First Cup: Thursday

  • Dan Wolken of The Commercial-Appeal: "While many of the words and musical selections Wednesday were inspirational, several speakers used the occasion to lament that Lorenzen Wright's life was cut short at age 34 by an act of violence for which no arrests have been made. 'It's hard for me, really, to express the surprise -- and I don't know whether it's disappointment or outrage -- that someone who meant so much to this community and was such a wonderful guy ends up this way,' Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said. 'We've become more of an angry people and it's spilling over with our children, and each generation seems to be getting more violent than the one before it. I hope something like this can serve to take this tremendous group of people that was here and maybe resolve that they'll do something to at least turn the tide a little bit.' The service began with a processional that lasted 45 minutes, as more than 500 members of Wright's family were seated in folding chairs on the FedExForum floor."

  • Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald: "Not only is Danny Ainge bringing back the old Celtics, he has found yet more certified, card-carrying AARP members to join them -- Shaquille O’Neal. The newest old member of the Celtics is 38 years old. He joins Ray Allen, who just turned 35, Garnett, 34, and Pierce, who will have celebrated his 33rd birthday by the time the Celtics take the court for their Oct. 26 opener against the Miami Infomercials. Oh, and don’t forget Jermaine O’Neal, another of Danny’s off-season acquisitions. He turns 32 in October. So what’s up here? Has Danny decided that Red wasn’t crazy after all? Or has he simply come to grips with the reality of running an NBA franchise in the modern era? Then again, maybe it’s not so complicated at all. The 1980s Celtics were absolutely getting old. Larry Bird had the back problems. Kevin McHale had a screw in his foot. Their run was over. And what of the retooled 2010-11 Celtics? They go into the season without a healthy Kendrick Perkins, who won’t be back until nobody knows when, but Jermaine O’Neal paired with Shaquille O’Neal gives the Celtics enough presence in the paint to make it possible to sit back and, dare we say it, give it one more shot."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "The 2010-11 Boston Celtics won’t be a basketball team. They will be a walking hoop museum. Among them, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Jermaine O’Neal have a combined total of 71 years of service, good for 5,655 regular-season and playoff games and 200,371 minutes. They have combined for 51 All-Star Game appearances. They have 10 All-NBA third-team selections, eight second-team selections, and 12 first-team selections. If honors and plaques were all that mattered, we could book the parade right now, Miami Heat or no Miami Heat. It goes without saying, of course, that they also lead the league in O’Neals. ... Danny Ainge certainly has guts and imagination. What if someone had told you at the conclusion of the 2006-07 season that, by the summer of 2010, among the people they’d have seen wearing a Celtics uniform would be Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, and let’s not forget Nate Robinson? I know I would have said something like, 'Sure, and the next thing you’ll tell me is that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh will all be playing for the same team.’ But how many times must I remind you that in the matter of Truth vs. Fiction, you’d always be wise to take Truth, plus the points, every time? Those two highly unlikely scenarios have indeed come to pass. Yup, Shaq is now ours for two seasons. If the Heat didn’t exist in their current form, the Celtics would be the most talked-about team in the league."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: "Now, going on 32, he seemingly has left the drama to LeBron James. Kobe Bryant is the forgotten man in the NBA's summer of hype, which should scare the living daylights out of his closest competitors. If there's one way in which Bryant is most like Michael Jordan, it's how he takes perceived slights. In Jordan's Hall of Fame speech, he told everyone how his psyche worked. Whether it was Isiah Thomas, Pat Riley or Bryon Russell, anything Jordan could used as fuel to his fire, he did. 'You guys gave me so much motivation,' Jordan said. 'I had to prove to you that I deserved to be on this level as much as anyone.' ... Bryant is wired the same way. For some reason, people feel compelled to give the 'best player alive' title to an up-and-comer. Supposedly, James surpassed Bryant with his two regular-season MVPs. Now Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is the odds-on favorite for the 2010-11 award. People forgot how Bryant started last season, before his injuries to his knee and shooting hand. He not only led the league in scoring until January but played at a career-high efficiency. And Bryant is a two-time defending champion. If he's healthy, there's no reason he can't duplicate how he opened last season. This season's motivations are two-fold for Bryant. Not only will a sixth ring tie him with Jordan, but if Bryant defeats the Heat in the Finals, he could have a legit argument to be in the same sentence as 'the greatest of all time.' "

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: "The Knicks' chances of landing free-agent shooting guard Shannon Brown are just about over. Mark Bartelstein, Brown's agent, told The Post the Lakers guard is 'leaning' toward returning to the Lakers to go for a 'three-peat.' Brown is expected to make his final decision today. The Knicks, according to a source, offered Brown just a one-year contract as they moved to protect their 2011 salary cap for a run at Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks offered him the full $2.7 million that they are under the cap. The Lakers have offered the fourth-year guard less per season, but multiple years. ... The Knicks' decision to offer Brown just a one-year deal stems from their belief in Anthony passing up a Nuggets' contract extension. Denver's front-office shakeup in which popular general manager Mark Warkentien was dismissed could make Anthony pause on wanting to remain in Denver."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks can be an entertaining team. But they’re also a flawed one. Signing Josh Powell and Jason Collins doesn’t cure their size problem in the post. Al Horford is playing out of position. This decision more likely ensures that they again will be the No. 4 playoff seed in the East and exit in the second round. How much of this is the result of money? A lot. Ownership and general manager Rick Sund did not want to go into a tax situation with the salary cap. That meant not doing anything of significance to improve the team in free agency this offseason (other than overpaying to keep Joe Johnson). There are obvious issues with Shaquille O’Neal, not the least of which are age and weight. But he can still play and provide valuable minutes off the bench, at both ends of the floor. He also would have taken some of the media attention off of Johnson (in a good way) in the locker room. Marketing-wise, of course, he would’ve been a bonanza. ... The Hawks will point out that they defeated Boston four times in the regular season. Shaq would point out that the Celtics reached the NBA finals (losing in seven games to the Lakers) while the Hawks were swept in the second round (after being taken seven games by Milwaukee in round one). Checkmate."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "After the Bucks were convinced that Keyon Dooling was healthy again after undergoing hip surgery in May 2009, they signed him to a two-year, $4 million contract. 'Keyon understands the league and what's important,' said Bucks assistant general manager Jeff Weltman. ... Dooling, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, said he was looking forward to playing with Brandon Jennings, who started all 89 games for the Bucks last season while being named a first-team all-rookie selection. 'Sometimes guys don't want to be beat over the head with information and telling your life story,' Dooling said. 'I've had some conversations with him last year through a mutual friend. I think I have a unique ability to communicate with players, no matter what the situation is. Anything I know that I can help him with, I'll give him. On the court, off the court, in life, whatever it is that he needs, I will always be there to give it to him and any one of my teammates.' "

  • Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Mark Cuban’s basketball club is now a flat-line outfit, life and death in this era to simply survive the first round of the playoffs. But in the early hours of Thursday morning, Cuban was in a Fort Worth courtroom, hell-bent to crash another local team. As midnight came and went, as Wednesday night became Thursday morning, Cuban had pushed the Rangers into a total cost factor nearly reaching $600 million. And then Cuban backed off and backed out at 12:45 a.m. Thursday after doing his dirty deed on behalf of dirty debt lenders who were stupid enough to allow Tom Hicks to cheat them. The Greenberg-Ryan group now owns the Rangers. That’s the best news of all. But it came at a cost much higher than expected, and a cost that might impact future spending. It certainly doesn’t help it. Cuban knew that. He didn’t care. The Hicks lenders rejoiced at this result, meaning the $600 million. Cuban is one of them. He’s totally in bed with the lenders. ... On Wednesday and into Thursday morning, it was stick it, Nolan Ryan. Stick it, the multitudes of fans who don’t want him in Arlington. Stick it, Major League Baseball. As far as MLB goes, nothing said “stick it” like Cuban suddenly becoming a partner of Houston based Jim Crane, who is considered toxic by baseball leadership. Again, typical Cuban. It was a surprise he wanted or needed a partner in this process, but to pick Crane is as defiant as it gets."

  • Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: "The NBA owners and players will meet next week for their first negotiating session since All-Star weekend, three people familiar with the meeting told CBSSports.com Wednesday. It's a key step in what has been a futile process thus far, with both sides tempering the rhetoric in recent months but still far apart on a deal that would avoid a work stoppage at the worst possible time for the league. But it's not so much who will sit at the negotiating table on Aug. 11 or 12 in a swanky Manhattan hotel, but who won't be there that sends the strongest message about where these negotiations are headed. The last time owners and players sat down, two days before the All-Star Game in Dallas, you'll remember that the session was charged by the presence of 10 All-Stars -- led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony -- who were sufficiently offended by the owners' rabble-rousing. ... sources familiar with the protocol for next week's bargaining session say there are no indications that players other than those on the executive committee will be present. No James, no Wade, no Anthony -- and no Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson or Al Horford (the other All-Stars who showed up at the February session). Wade, for example, will be in New York for Team USA appearances but doesn't plan to attend the bargaining session. As it turns out, their show of muscle at All-Star weekend was just that: a show. I say that's a mistake, a missed opportunity on the part of the players at a time when all the momentum in the labor debate has been going decidedly in their favor."

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: "There were about 50 foster kids in the auditorium Wednesday afternoon. David Vaughn's story did not resonate with all of them, but hopefully a handful of faces in the crowd heard every word, and found strength in his journey sprinkled with desperation and determination. Vaughn told them about his highs as a first-round draft pick of the Orlando Magic in 1995, the $1.8 million contract, the cars and all the other extravagant toys; his lows of depression and violence, and how he ended up as a wayward husband, homeless and destitute. 'It's a great experience to share my story,' Vaughn said. David Vaughn's comeback likely won't be documented in Sports Illustrated or ESPN, but it is worth telling because it reflects a tenacity not often seen on the competitive fields of play. Vaughn, now 37, is off the streets and has been employed by the Florida Department of Children and Families since last December. His job is tedious but important: He reviews applications for food stamps and Medicaid. The need has escalated dramatically. Two years ago, there were 1.1 million people receiving food stamps in Florida. That number has now spiked to 2.7 million. Tough times indeed."