First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Gregg Popovich enjoys talking about himself about as much as he likes discovering an old bottle of first growth claret had turned to vinegar after being improperly cellared. It was rare, then, when Popovich opened up a day after the truth of his team's Game 3 performance in the NBA Finals proved stranger than fiction. Asked to describe his evolution as a coach over 17-plus seasons with the Spurs, the reigning coach of the year astounded a room full of cynics. The essence of his answer: Learning that less is more. In that spirit, here he is, unfiltered: “I think I've learned to shut up more, and that probably is due to Manu Ginobili. When he first came, I was going to make him a heck of a player. And after 20 minutes, I realized that he didn't need me to do that. He was already a heck of a player. Sometimes being quiet and letting the player play is much more important than trying to be Mr. Coach and teach him this or teach him that. ..."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: I still find it hard to fathom that a team that allowed Mike Miller to depart via amnesty release would turn around and then spend on a fourth star, even if it came with the Big Three giving up part of their salaries. Remember, the Heat still will be paying Miller's salary next season, even though he no longer counts against the cap or tax. All of that said, never, ever doubt Pat Riley. But Erik Spoelstra also talks about how it takes a certain type of player to fit the team's system, one who is willing to sacrifice, as Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have done. Carmelo Anthony hardly comes off as such a player, although the influence of LeBron James, Micky Arison, Spoelstra and Riley could potentially change that. Still, it comes off as pie-in-the-sky conjecture, rooted neither in anything offered from Anthony nor even hinted at by the Heat's Big Three. And, no, to preempt a follow-up, I would not trade Bosh for Anthony. Not with the way Bosh fits with this group. Are the Heat "considering" a run at Carmelo Anthony should he become a free agent? Yes. They also are considering a run at every other player who could be a free agent.

  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: Chip Engelland, an assistant coach for the Spurs, is also the team’s designated shooting guru. He counsels and instructs, dismantles and reassembles. His work with individual players is sometimes painful: fixing a squeaky (or downright broken)jump shot often means that things get worse before they get better. But such is the price that must be paid in pursuit of consistency. “The objective is just to be solid,” Engelland said Wednesday afternoon, “so when the coach calls your name, he knows he’s going to get a consistent performance from you, which is hard to do.” ... Shane Battier, a forward with the Heat, spent significant time with Engelland as a freshman at Duke, when he was a lackluster outside shooter. Battier can still recall his statistics: 4 of 24 from the 3-point line. Engelland reshaped Battier’s shooting stroke by centering his release point. Battier, who has announced that he will retire after the finals, said he would not have had a 13-year career in the N.B.A. without Engelland’s help. “He literally changed my shot and changed my life, not to be too cliché,” Battier said. “He said, ‘Look, you want to make it to the league, you’re going to have to make some changes.’ So we basically reconstructed my shot and the rest, as they say, is history.” Battier and Engelland are opponents now, but their past collaboration reveals how Engelland’s influence is felt throughout the league even as the Spurs claim him as their own.

  • Erik Horne of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant is not a gambling man. The league MVP jumped on Twitter Wednesday to dispel rumors that he lost $20,000 in a bet to west coast rapper The Game. The Game - aka Jayceon Taylor - posted a video Tuesday on his Instagram account, saying that he bet Durant $20,000 he could make a 3-point shot from NBA range. Durant's Twitter response Wednesday morning, which has since been deleted, said "Aight this is it. I never bet the game 20k cash. I never bet him. I told him I would give his aau team kd gear. That's all." The Game claimed that if he made the shot, Durant would have to pony up $20K to The Game's AAU youth basketball team, and play on his Drew League basketball team in Los Angeles. Durant's responded to the rumors by saying that he didn't bet The Game, but will donate his team some KD gear. ... Everything was cleared up later in the day, when the rapper apologized, saying he jumped the gun on calling out Durant for "not wanting to help the kids."

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: It’s been quite some ride for Miami Heat center Greg Oden, a ride with its ups and downs. He has a golden opportunity to win a championship. A few years ago he would have never envisioned such an accomplishment would be possible. This NBA Finals experience has been full of memories he says he’ll cherish for a lifetime. There’s no taking this joy away from him. This would qualify as part of the “up” times. He’s as healthy as he’s been in years thanks to the Heat medical staff and it has got him thinking he can realistically prolong his career. ... Oden, 26, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. ... The No.1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft says as candid as can be that he’s happy with his situation, but as far as the way he’s been used, it was a disappointment. “It wasn’t what I was hoping it would be,” the big man said. “I would have definitely liked to have played more but you know, everything that I’ve been through, I’m just happy to be out there and being on a team. Last year I wasn’t and this year I’m on a team that possibly can win the championship. I’m happy in that, but personally, playing wise, I’m not as happy as I want to be."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: A source confirmed Derek Fisher’s reported $25 million deal is inflated and contains a host of incentives. Bleacher Report stated his base salary his first year is $4 million. The Post reported Steve Kerr’s reported $25 million Golden State contract also was overstated, and he is making $4.4 million per year for five years, a total of $22 million. A source indicated that is more in line with Fisher’s base, but the important factor is the five years being tied to Jackson’s five-year contract.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Like Tony Snell, Kawhi Leonard had an up-and-down rookie season in 2011-12, averaging 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds while playing with future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Then it clicked for him that summer, when he focused on defense first. “I just really worked on the spots on the floor where I can get the ball, where I was going to get the ball, and where I can be the most aggressive," Leonard said of his improvement. “But first and foremost, I focused on defense because that’s how you’re going to get on the floor." Sound familiar? Defense was a big reason Snell was off the floor by the end of the year. It’s up to Snell to add some muscle, then earn minutes with stops. Leonard did, and while his career-high 29-point performance in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday was nice, the job he did defending Le­Bron James in the second half was art. Snell should look forward to that chat.

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: The Utah Jazz invited 27 unheralded free agents to a minicamp this week with a lofty goal in mind. “We’re looking for Danny Green. We’re looking for Chris Andersen,” said David Fredman, the Jazz’s director of pro player personnel. “(Both are) guys who are playing in the finals who’ve come through camps like this.” The Jazz are also looking for diamond-in-the-rough players who could fill their summer league and fall camp rosters, for up-and-comers who might be good fits with their new D-League affiliate in Idaho, and for guys who might make their team one day. Five players who participated in the Jazz’s inaugural free agent workout last summer ended up on NBA rosters during the 2013-14 season: Toure Murry (Knicks), Henry Sims (Sixers), Chris Wright (Bucks), Jorge Gutierrez (Nets) and Arinze Onuaku (Cavaliers).

  • Allan Brettman of The Oregonian: While Andrew Wiggins awaits word on which NBA team will seek his talents, the one-and-done Kansas phenom is reportedly in the Portland area Wednesday visiting Nike. Wiggins tweeted Tuesday that he was "Portland bound!" ... Wiggins was on the Nike World Headquarters campus near Beaverton Wednesday, said a source not authorized to speak on the matter. Lauren Lamkin, a spokeswoman for Adidas, whose global basketball operations are managed at the company's North American headquarters in Portland, said Wednesday in an email, "We've already met with Andrew prior to this trip." ... Portland is home, of sorts, for other shoe brands that would want a partnership with Wiggins. Under Armour, the Baltimore-based brand, keeps a design studio in Portland. And the sparsely populated North American office of Li Ning is based in Portland, including the designer who creates the sneakers for the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: On a day when the Raptors brought in a slew of potential NBA draft prospects, including first-round potentials like Jerami Grant of Syracuse, Glenn Robinson III out of Michigan and Cleanthony Early of Wichita State, it was Toronto’s own Sim Bhullar who stole the show. Now Bhullar may not even hear his name called on draft night, but when you’re 7-foot-5 and tip the scales at a slimmed down 340, where you happen to be slotted in the draft takes a back seat. As soon as Bhullar enters a room, heads turn and Wednesday was no exception despite the fact many in his audience make their living in and around rather large basketball people. Bhullar takes things to another level. As he made his way out of the elevator and towards a makeshift interview area just outside the Raptors third-level practice gym at the Air Canada Centre, jaws dropped and cameras went into overdrive. It’s a natural reaction that no longer fazes Bhullar.