Tuesday, June 4, 2013
First Cup: Tuesday
By Nick Borges
- Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: This is what champions do. They rise up. They answer doubts and opponents with a vengeance and assassin’s eyes. They somehow summon their greatness just when the stage is biggest and loudest, just when you wonder if they can. And they do it when everything is teetering — when they simply must. The Heat rose up here Monday night. Emphatically, in one of the biggest games in the history of South Florida sports, the Heat rose up. Dwyane Wade rose up, too. And LeBron James? At one point in the second quarter he rose so high for an alley-oop dunk that he literally had to tilt his head so it wouldn’t bang into the rim. That was the Heat, all night. Rising. And lifting a city with it. Everybody and everything the Heat needed responded. The champs played like it when there was absolutely no option not to, and that is why Miami is headed back to the NBA Finals for a chance at a repeat title. Never a doubt, right? (Right!?).
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: One by one, most of the Pacers made their way over to the Miami Heat to congratulate them for advancing to the NBA Finals for the third straight season. But there were two players who had zero interest in shaking hands with the team they’ll continue to chase as long as LeBron James is on the Heat – or any other team in the Eastern Conference. Roy Hibbert and David West – like Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo last season – weren’t interested with shaking hands, giving daps or giving hugs to the Heat. For West, it’s simple. He’s old school. He’s like the players in the 1980’s. He doesn’t have time to be buddies with his opponent. That’s why West never shook hands with any Heat players during the 10 meetings this season. For Hibbert, it was different. He’s never played with any of the Heat players. He respects them, but it wasn’t the time to be crashing their party. “I know some of our guys have played on teams with some of them, but I don’t know them personally,” Hibbert explained to The Star. “It was their moment because they won. I have tremendous respect for them, but I don’t know any of those guys personally and I didn’t want to interrupt their moment.” Just like losing in the second round to the Heat last season fueled the Pacers, expect their brutal performance in Game 7 to cause them to do the same thing next season.
- Harvey Araton of The New York Times: Back on the league’s biggest stage, Miami and San Antonio will make for a compelling series of ultimate contrasts in team-building cultures. There will be, or should be, a great deal of sentiment for Duncan, 37, and the small-market organization that has endured with him as its centerpiece in three decades. Matched against a more freewheeling opponent that does not play brawny basketball, Indiana style, the smallish Heat could well resemble the team that ran off 27 straight regular-season victories. So perhaps James and Wade will look back on the Pacers series and squabbles as nothing more than scenes from a marriage, the low end of thick and thin. But once these finals are over, get ready for a 2013-14 N.B.A. story line that will be dominating, fascinating and ultimately enervating. Even now, with Miami again four victories from a title, this microwaved championship city has to be asking itself: when Decision II is made, will it be lights, camera and a South Beach retraction for the best player on the planet?
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The NBA got a little dumber Monday. That’s what happens when the smartest man in the game walks away. Jason Kidd announced his retirement after 19 years in the league, most of them spent winning because that’s what he was best at. Winning and making his teammates look good. Now? It would be appropriate if another person who usually is the smartest man in the room, Mark Cuban, took the high road and offered Kidd a job — not on the court but in the front office. Think of it as a forerunner to having Kidd’s No. 2 retired to the rafters. As you no doubt recall, it did not end well for Cuban and Kidd. Last July, Kidd said he was ready to return to the Mavericks before backtracking and joining the New York Knicks. Cuban was rightfully stung by the process. He thought he had his crunch-time point guard back. Then he had to scramble to come up with other alternatives, none of which was as good. But that’s not the first, nor the last, time that an NBA executive has been stood up. Short memories can be a blessing in some situations, and this is one of them.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Although he described his uncertain future as "draining" and "not ideal" in his exit interview last month, Pau Gasol also said he respects the Lakers for their indecisiveness toward him. "I think the team has shown they would like to keep me," Gasol said. "But I understand there's a lot of other factors that come into place. Those factors cannot be ignored." There's plenty. First, the Lakers won't do anything with Gasol unless they receive clarity on Howard's future. If Howard stays, the Lakers have to weigh various scenarios. The Lakers could trade Gasol in hopes of finding a younger and more suitable player for Mike D'Antoni's perimeter-oriented system after Gasol averaged a career-low 13.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting. The Lakers could waive Gasol via the amnesty provision. Or the Lakers could listen to Kobe Bryant's insistence to keep Gasol, hoping he'll become the dominant post player that secured three consecutive Finals appearances and two NBA championships after the Lakers acquired him from Memphis five years ago. … The Lakers expect Gasol to return to basketball-related activities within nine weeks. As he heads to his native Spain this week, Gasol hopes that time span also coincides with assurances his last days in Los Angeles didn't serve as a definitive goodbye.
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Michael Malone walked into the interview room, sat next to majority owner Vivek Ranadive and didn't dance around the overriding issues: Defense and DeMarcus Cousins. That's where it starts, with a two-step outline. For the Kings' annual appearances in the NBA lottery to end, Malone insisted, the defense has to be a factor instead of indefensible, and Cousins has to reward his new bosses – who are planting their feet firmly on his side of the fence – and fulfill his immense potential. "At the end of the day, these players are all going to have a choice to make," Malone said during his introductory news conference Monday. "You're either going to embrace the change or you're going to resist." As he approaches his fourth season, Cousins remains the great divide, which makes him Malone's No. 1 challenge. There are those who believe Cousins will benefit from the ownership and organizational changes and mature into one of the game's most dominant big men. But there are those who stare at his 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame, are scared off by his frequent outbursts and expressive demeanor, and wouldn't let him near their foxhole. Here, though, they're all in. Malone wants Cousins as his cornerstone. Ranadive wants Cousins on the floor and in his foxhole, and he wants Cousins to become a familiar figure in his native India. "I'd like nothing better than a billion Indians to know who DeMarcus Cousins is," Ranadive said.
- Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Q. Both Danny Ferry and Bud said (last week) that expect to have heated exchanges in the decisions that have to be made. How does that relationship work where you can walk out of that room unified? Gregg Popovich: “The ability to initially disagree and discuss, come to a conclusion and then follow that as a team speaks to people’s character, maturity and ability to be comfortable in their own skins. That is the kind of people who can get that done. If you don’t have those qualities, you can’t do that. Bud’s imminently used to that. We have a participatory sort of style here the way we do things. If I’m having a meeting about players or free agents or whatever it might be, R.C. and his guys are in the room, whether it’s been Danny or Dell Demps or Sam Presti or whoever, Bud will be in there and probably one or two other coaches. Maybe eight, nine, 10 people will be there. We will get feisty and we all are a bunch of wise asses to some degree anyway, and we give each other crap and this, that or the other and we get through it. If it takes four minutes or four hours, it doesn’t matter. We get through it together. By the time we finish, everybody has been convinced one way or the other and by the time you leave the room it’s one decision and everybody follows it – to the extent that if anybody doesn’t give their opinion, their ass will be out of here soon because I don’t need it.”
- Jason Quick of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers on Monday hired 26-year-old Chris Stackpole to replace longtime medical director Jay Jensen, a move that some in the sports medicine industry tout as a cutting-edge hire. “I don’t think there is any question the Blazers are ahead of the curve with this hire; they’ve got a rising star, a guy who would be doing this for another professional team somewhere very quickly if they didn’t hire him,’’ said Mike Boyle, strength-and-conditioning consultant for the Boston Red Sox, with whom Stackpole served an internship. “I’m not familiar with what has gone on there in the past, but what you will see is what is widely viewed as as much more modern - even futuristic - to some people.’’ Stackpole, who at Boston University earned a doctorate degree in physical therapy and a bachelor of science degree in athletic training, gained recognition while serving a 2011 internship with the Oklahoma City Thunder, during which center Kendrick Perkins lost 32 pounds and more than 10 percent body fat while working with Stackpole for six months during the lockout. In his first full-time job a professional sports team, Stackpole said he will adopt a similar philosophy with the Blazers as he did with Perkins, using a “holistic approach to nutrition, rehabilitation, sport training and recovery methods. The first thing I will do is identify what players - whether they were drafted or undrafted - are at the highest risk of injury,’’ Stackpole said. “We will do that by movement screens, baseline tests. We will look at how they function, then design programs for the athlete so we can decrease their risk.’’ Stackpole replaces Jensen, who last month was fired after 19 years as the team’s head athletic trainer and medical director.
- Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Some Detroit Pistons fans might be surprised to learn that Thunder assistant Maurice Cheeks has emerged as a strong candidate for the head coaching job. He had uneven tenures as the head coach of the Blazers and Sixers — his last stint was in 2008-09, when he was fired 23 games into the season with the Sixers. But maybe part of the appeal has something to do with Brandon Knight, who has two promising, yet inconsistent, seasons. Do the Pistons think Cheeks’ presence could help Knight develop into a top-flight guard after his work with Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook? Many cite Cheeks’ influence as a main reason for Westbrook’s development. … Don’t get too focused on Cheeks because former NBA head coach Nate McMillan remains a major candidate. But it’s a safe bet Knight’s name has come up during Cheeks’ three interviews with Pistons officials.
- Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post: John Thompson III also offered up Paul George, one of the breakout stars of these playoffs, as a potential NBA comparison for Otto Porter. “I think he’s going to be terrific,” the coach said. “Otto is someone who, with his size and his length and his athleticism and his intelligence, initially, right out of the gate, offensively he’ll be able to play multiple positions. And then as he gets stronger on the other end of the court, he’ll be able to guard multiple positions. Whoever gets him is going to get someone that is NBA-ready, to come in and contribute at a high level right out of the gate….A good comparison with him, I think, is Paul George, when you look at someone with that size, how he can affect the game from the defensive end, how offensively he poses problems. Because he can take you off the bounce, because he can make a shot, because he can go inside.”
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Former Cavaliers center Vitaly Potapenko is returning to the team as a player-development coach, NBA sources have confirmed. The move was first reported by Yahoo Sports. Potapenko, 38, has been an assistant coach in the NBA and the Development League, most recently with the Santa Cruz Warriors. Player-development coaches work with players at practice, but typically do not travel. Coach Mike Brown has hired Phil Handy and Igor Kokoskov as assistant bench coaches.
- Bob Wolfley and Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl has no interest in tearing his team down and rebuilding. But he is interested — in fact "dedicated" to use his own word — to getting a new arena built to keep his National Basketball Association franchise in Milwaukee. Kohl talked about his team and the importance of getting a new building at a news conference Monday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center to introduce Bucks coach Larry Drew. The 78-year-old owner, who sat in the audience with members of Drew's family, fielded questions from reporters from his seat after Drew and Bucks general manager John Hammond had spoken. Kohl is confident a new arena will be built to replace the $91 million Bradley Center, which opened on Oct. 1, 1988. Kohl said it was matter of when a new arena will be built, not if it will be built. "We have to find a way and we will find a way," Kohl said. "We know we have to find a way to a new facility and we will. The question is when and how. But we will because that is the future of not only the Bucks ... Milwaukee and Wisconsin need a 21st century sports and entertainment complex." Kohl said repeatedly during his remarks that the new facility is not just for his basketball team — in a manner Miller Park is for the Brewers and Lambeau Field is for the Packers — but a multiple-purpose entertainment center.