First Cup: Wednesday

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "It started with an innocent question from Tom Withers of the Associated Press. He asked Shaq if he wanted to see LeBron take part in the Slam Dunk Contest. Then Shaq rolled out an entire plan complete with a pop culture cause. He said he wanted Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant plus one other star to be named to take part. Then he said he wanted a large cash prize with half of it donated to Haiti. It may sound crazy, but the Charles Barkley vs. Dick Bavetta race raised $50,000 for charity three years ago. This is something that people would actually watch. ... So this will happen, right? Uh, probably not. Why? For one, Kobe doesn't do anything Kobe doesn't want to do. Doing it for the good of the league doesn't resonate with him. Plus, I know Kobe and Shaq have supposedly put their stuff behind them. But, to Kobe, even if he wanted to do it, wouldn't just the fact that Shaq was the one asking him be a reason not to? Anyway, he's got back and finger injuries and a real excuse not to do it, as if he needs one. Also, Shaq was just throwing out names, it didn't seem like he'd actually done his homework. Does anyone want to see Vince Carter out there dunking with knee pads on? That ship has sailed. Actually, Carter doesn't belong at All-Star Weekend this season. He is shooting a tidy 39 percent for the Magic and blindly stealing shots from a guy who shoots 60 percent every night. But here's the real reason why it won't work. LeBron already tried it and it failed. He made the statement last year that he was going to dunk and all his friends should join him. He hoped that was the rallying cry, especially when all those guys were sitting courtside."

  • Bob Wojnowksi of The Detroit News: "They've been wary adversaries for years, competing for some of the same fans, the same arena events, the same dollars. But times change and necessities rise, and a new reality should dawn here. Yes, more than ever, the Pistons and Red Wings need each other. Finally, there should be mutual motivation and benefits between the storied franchises. The answer makes perfect economic sense: The Wings and Pistons need to finance and share a new arena in downtown Detroit. Oh, it will take a few years and a lot of cajoling, but I believe it has to happen. Wings owner Mike Ilitch certainly doesn't want to leave Detroit, where he has invested so much, financially and emotionally. But 31-year-old Joe Louis Arena has aged beyond reasonable repair, and the team's lease is up June 30. ... Much is speculative now, but it won't be long before harsh realities set in. The Pistons and Wings have played the game brilliantly for years, but the game has changed. For the good of the area and for their own economic viability, they need to learn from each other, and yes, lean on each other."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Rasheed Wallace had developed a reputation in Portland, labeled by some as a selfish, bratty star with a bad attitude. In Detroit, he refined his image, and when the Pistons turned into adominant defensive team and a gifted offensive one, Wallace was credited for helping them reach elite status. His return tonight in a Celtics uniform is bittersweet. His final years in Detroit were stained by the same boorish attitude that plagued him in Portland, but he helped the Pistons win a championship in 2003-04. They made it back to the Finals the next season, and reached the Eastern Conference finals the next three years. While Wallace may not be basketball royalty in Detroit, he does deserve accolades for his impact on the franchise’s resurrection. 'It was cool,’' he said. 'I didn’t even know I was going to end up in Detroit. But once I did, guys panned out to be cool on the defensive mind-set and we were just riding that wave, riding that high, and took it home.’ .. Tonight will be an opportunity for the Detroit faithful to recognize Wallace any way they see fit - whether it be with a thunderous ovation during pregame introductions or a chorus of boos because of his decision to sign with Boston."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "There's an old joke about NBA players with some miles on the odometer and the local franchise: Didn't so-and-so used to be Milwaukee Buck? Didn't everyone? It only seems like Jerry Stackhouse has gained membership in a much larger alumni club notably populated by Moses Malone, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, Lindsey Hunter, Armen Gilliam, John Lucas, Toni Kukoc, Keith Van Horn, Kendall Gill, Dell Curry, Earl Boykins and the like. Some of the more mature players (Oscar Robertson, Bob Lanier) who joined the Bucks in the latter stages of their careers were good for them. And some (Anthony Mason, Gary Payton) were not. Where Stackhouse fits in, who could possibly say? 'Your guess is about as good as mine,' the 14-year-veteran said Tuesday after his first practice with the Bucks. But then you look around the league and, egad, Joe Smith (ex-Buck) is still playing. So are Kurt Thomas (current Buck) and Juwan Howard, who has yet to draw a check from the senator. But give him time."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "With all due respect, why is Matt Barnes the one stepping to the plate and showing the leadership this team is starving for on and off the floor? Why isn't Dwight Howard, the team captain and franchise player, the one ripping into his lockerroom-full of fat-and-happy underachievers? There are many problems, but I believe the Magic's two most glaring issues can be attributed to their two most talented players: Dwight's lack of leadership off the floor and Vince Carter's lack of explosiveness on it. I acknowledge the Magic have had a boatload of injuries and suspensions and their Big Four of Howard, Carter, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis have played together in only 11 of 41 games. And, yes, I acknowledge the Magic are still just 4 ½ games (going into Tuesday's play) away from having the best record in the Eastern Conference. Still, it's time to stop treating this team's inexplicable swoon like it's some sort of temporary blip in a marathon NBA season. The Magic have played sub .500 (9-11) in their last 20 games. That's one-quarter of the season. That's not a blip; that's a trend."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "The Bulls should end a 12-year drought when second-year guard Derrick Rose is chosen as a reserve for the Eastern Conference all-star team sometime next week. Will that actually happen? Hard to say. Rose clearly deserves a spot, but a couple of factors could work against him. One problem is the fans vote for the starting lineup, and through the fourth set of returns, Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson was in second place with a sizable lead over Orlando's Vince Carter. The starters will be officially announced Thursday at 7 p.m. on TNT's pregame show. There should be no quarrel with the other likely East starters - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. But Iverson wouldn't be a good candidate for the all-star team if he wasn't voted a starter."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian "I stood a few feet from LaMarcus Aldridge during the Trail Blazers' annual September media day when the forward declared it was time to stop talking about being an All-Star and start becoming one. He isn't one. I believed Aldridge then. I believe in him now. But you might argue, with the voting over and Aldridge with no case to be picked as a reserve, that he is further away from being an All-Star than ever. ... If Aldridge really wants to stop talking about being an All-Star and instead become one, he needs to assert himself in crucial situations. He needs to view himself as the Blazers' all-important No. 2 option, behind Roy. We hear all the time that Aldridge is sensitive to what people say about his play. So how's this: Get busy living or get busy dying, kid. I'm not saying a month in the hole at Shawshank prison is what Aldridge needs, but when you look at the list of players who will play in the All-Star Game, you're really making a list of talented, mentally tough players who assert themselves. That's what separates the All-Stars from the wannabes, and right now Aldridge isn't an All-Star."

  • Matt Calkins of The Press-Enterprise: "Maybe tomorrow unemployment shoots to 90 percent. Won't affect this guy. Maybe the Dow plummets to an all-time low. Don't expect this guy to get a pink slip. Maybe six-figure earners everywhere start applying for entry-level positions. Not this guy. Not when he's the Clippers trainer. Let's be honest -- Jasen Powell is never going be starving for work. ... You'd figure a guy like Powell would start feeling a bit like Jack Bauer after a while. Really? Another crisis unfolding right in front of me, and I'm the one who has to fix it? Which begs the question: Is the trainer the most snake-bitten Clipper of all? 'I don't look at it that way. You can't control a lot of the things that happen.' said Powell, who spent almost five years with the 49ers before joining the Clippers in 1999. 'I wouldn't change the steps of my life for anything.' Sounds like an eternal optimist. Well, either that or a Lakers fan."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Aaron Brooks takes off through the lane, splitting burly defenders who tower over him and lengthening his strides as he goes by. He takes his drive from the right of the rim to the left, the ball from one hand to the other, stretched out surprisingly far from his body and the reach of those long arms around him. He spins the ball as if trying to pick up a 7-10 split, off the backboard and through the hoop. And he no longer seems limited by what he lacks but lifted by all he has. 'That's a gift I don't think many have,' Rockets director of player programs Shawn Respert said. 'He has it. He knows he has it.' Also like the Rockets as a whole, Brooks believes he is capable of much more. But as the Rockets hit the midpoint of the season, he is their leading scorer (at 18.6 points per game after averaging 11.2 last season) and most vital contributor, the difference in most games in their Yao Ming-less, post Tracy McGrady season. And typical of their season, he has had to do it with attributes unexpected."

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Halfway through the Jazz's season, Mehmet Okur's numbers have become impossible to ignore. Only a year ago, Okur scored 20 points or more in 31 of the 72 games in which he played. This season? Okur has done so once in 37 games. His scoring average has dipped to 12.6 points from 17.0 last season while his shooting percentage has fallen to 42.3 percent from 48.5 percent. They are the worst numbers of Okur's six seasons in Utah, though he remains the Jazz's third-leading scorer. ... There are no easy answers, though, for what has led to Okur's slump. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, 'I think he's just got to pick his tempo up a little bit and get himself involved a little bit more on defense and in our rebounding.' 'Teams have gotten to him out on the perimeter,' Sloan added. 'They get used to playing against a guy. He probably needs to pass the ball and cut to the basket a little bit more instead of pass the ball and stay out on the perimeter and look for that shot.' "

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Speaking of Danny Granger, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pacers spent the night going up and down the Florida Turnpike looking for his shot to go with the 'Missing Shot' posters that have already been put up. Granger has been a non-factor lately. He's 6-of-29 from the field in the past two games. Granger said there's nothing wrong with his right foot. The Pacers better hope somebody returns his game to him before Wednesday's game against the Orlando Magic."

  • Mike_Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Lakers reserve guard Shannon Brown was supported by legions of followers in the 'Let Shannon Dunk' online campaign. Now he also has some fans in the media after being selected for the dunk competition at next month's All-Star weekend. 'I get to see him go up and down the court a lot in Los Angeles. Right now, he's the favorite,' said TNT analyst Kenny Smith. 'Nate Robinson cannot do the things that Shannon Brown can do.' Fellow TNT analyst Charles Barkley, however, thought the winner would be Robinson, saying the New York guard and two-time dunk champion was 'great for the dunk contest.' 'Y'all are sleeping on Nate Robinson,' Barkley said."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "When Utah Jazz players stepped off their plane in San Antonio late Monday afternoon, they were in seventh place in the Western Conference. By the time they had collected their bags and checked into their hotel on the River Walk, they had fallen to ninth, out of the playoff picture. While the idle Jazz were in the air and on a bus, afternoon victories had enabled the Thunder and the Rockets to jump over them in the standings. Such is life these days in the Western Conference, where on Tuesday morning, just 11/2 games separated the second-place Mavericks and the fourth-place Spurs, with the Nuggets sandwiched in between. Only two games separated the fifth-place Trail Blazers from the 10th-place Grizzlies. Or, as Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer put it: 'How crazy is that?' You want crazy? Check out the Southwest Division, where Tuesday morning's standings showed the Hornets in fifth but two games over .500."