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First Cup: Monday

  • Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports: "Kobe Bryant is pursuing his sixth NBA championship, a benchmark that would match Michael Jordan’s career total and immediately launch a debate about how the Los Angeles Lakers star measures up to the league’s greatest player ever. Jordan, however, doesn’t sound quite ready to allow Bryant to stand toe to toe with him. 'He is always going to be within the conversations of some of the greatest players who’ve played, by the time he is finished,' Jordan recently told USA Today about Bryant. 'Where does he rank among those, if you are talking about positions? If you are talking about guards, I would say he has got to be in the top 10.' Not top five. And certainly not top two. Top 10. Bryant didn’t take Jordan’s comments as an insult. 'It’s an accurate statement,' Bryant said. 'I’m definitely one of the top 10 guards. It could mean two, it could mean one, it could mean four or five. I’m definitely one of the top thousand. Look, I know how he feels about me. There have been a lot of great guards to play the game. For me to sit here and say, ‘He should have said top five,’ that’s disrespectful to the other guards that I’ve watched.' When asked whether Jordan’s words were motivating, Bryant said: 'That stuff doesn’t get to me. You can’t motivate me or take me to a place that I’m not already at.' "

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "A fan held up a sign that summed up the purpose of an otherwise uneventful preseason walk-around: 'TURKABOO,' was the message. The rabble wasn’t exactly in midseason form, even if the Raptors pulled off a 121-100 win. ('(The booing) wasn’t as bad as Vancouver,' said Steve Nash, Turkoglu’s newly-minted teammate, speaking of the reaction of the West Coast throng that took in a Raptors-Suns exhibition 11 days previous). But Turkoglu reacted exactly as you might have expected. He openly laughed. He actually applauded the crowd during the player introductions. He even led the chorus at one point, checking in at the scorer’s table while expelling a long, 'Booooooooo!' In other words, he acted as though he didn’t care -- which is exactly how he played. Turkoglu, to refresh your memory of the ledger, took a $53 million contract from the Toronto Raptors, and he essentially took a season from them, too. In his lone, barren year as a Raptor, he loafed and under-performed for a club that underachieved and missed the playoffs. That doesn’t make him a bad human being; the jolly Turk seems like he’d be a fun guy to have drinks with. It does make him a bad pro, not to mention an unaccountable one."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Dwight Howard, innocently enough, has stepped right into the Patrick Ewing-Hakeem Olajuwon rivalry to learn the game from two of the game's best big men. Ewing has had Howard under his considerable wing-span for the last three seasons as a Magic assistant coach. Olajuwon cut in, so to speak. He contacted Howard during the playoffs and a relationship blossomed, leading to Dwight training five three-hour days with Olajuwon this summer. If Ewing is bothered by either Howard seeking another big-man guru or by Olajuwon's unsolicited advice, he doesn't show it. He said Howard didn't tell him he was going to work with Hakeem, which, to me, would have been an obvious gesture. He owed Patrick that. 'I didn't know. I was surprised,' Ewing said. 'It's his prerogative.' Coach Stan Van Gundy said he didn't have a problem with the Howard-Hakeem hook-up in Houston. 'Guys hear the same thing all the time. I don't think it's that they're rejecting what you're saying, but different voices are a good thing,' Van Gundy said. 'We heard Dwight was going down there. He wasn't going down there on the sly or anything. I see it as it can only be a positive.' ... Ewing said all that matters is growing Howard's game and keeping him on the hall-of-fame path already traveled by Pat and Hakeem. 'I'm here to help Dwight, whatever it takes to make him the best player in his mind,' Ewing said."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "The rejuvenation of Celtics forward Kevin Garnett has been apparent since the beginning of training camp. He leaps with ease. He sprints down the floor and soars for rebounds with no fear about his surgically repaired right knee. ... One of the more important priorities for the Celtics in camp was to rebuild the confidence and increase the production of Garnett, who was healthy last season but still was favoring the knee. 'I slowed down a little bit, started to look for my offense,’ he said. 'Playing with Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal] is an adjustment, but it’s a good adjustment to have. But for the most part I’ve slowed down and let my offense just flow.’ Garnett’s primary concern is always defense, but '[O’Neal] has been on my [rear] about relaxing and letting the offense come to me. I think the last couple of games, even the game I got thrown out of, I thought I had a pretty good flow.’ "

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "It's just a preseason game for the Hawks so the result won't count in the standings and the particulars of the contest figure to be forgettable. Yet because it's not just any opponent Monday at Philips Arena this exhibition game could be more significant than most. 'It's the Orlando Magic,' Hawks center Zaza Pachulia said. 'Obviously, we all remember what happened last year.' There are 101 reasons Atlanta will never forget. That was the NBA-record victory margin for Orlando in its four-game sweep of the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals last May. The fallout for the Hawks included vitriol from their fans andthe eventual dismissal of coach Mike Woodson. The way the Hawks lost, barely putting up a fight, was a sharp rebuke to the organization's contention that the team was close to joining the East's elite. The Hawks won't change any minds with a preseason victory against Orlando but perhaps they can take some small step to restore their pride. 'You want to set the tone from the beginning,' Pachulia said 'You want to make them feel like we are not the same team as last year [and] we got better and we are here to work.' ... Counting that playoff series, Orlando has won eight of its last nine games against Atlanta. The average losing margin for the Hawks in those games was 23 points and all the losses were by at least 14 points."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Gilbert Arenas arrived at Madison Square Garden with a different look. He shaved that scraggly beard and cut his hair, holding true to his pledge to 'look pretty' in time for the regular season opener in Orlando. When asked about the new look before the game, Arenas said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' Arenas warmed up with his teammates before the game, taking jumpers at different spots in the floor, but he did not play against the New York Knicks because of his mild groin strain. Coach Flip Saunders said Arenas is likely out for the preseason finale against Detroit on Tuesday in Toledo, Ohio."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "As much as the idea of bonding in the preseason can be an NBA cliché, in China there were no former teammates to visit, no friends to see. The Rockets had been on the road or traveling in 18 of 23 preseason days, including the 19-hour journeys to and from China. In China, the Rockets were together for events and shopping expeditions, sightseeing and bus rides, and charter flights. 'We have each other,' Shane Battier said. 'That's the good part of the preseason schedule. We've been away from our families. I've seen Chuck Hayes more than I've seen my wife and my kid the last two weeks. I love Chuck, but not that much. But it is good to be with the guys on the road, and we can build off this trip and create chemistry. We're going to need amazing chemistry to accomplish what we want to accomplish this year.' The Rockets picked up an understanding of the burdens on Yao. They got some work in. And they did it together. 'I think it was rewarding,' Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. 'We bonded as a team. With the events they've done together, just seeing the excitement for the Rockets and Yao Ming everywhere we go is impressive and humbling.' After 10-point wins in Beijing and Guangzhou, the Rockets will have two more preseason games to see if the improvements made in China can be imported. But they believe they went a long way in that direction."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Now that Russell Westbrook has proved his legitimacy as an NBA point guard, the Thunder's third-year man is now working on defining what kind of floor leader he'll be. Finding a balance between barking instructions, providing gentle advice and leading by example is Westbrook's latest challenge. It's a significant objective that could soon shape how smooth the Thunder is offensively. 'I think each year it's improved,' said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Westbrook's leadership. 'It probably still needs to take another step. And we're looking for that this year. It's hard to lead as a first- or second-year player. You just have to gain that respect. But he's gained the respect of his teammates and coaches.' This season, we could see Westbrook shouting at his teammates more often. But teammates say that won't necessarily be a bad thing. 'You're going to need a point guard that's going to yell at you a little bit and tell you where to go and demand a little bit from you,' said Kevin Durant. 'He's great at letting everybody know where we need to be and what we need to do to get better. He's growing every day, and it's a joy to watch.' "

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "The Bobcats screwed up by trading for Diop, and assuming nearly $7 million a season between 2009 and 2013. But that doesn't mean they can't get something useful from him. Diop spent the summer getting into solid game shape. Saturday in Columbia, he blocked six shots, made all three of his shots and had two assists against the Detroit Pistons. Head-turning? No. But it demonstrated he wants to earn what he makes, and as desperate as Larry Brown is for someone to play defense at the rim, something good can still come of this. ... An advance scout I know all but laughed at me when I suggested Tyrus Thomas will make a huge difference for the Bobcats this season. This guy -- really smart -- said if you're counting on Thomas to be a grown-up, to control his emotions and reach all his potential and be a difference-maker, then you are playing a dangerous game. Because there isn't yet compelling evidence that Thomas has evolved, it's reasonable for all those NBA scouts to be skeptical. He needs to put all that passion into proving to these guys he can be in control, and versatile and dynamic."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: "If the Knicks are significantly better than last season, it won't just be about the new faces. It will be about Danilo Gallinari, who's having a perplexing preseason. One night after lighting up all of Hartford, Gallinari couldn't make a shot, didn't make a shot. Despite the Knicks' 92-90 last-second victory last night over the Wizards at the Garden, Gallinari laid a giant goose egg, going 0 for 7 from the field and finishing with one point in 22 minutes. It's something the Knicks' coaching staff talks to Gallinari about behind the scenes. During some games, Gallinari's mind seems as far away as Italy. 'I guess it's one of those nights he didn't bring it,' coach Mike D'Antoni said. 'That's the point. He has to be razor sharp to make the jump and we've talked about it.' "

  • Didie Morais of The Miami Herald: "At this point in Da'Sean Butler's rehabilitation, he still isn't able to run, let alone execute the Heat's system alongside the Big 3. 'It's stressful watching guys that I grew up watching play or played with and not be able to play with them,' Butler said. 'I can't go out there and prove myself. All I can do is go out there, learn the plays and enjoy the weight-room things.' Despite Butler's devastating injury, the Heat still took a chance on him with the 42nd pick of the draft, knowing the rookie out of West Virginia had first-round talent. 'He's a winner,' Spoelstra said. 'You can tell he has a winning attitude. Besides all the game-winning shots that he took, he was pivotal on why that team was a Final Four team. And those are qualities you can't teach.' The one quality Butler has learned to embrace during his time with the Heat has been patience. Relegated to strictly upper-body workouts this preseason, he said adjusting to his loss of explosion has proved to be a daunting challenge. But he has received support from two unlikely tutors. Former Heat stars Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway -- who both endured similar knee injuries -- have repeatedly approached Butler throughout training camp, offering him tips on how to tame his mental outlook. ... Butler also has received encouragement from a future Hall of Famer in LeBron James. Although Butler can't participate in daily practices, James still keeps the rookie engaged by challenging him to free-throw contests after sessions."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Shaquille O’Neal has developed a fascination with just about everything connected to his new city, but the big icon has decided to break from one of his new nicknames. After hearing about the legend of Whitey Bulger, O’Neal recently started calling himself 'Blackie Bulger, the godfather of Sudbury.' After further consideration, though, Shaq is dropping the moniker out of sensitivity for the families of the real Bulger’s victims. 'I’m not going to call myself that anymore,' he said. 'I don’t want them to think the wrong thing.' This, however, hasn’t curtailed his curiosity. O’Neal has already purchased one book on the Southie gangster -- 'Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Irish Mob," by former Bulger thug Edward MacKenzie Jr. He also plans to purchase what’s still considered the definitive Bulger tome -- 'Black Mass, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. O’Neal’s appetite for Boston’s organized crime culture was whetted by the film 'The Departed,' famous for Jack Nicholson’s depiction of a Bulger-like crime boss. Shaq is good friends with the Lakers season ticket holder, though he hasn’t asked Nicholson if he read up while developing the character."