First Cup: Wednesday

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "Vinny Del Negro landed this job with what sources said were two strong, compelling interviews with the Clippers brass. But what also intrigued the Clippers was his obvious enthusiasm for the job. Remember, Del Negro was still owed $2 million from the Bulls next season. He was under no financial pressure to land a new job. But according to people close to him and the process, he pursued the Clippers job vigorously. ... It's hard to say now whether the Clippers made the right choice between Dwane Casey and Del Negro. But when a guy keeps coming out of nowhere to land coveted jobs, you have to at least give him credit for knowing how to defy the odds. That's something the Clippers have been trying to do for years."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James has tightened his inner circle and stonewalled the teams recruiting him and the media stalking him during the week in which his free agency has raged. But whether he intends to or not, he seems to be sending out signals that something is changing, with a series of decisions being made leading up to the biggest decision of his career. It all seems to be part of a controversial marketing strategy that has been rolled out over the past week. It culminated, at least for the moment, on Tuesday when ESPN announced it had made a deal with James to air his free-agent choice during a prime-time special from an as-yet-undisclosed location starting at 9 p.m. Thursday. But that is only a part of some moves James has made that suddenly seem to be coordinated to increase his already large profile. They also cry out that James is changing, though the extent is not yet clear. But there is no stopping in sight."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "It’s NBA free agency season. How do you like it so far? (By the way,the Jordan Farmar Era is over in LA. The Lakers gave Steve Blake a four-year contract. You scared?) There’s been some head-scratching stuff going on out there. Minnesota gives Darko (one of these years I’ll play more than 15 minutes a game and average more than 8 points per) Milicic four years, $20 million (but, hey the fourth year is only partially guaranteed)? Milwaukee gives Drew (nine teams in eight years) Gooden five years, $32 million? Amir (go ahead, name the team that has re-signed him) Johnson gets five years, $34 million? The answer is Toronto. This isn’t just a wonderful country, or, I guess I should say, continent. This is a fictionally blissful, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming continent. It’s a tremendous time to be young, tall, and a marginally talented basketball player."

  • Adrian Dater of The Denver Post: "The $25 million to $30 million a year basketball superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are expected to make on their next free-agent contracts? No, the four-year, $17 million deal given to free agent defensive end Reggie White by Green Bay in 1993. Or the six-year, $13.1 million contract given Jon Koncak by the Atlanta Hawks in 1989. Or the three-year, $1 million deal given to pitcher Andy Messersmith by the Atlanta Braves in 1975. All were considered breathtaking amounts at the time. Sportswriters railed against overpaid athletes. Now, the combined salaries of those historic signings will get you about one year's pay for King James, who is expected to announce his team of choice in the next day or two. Every time the ceiling for unrestricted free-agent salaries can't seem to get any higher, it does. 'I wish I was paid what they're getting now,' said Koncak, whose deal with the Hawks was considered so outrageous at the time he was nicknamed 'Jon Contract.' 'Guys are getting paid now multiples of nine times what we made. I know the cost of living has gone up some since then, but not nine times.' And yet, free agency remains the ultimate all-or-nothing-or-almost-nothing gamble."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "They watch the circus because they cannot avoid it. The limousines come and go, carrying suitors for LeBron James. Dwyane Wade flies to Chicago for more meetings. Chris Bosh checks his GPS for escape routes from Toronto. Cameras capture it all and flood the airways with the video. Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers take full note, listening also to the rumors that flow through the media and through the team personnel here at the Orlando Pro Summer League. 'I’m bored with it,' said Ainge. 'I’m not saying that they’re not doing the right thing, and if I were involved in it I would probably have a little bit more adrenaline in the whole process. But can we get it over with here pretty quick?' There are a couple of reasons Ainge would like to see the top tier free agents make their decisions -- so the market shakes out and he’ll know what’s available to the Celtics; and so he can get more real-game highlights on ESPN. 'I think a lot of it is blown out of proportion,' Ainge said. 'I give the players more credit that they’ll figure out the best situation that is available for them -- as players, for their families, on the court what gives them the best chance of winning. So I think the circumstances are pretty clear. I just think everybody’s waiting to find out what the other ones are doing, and that’s what’s going on right now."

  • Bill Bradley of The Sacramento Bee: "With a day left before NBA free agents can start signing, don't discount the savings of state income tax. Or the lack thereof. The absence of state income tax in Florida and Texas is a big reason the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks can be active in free agency. Compare that to the New York Knicks, whose players have to pay combined state and city income taxes of 12.618 percent. That means Amar'e Stoudemire's five-year, $99.8 million deal with the Knicks is worth about $12 million less than if he had signed with the Heat. While athletes are taxed by other states when playing road games, they come out well ahead if they live in Texas or Florida. Yes, these Florida and Texas teams had to have salary cap space to get involved in this circus. Yes, they wanted to improve their rosters. But think about this: There are five NBA teams in Florida and Texas. Those are the only teams without state income tax. All five are among the most competitive in the league. It won't be discussed in news conferences, but state income tax will speak loudly this week."

  • Brian T. Smith of The Columbian: "Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller said he spent part of the Fourth of July weekend in San Diego, enjoying a reunion with his grandchildren. But Miller spent most of his brief two-day getaway working, balancing the Blazers’ search for a new general manager with the ongoing process of evaluating potential free-agent acquisitions. Thus, Miller acknowledged Tuesday that he was surprised to return to Portland and learn that a brief holiday planned months in advance had to some become a demonstration that the Blazers are not taking seriously the effort to replace former GM Kevin Pritchard. It is just the opposite, Miller said. Miller was on the phone with Blazers owner Paul Allen at 1 a.m. during his time in San Diego, as the two discussed the organization’s future. And after speaking with GM candidates via phone during recent days, Miller said Portland plans this week to meet in person with potential new hires. 'We’re looking at taking some next steps with people, in terms of actually connecting,' Miller said."

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "The NBA is a strange animal, one that has seen two teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, win 50 percent of the titles in the past 30 years. Parity is not a reality in the NBA but a word thrown around to keep our hopes up. Only in this sport can one player have such a profound effect on a team. And as long as revenue sharing is affected by market size and team sponsorships, the haves and have-nots are inevitable. As unsatisfying as it is to move close enough to sniff an NBA championship and fall short, it beats the alternative. The Suns have done an impressive job of staying both competitive and entertaining in the long term. Think about all the gloom-and-doom predictions for the 2009-10 season. We were all wrong, and during the Suns' postseason run no one could talk about anything else. To maintain the momentum, the Suns need a deft touch these next few weeks. Hakim Warrick isn't enough. Find a way to use Stoudemire's rights in a sign-and-trade deal with the Knicks for a trade exception. Take a hard look at David Lee. Most important, make the right hire at general manager and value coach Alvin Gentry's opinion on personnel. All of this matters because it would feel a lot better securing something in return for Stoudemire. Otherwise, the Suns will forever be scolded for failing to extend him for less money when they had the opportunity, or for not working out a trade."

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "No matter what you think of him, one thing is clear: The Pistons -- and their fans -- might have dodged the bullet when Joe Dumars announced Monday night he has no interest in becoming team president of the New Jersey Nets. The Pistons have problems. They have a roster with too many perimeter players and not enough post players. They do not have much room under the salary cap to maneuver. They missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2001 and are not a sure thing to return to the postseason in 2010-11. There is plenty of work for Dumars to do. ... In the end, it doesn't matter how long it takes for the Pistons to sell. If Dumars had walked away, the Pistons would have had a tough time finding a strong replacement for him. Who would want that job with the future so uncertain? Who would take on that role knowing that a new ownership team could roll into town next week and clean house?"

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "For five years, the Rockets have rolled through summer leagues from Minneapolis to Las Vegas. This summer, they want to do something better. The Rockets have gone 22-3 over the past five summer schedules, but on Friday they will bring a very different sort of team to Las Vegas. This time, they will have a roster crowded with players they expect to be keys to their rotation and season. More than ever, performances in Las Vegas might offer clues of the play to come. With free agency looming over everything in the NBA, they might even influence upcoming roster decisions. 'The summer league is for them, our guys,' Rockets assistant coach and summer league head coach Elston Turner said. 'It's for our rotation guys. We're going to play them minutes. Whether they are playing extremely well or stinking it up, they're going to be out there.' "

  • James Jahnke of the Detroit Free Press: "The Palace marquee -- the one you can't miss while driving on I-75 near Lapeer Road -- will be renovated this month for the first time. It was erected in 1996. The new structure will include two 22-foot-by-32-foot, full-color Daktronic Valo LED digital displays, which will show a rotating list of upcoming events, plus traffic instructions and Pistons scores, when applicable. We have to think it will be much more pleasing than the orange lettering that has been up there for the last 14 years. ... Funny that they chose Will Bynum -- a restricted free agent and hardly the 'face' of the Pistons -- to be the poster boy, isn't it?"