Monday, June 11, 2012
First Cup: Monday
- John Rohde of The Oklahoman: The Beatles managed to stay together for 10 years (1960-70). If you believe some people, The Heatles might only stay together another 10 days (2010-present). When free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat two summers ago, the outrage was immediate – publicly from the fans and privately from certain NBA ownership. There was jealousy and envy, which tends to happen when three studs play for the same basketball team. Some serious anger came from Cleveland Cavaliers fans and James' home state of Ohio. Bosh's departure might have stung more had he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs rather than the Raptors. Ever since the Heatles were formed, "Heatle Haters" anxiously await their next failure. Losing 4-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in last year's NBA Finals stung the Heat, but made for some happy haters. Why do people want so badly for the Heat to fail? "I think it's because they're so good," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "People always want to knock down the best team."
- Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman: Scott Brooks sees a lot of similarities between his team and Miami. Among the most prominent, the job the Heat do in running their offense with screens. “You have a choice every time downcourt,” Brooks said of defending the screens. “You can run into it and stop or you can get through it or around it. I think our guys are committed to doing that. We're an athletic, offensive team, we score at a high level, our field-goal percentage is good but we're still a defensive team. We have to be able to score off our defense.” Serge Ibaka figures to be a critical piece to defending the Heat. “We have to make sure they get nothing easy,” Ibaka said. “We need to be aggressive every single minute.
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Chris Bosh said these have been the craziest six weeks of his life — with the birth of his son Jackson, the abdominal strain that sidelined him nine games, and the race to return for the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals, culminating in a terrific performance in Game 7. Now Bosh and the Heat get a chance for NBA Finals redemption. Bosh called his return from injury “the biggest challenge that I ever had in my life, to make sure I stayed ready, so when the time did come, I could contribute instead of trying to get my legs under me and be a non-factor.” Bosh had 19 points and eight rebounds and made 8 of 10 shots, including three three-pointers, in 31 minutes in Game 7. “When you play like you don’t know there’s a tomorrow, you can play free,” he said. “That’s what I did.” As a 6-11 center whose offensive game is often perimeter-based, “I know the stigmas and criticism that are out there,” he said. “I know I can go inside … but LeBron [ James] and Dwyane [ Wade] have it going so well, they need somebody to space the floor.”
- Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: It was a running joke, if you covered the Heat teams that Pat Riley coached, that Riley would get run before the first half was done. In 2002, Riley launched into a classic rant, in which he said the following of a game the previous season, according to the Sun-Sentinel: “Steve Javie, in Cleveland, and to his delight, obviously, absolute delight, as we were getting beat, and going through a real tough time, came to my face, after we were having a discussion, and said, `It’s giving us absolute delight to watch you and your team die.’” Stu Jackson refused Riley’s claims of “bias” and never substantiated the relayed quote, but Javie did ultimately receive a $1,000 fine. Keep that in mind as you listen to Javie, now retired, as he’s working for ESPN during the Finals
- Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: Hey, it looks as if sports fans are going to get the super fight they've been dreaming of seeing. Not a Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao battle. We're pretty sure a couple of confused, blind or possibly just corrupt boxing judges at ringside at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night put the kabosh on that for a while. No, we're talking about an NBA Finals clash of titans between Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Miami Heat. Just about anybody without a rooting interest in another playoff team wanted this Finals matchup. At The Heat Index, we believe it is the most compelling duel of superstars in the NBA Finals since 1993 when Michael Jordan's Bulls beat Charles Barkley and the Suns in six games. But it also is a matchup of contrasting approaches to a championship. And because of that, we have to believe that TNT's Reggie Miller, who said at the end of the Western Conference finals that he hopes America will embrace the Thunder, is going to get his wish.
- Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: David Stern, you outdid yourself this time. As the anti-LeBron James faction of NBA fandom bemoans the Celtics’ wasted opportunity to eliminate the most feared, reviled — and best — player in the game from the playoffs, everybody else is thanking the basketball gods for the most compelling NBA Finals matchup since Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Maybe even beyond that. The dynamics of LeBron vs. Kevin Durant have created a must-see series that commissioner Stern couldn’t have concocted any better by decree. This is Patrick-Ewing-to-the-Knicks, LeBron-to-the-Cavaliers, Kevin-Garnett-and-Ray-Allen-to-the-Celtics and Derrick-Rose-to-the-Bulls wrapped up in one nice, season-saving package. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this: the league MVP vs. the runner-up. The best players in the game, both still in their 20s, still in their prime and on championship-caliber teams. The player we love to love vs. the player we love to hate.
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: If one or more of the older crew departs, the Celtics will have gotten five seasons from the team that was living for the moment from the moment it began here. Pierce, with Rajon Rondo, was expected to be the bridge to the next generation, but Garnett and Allen, now both 36, were long-term issues. “I thought that KG and Ray would still be playing now,” said Ainge. “I did. You know, I had no idea at what level they’d be or anything like that, but I think those guys still have a lot of basketball left in them. I think they’re going to play for another couple of years even after this.” The question is where they will play, and Ainge has made it clear he has never kept this group together because of sentiment. After seeing the Celtics stay intact but come apart in the late 1980s, he’s wanted to stay ahead of the reaper. “My objective is never to stay the course,” said Ainge. “My objective is to get better each and every year, so every year is a new year and every year is a re-evaluation of what you have. The fact that they’re still here is a testament to them and how good of players they’ve been.” Good enough to win one championship. Not good enough — or healthy enough — to win two. Whether that’s good enough for the era is up to others to decide, but the newest flag in the Garden rafters meets Danny Ainge’s minimum expectation. But not necessarily his hopes.
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: In the weeks to come, Tim Duncan — who was on the salary books for $21.1 million last season — must decide whether an inevitable pay cut will make the wear-and-tear of another 82-game NBA campaign worth his while. David Robinson, for example, made $20 million total in his final two seasons in San Antonio, albeit in a different era. After playing at least the past three seasons with chronic knee soreness, Duncan must also decide if the rigorous workout program and stringent dietary regimen necessary to keep his body in fighting shape is worth the effort. As Duncan’s 15th NBA season was winding down, Popovich was often asked to reminisce about their time together. He often answered by flashing back to a day on the beach in St. Croix, 15 years earlier. “I wanted to know who he was,” Popovich said. “I wanted to know who I was going to be coaching, what the positive and negatives are going to be. I wanted him to know what I was thinking, and how I wanted to run things, and if we were going to have any discussions about it, let’s start now. I didn’t want to waste any time.” ... In the weeks to come, after proper pause for reflection, the Spurs’ coach and franchise player will meet for another no-nonsense conversation. Once again, the future of a franchise will be riding on it. No matter what Duncan decides, Popovich’s reaction is likely to be the same: Thank you, Tim.
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Larry Bird no longer has a relationship with soon-to-be ousted general manager David Morway, according to multiple sources. Sources say the fizzled relationship is the one of the main reasons why Bird plans to replace Morway with Kevin Pritchard as general manager once Bird agrees to a new deal with owner Herb Simon to remain as president when the two meet later this week. Pritchard was hired to be the Pacers’ director of player personnel last summer. It takes awhile to earn Bird’s trust and once you burn that bridge he’s done with people. That’s the case right now with Morway. The final straw with the Bird-Morway relationship, according to those close to the two, came during training camp when the Pacers failed to land O.J. Mayo and then lost out on free agent Jamal Crawford – option No. 2 to be the team’s first shooting guard off the bench – on the same day. ... Bird likes Pritchard’s basketball knowledge. It helps that he has a relationship with him. The two were teammates with the Boston Celtics. ... This situation isn’t about Pritchard pursuing Morway’s job. It’s about Bird wanting to bring in somebody he feels like he’ll have a better relationship with.
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: After quizzing about 15 players for 30 minutes each at the NBA combine in Chicago, the Wizards are now moving on to the next phase of the evaluation process as they will welcome the top candidates for the No. 3 overall pick to Verizon Center this week for individual workouts. The Wizards will bring in three candidates, beginning Wednesday with local product Thomas Robinson from Kansas. Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal will work out on Thursday, followed by Kentucky swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Friday. All three players are projected to be top-five picks in the June 28 draft. Robinson has already expressed a desire to play for his hometown Wizards and will have the first opportunity to prove to them that they should invest their top draft pick in the 6-foot-9 power forward. Robinson, Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist could also be scooped up at No. 2 by Charlotte — or any team that is willing to move up in a draft where the only certainty is that Anthony Davis will go first overall to New Orleans.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: I just realized who Duke freshman Austin Rivers resembles. Hear me out before disagreeing. He reminds me of ex-Charlotte Bobcat Stephen Jackson. I don’t mean Rivers will ever run into the stands to confront a fan or fire a handgun to disperse a crowd the way Jackson did. But they’re the same in that they’re mavericks: Smart, edgy guys who excel in part because they’re wired to occasionally challenge authority. Cocky. You hear that word constantly to describe Rivers, who turned pro after one season as a Blue Devil. He’s cocky the way Manute Bol was tall. Rivers and those around him – specifically his father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers – embrace the kid’s cockiness and dismiss the notion that it’s over the top. “I’ve yet to meet a great player who was un-cocky,’’ Rivers told me during a conference call last week. “Un-cocky Dwyane Wade? Un-cocky LeBron? Un-cocky Ray (Allen)?’’
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Ty Lawson had 17 games of 20 or more points in his entire NBA career before this season and, in three years in college, he had just 17 games where he scored 20 or more points. Simply, until this season, scoring hasn't been the most important part of his job. But, as Lawson was fond of saying, "Once I flip that (scoring) switch, it's on." But answering that question is important. If your point guard scores 20-plus points per game, you might not need as much scoring at another position, thereby making another player potentially expendable. And that might open up sign/trade possibilities not previously explored. The Nuggets are making Lawson one of their offseason priorities, and he's going to be paid right around the max, on a long-term deal. It is a contract that has the potential to establish him as the clear star of the team — and the face of the franchise. And given his performance in the playoffs and his improvement from 11.7 points and 4.7 assists in 2010-11 to 16.4 points and 6.6 assists in 2011-12, his first full season (sans a real offseason) with tons of room still to grow, it's hard to think that he won't be compensated as such. Much of this, however, hinges on one simple decision.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Patrick Patterson, 23, finally had his long-planned ankle surgery before last season, but his rehabilitation cost him all of training camp, forcing him to spend much of the lockout-condensed season catching up. When the season ended, he had another surgery, this time to remove scar tissue from the previous procedure. ... Patterson, a 6-9 forward/center, had been told when he had the initial surgery last August that a follow-up procedure would likely be necessary. He would not cite the pain when he struggled last season, deciding he had battled it for so long — his rookie season and final two seasons at Kentucky — he could play with pain. ... But now pain-free, Patterson expects more. At coach Kevin McHale’s suggestion, he has remained in Houston to sweat through workouts at Toyota Center during the day and the occasional Dynamo game at night. Patterson said he plans to go through summer camp next month and join the team in Las Vegas for summer league. He’ll play in games if that’s what the coaches want. ... Patterson feels so much better he has set goals for his third NBA season. Averaging 7.1 points and 4.2 rebounds through two seasons, he said he is aiming to average 13 and seven, help the Rockets reach the playoffs and win the Most Improved Player honor.
- Ben Steele of the Journal Sentinel: Jim Goldstein has an enviable business card. The text reads simply: "Fashion. Architecture. Basketball." Those three passions have guided Goldstein's life, and they took root as he grew up in Milwaukee. Especially his basketball jones. Keen observers of the NBA will recognize Goldstein, even if they don't know his name. He's the guy in the wide-brimmed fedora, leather pants and snakeskin jacket, sitting courtside at more than 100 NBA games a season. Goldstein owns season tickets to the Clippers and Lakers in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. He then hits the road for the playoffs. With both L.A. teams making the postseason this year, Goldstein attended 24 games in 23 days. "There is no question he is one of our most visible fans," said Tim Frank, senior vice president of basketball communications for the league. "It's great to have someone like Jimmy who is so engaged with the NBA." Goldstein estimates he has been to "well over" 2,000 NBA games in his life.