huge caveat — it’s only preseason. But the third-year small forward has answered the challenge in impressive fashion so far, scoring 36 points in 33 minutes over the past two exhibitions and averaging about 0.73 points per minute in the preseason. That extrapolates out to more than 26 points per 36 minutes — which, of course, he won’t even sniff once the real games start and the big guns get more involved. Yet it’s obviously a huge positive for a player who took most of the summer off while he nursed the leg injury that nagged him for much of his sophomore season. As always, it’s Leoanrd’s preternatural polish that stands out most. It might not make the highlight reels, but the way he gets both feet underneath him and squares up so solidly on jumpers is the stuff that makes coaches drool. Now he’s adding a healthy dose of aggression, be it dribbling the length of the court with rebounds and steals at every opportunity or actively seeking out space to squeeze off shots.
- Staff of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks, who currently have the world's longest-active streak of sellouts at 477 games, may be in danger of soon losing that record. During an interview with ESPN 103.3 Tuesday, owner Mark Cuban revealed that there are "about a thousand tickets left for the home opener," which takes place Oct. 30 against Atlanta. The Mavericks' streak goes back to Dec. 15, 2001, and they took the reigns as the longest-active streak in sports when the previous record-holding Boston Red Sox failed to sell out a game this past April. During the course of the Mavericks' streak, they had been perennial 50-game winners and serious title contenders, but a mediocre 2011-12 season followed up by last year's playoff-less 2012-13 campaign may have subdued fan interest.
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: When Mike Brown envisioned Kyrie Irving playing a little shooting guard this season, the idea was to place him alongside veteran Jarrett Jack. That was temporarily derailed this preseason since Jack has missed more than a week with a little swelling in his knee, but it hasn’t deterred Brown from his plan. Instead, he is using Irving alongside third-string point guard Matthew Dellavedova for short stretches. The idea is to bring Irving off screens a little more and take advantage of his jump shot, which Brown agreed Tuesday is probably the best on the team. “For the first time in my three years, I can actually play there comfortably now,” Irving said of the shooting guard role. “I know all the positions on the floor, especially from the 2 spot. It allows me to not exert so much energy dribbling the ball, especially at the top of the key.” Irving said the players go through drills every day at practice where he is playing off the ball. “Me being at the 2 spot just opens up the lane for our bigs and our shooters in the corner,” he said. To be clear, Brown is only viewing this as a small part of the offense.
- Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Kenneth Faried can be the best sixth man in the NBA. Here's the hard part: Do the Nuggets, after the backlash from firing coach George Karl and losing star Andre Iguodala, have the guts to put a fan favorite on the bench? The Nuggets' mantra in beating foes is: The first team wears 'em down. The second team wears 'em out. "I would envision having at least a 10-man rotation," coach Brian Shaw said Tuesday. Faried as a super sub fits perfectly with the team's plan of attack. Shaw will have to think outside the box for the Nuggets to win 50 games this season and make noise in the playoffs. … Here's a suggestion for the starting lineup Denver should employ on opening night and the majority of the time until Gallinari returns from knee surgery. PG: Lawson SG: Evan Fournier SF: Wilson Chandler PF: J.J. Hickson C: McGee The Nuggets open the season in a week. No reason to panic, but they are not ready.
- Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Brett Brown tried to clarify his Monday comments where the 76ers rookie head coach said he didn’t expect Nerlens Noel to play this season. At Tuesday’s practice, Brown said the decision whether the rookie will play “is going to made by a variety of a lot smarter people that me. Who knows what’s going to happen with Nerlens? We hope he can come back.” The 6-foot-11 center is still recovering from a torn anterior ligament in his left knee. He was expected to be sidelined until December while he recovered from the injury, suffered in February during his lone season at Kentucky.
- Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: The Knicks had to wait until they were out of the country to finally get some of their injured players back on the practice court together for a scrimmage for the first time in training camp. J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin all received high marks from coach Mike Woodson after the banged-up trio participated in the team’s 5-on-5 scrimmage Tuesday at Humber College. “Pretty intense scrimmage, and it was good to see Amar’e, Kenyon and J.R. out on the floor,” Woodson said. “That’s a lot of talent, in terms of depth. . . . It was kind of nice to have them. We’ll gauge it after today and see how these guys feel (Wednesday).” After the Knicks face Milwaukee in Green Bay on Wednesday, Woodson said only Smith is “a possibility” among that trio to play in Friday’s preseason finale against Charlotte at the Garden. While Smith’s five-game, regular-season suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy will kick in as soon as he is deemed healthy.