First Cup: Friday

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Rod Higgins is out as head of the Charlotte Hornets basketball operations. In an odd and ill-timed press release, the Hornets announced past midnight Friday that president of basketball operations Rod Higgins has “stepped down” two weeks before the Hornets make the ninth, 24th and 45th picks in the draft. Higgins has effectively run the Bobcats/Hornets basketball ops since June of 2011. He was a key figure in the decisions to sign free agents Al Jefferson and Ramon Sessions. The Hornets noted in their press release that general manager Rich Cho will continue to report to Jordan and vice-chairman Curtis Polk.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Game 4 of the NBA Finals had already become an unlikely laugher late in the third quarter when the youngest starter in the series grabbed the ball on the baseline and put his head down. Kawhi Leonard headed toward the basket, elevating in search of a bedroom-wall poster slam over Miami's Chris Andersen. “I was getting excited,” guard Danny Green said. “I got out of my seat. I thought it he was going to get it.” Leonard had to settle for arguably the greatest near-dunk in Finals history, drawing a foul and heading to the free-throw line. That play, in a nutshell, summed up where the Spurs stand now, after a stunning 107-86 victory Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena that has pushed them to the brink of a fifth NBA championship. With a title once again in sight, the Spurs are determined to get greedy. "We thought we could win here,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “We were happy to win one, but we didn't want to rest on that.”

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Just this week there was an ESPN report that Miami already had begun internally exploring what it would take to acquire the Knicks’ pending free agent Carmelo Anthony to create a Big 4. The Heat sure could have used Melo on Thursday. Mostly they could have used a lot more passionand intensity – a tangible demonstration they still believed in the three-peat dream. Losing this Finals, now an immense likelihood, would not mean the Big 3 or any of it will now break up this summer. Nor would it diminish the accomplishment of four straight Finals and two titles. But losing in this manner DOES mean club president Pay Riley must do something to re-tool, to add, to get younger – to get LeBron help. Miami cannot stand pat because it reached four straight Finals and won two. Not after it got blown out of its own gym the past two games, with only everything on the line. Miami enjoyed the lead a total of 1 minute 31 seconds the past two games. The champions have never led by more than seven points this entire series. This Finals has turned into a sporting avalanche. ... LeBron had said this before Game 4: “You’re always on edge in the postseason, but I don’t want to be concerned at this point." Be concerned now, Mr. James. Be very concerned.

  • Ben Crandell of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The Miami Heat's home is unlike any other in the NBA — that much is clear when you talk to some of the bigger celebrity talking heads in the sports media dodge. But, of course, none would actually admit to rooting for a Miami Heat victory Thursday night, a win that would ensure their return to the alluring embrace of South Beach for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. No, wait, Colleen Dominguez did. "I root for location. Absolutely," said Dominguez, who recently moved from ESPN to rival Fox Sports 1. "I love two things: The beach and Prime 112. At the beginning of the season when everyone was saying this was going to be the Pacers' year, I almost cried. … We all root for location." Asked what spot they'd miss if the series does not return to Miami, most top picks in your media fantasy league mentioned South Beach hot spot Prime 112, as much for owner Myles Chefetz's graciousness as the food. On Wednesday night, yakkers from ESPN, Fox and TNT gathered at Prime 112 for a long dinner that Dominguez said has become an NBA Finals tradition. "J.A. Adande [ESPN] told me he thought he knew someone at every table last night," said Dominguez, a Los Angeles resident. She said her party adjourned to Radio Bar after dinner. "We were out … oh, late," she said. ... ESPN's Mark Jackson was at Prime 112 for his usual. "The steak. You can't go wrong," he said. The network's Michael Wilbon and Chris Broussard were there as well. Broussard said changing the Finals format to a 2-2-1-1-1 home-road format this year was unpopular, because the old format allowed for more time in Miami the last few years.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Ray Allen has made some interesting decisions over the past few summers. In 2012, he decided to sign with the Heat rather than the Celtics. In 2013, he exercised his option to remain in Miami for at least one more season. And another decision comes this summer, when Allen will decide whether to continue his NBA career. Allen is a free agent-to-be and will turn 39 next month. And while it appears he has plenty left in his finely tuned body, the guard said retirement is an option. He would likely receive his share of offers this summer. “I guess everything [is factored into the decision],” he said Thursday before the Heat lost to the Spurs, 107-86, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. “You get away from it, you sit down and get an opportunity to think about it. It depends on how my body feels. I love the condition I’ve been in over the last couple of years. It’s just a natural progression.” Allen said he has enjoyed playing with considerably younger players, downplaying the generation gap.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: The process and ingredients that led to Mills playing at such a high level probably wouldn’t be the same ingredients he’d recommend for someone else. His recipe includes the understanding of nutrition and the carbohydrates needed, something that would help most, and a trip to the barbershop. Frustrated with the inconsistent playing time he received last year due to his own doing and a demanding head coach, desperately seeking to shed that “fringe NBA player” label, Mills came into training camp this past season at 5.8 percent body fat. This time last year he says he was at 12 percent. Sporting a new physique also came with a well-groomed appearance. Known for his mildly wild hair and bearded mug, some mocked that he looked much older than he was and heavier. Mills aimed to change that perception. Samson got weaker when his hair was cut. The opposite holds true for Mills. “Cutting my hair and beard, I think it worked into having that first impression when I came back from the summer last year for training camp,” Mills told CSNNW.com.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Knicks president Phil Jackson, new coach Derek Fisher and general manager Steve Mills were slated to have their final meeting with Carmelo Anthony Thursday night in a last-gasp effort to convince him to opt into his contract and delay free agency for a year. Anthony has said since training camp he intends to opt out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time, and he is expected to stick to his plan, especially with the Heat’s reported interest in him this summer. Anthony and LeBron James have always dreamed of playing on the same side, and it may have happened if Anthony didn’t sign a five-year deal with the Nuggets in 2006, blowing his chance to become a free agent in 2010 with James.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: If Anthony opts out, the Knicks can pay him $129 million over five years, which is one year longer and $33 million more than any other team can. But Jackson also already has stated publicly he would prefer Anthony taking a pay cut, pointing to the Heat's Big Three from 2010 as precedent. So where does this leave the Bulls? Their ability to land Anthony always has been considered a long shot. A straight amnesty of Carlos Boozer and its resulting salary cap space wouldn't even get the Bulls to a starting salary of $14 million. Packaging both first-round picks to move up and only add one rookie-scale contract, something general manager Gar Forman said at the NBA draft combine is in play, would add a negligible amount given the needed salary-cap hold for a minimum salary. To this point, there have been no indications the Bulls are willing to trade major pieces like Taj Gibson for nothing but cap space, as the Bulls did in 2010 with Kirk Hinrich to pursue the Heat's eventual Big Three. Trading away smaller pieces for nothing to add cap space for Anthony is possible, as is a sign-and-trade transaction. But those scenarios, like the Heat's Big Four, are just rumors for now in a stay-tuned situation.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: What’s stopping all this from happening? Greed. Anthony’s will be tested, and the talk is Wade isn’t keen on the idea of once again leaving money on the table at this point in his career. The entire Bulls organization should be pulling for Wade to hold on to that stingy attitude. And the big loser in all of this? Poor Noah. It’s Noah that’s had to put the team on his shoulders the past two seasons. It’s Noah who has shown an unbelievable will to win no matter how bad the circumstances. It’s Noah that was in Anthony’s ear, playing recruiter the entire second half of this season because Rose doesn’t believe in such practices. If there is some light for the Bulls, it’s that Anthony at least has them on his radar as one of six possible destinations. Unfortunately, Miami carries way more weight. Good thing for the Bulls that June is full of wild rumors in NBA circles. Keep telling yourself that.

  • Andrew Gilstrap of ArizonaSports.com: P.J. Tucker picked a good time to have a breakout season. In his second year with the Phoenix Suns, the Texas product started all 81 games in which he appeared, and he put up career-best numbers of 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 30.7 minutes per game. He also shot a solid 38.7 percent from behind the three-point arc. The 6-foot-6 swingman enters the offseason as a restricted free agent and in a good position to earn a pay raise going forward. While on the Burns & Gambo show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday, Tucker talked about how well the Suns organization and fans have treated him, and he shared some of his plans in free agency. "I love Phoenix, and I hope to be back in Phoenix," he said. ... Tucker confirmed that he has heard the Memphis Grizzlies are interested in his services, but he said it's basically hearsay at this point.

  • Victoria Taylor of the New York Daily News: Barneys New York has drafted one of the NBA’s most stylish players for an exclusive collaboration. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has teamed up with the retailer for a 60-plus-piece collection that reflects his bold, head-turning aesthetic. The collaboration will include looks from a number of labels, including Nike Jordan, which Westbrook represents, Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Naked & Famous, Globe-Trotter and Del Toro. Westbrook XO Barneys New York, which, according to WWD, is short for Westbrook Exclusively Ours Barneys, will feature sportswear, eyewear, denim, leather goods and luggage. It will hit stores and Barneys.com in mid-July. “I’m kind of like a designer,” Westbrook told WWD. “My personal style changes every season."