First Cup: Monday

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "... what Rick Welts, the Suns president and chief executive officer, decided to do Sunday even more impressive. He announced publicly he was gay. Welts, who was unavailable for comment, told The New York Times that 'this is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits. Nobody's comfortable in engaging in a conversion.' He wants to change that. Are you listening, NBA players? Time to follow the Suns' lead. If this news sounds like a non-story to you, in a perfect world you would be right. ... Know this: Homophobia exists around the league, but don't count the Suns among the offenders. This team is one of the more forward-thinking around. It's not just Hill and Dudley, but also Steve Nash, who has long been an advocate of equality and has referred to himself as 'a citizen of the world.' On ESPN.com he recently shared his frustration about a rash of suicides by gay teens because of bullying. 'If we can move beyond just monitoring but get to education and talking about it,' Nash told the site last October, 'hopefully we can begin to eliminate some of the pain we're inflicting on each other.' The Suns are leaders. It's time for the rest of the NBA to follow suit."

  • David J. Stern special toThe Sacramento Bee: "The outpouring of community support was a phenomenon unlike any that I have seen in my almost three decades as NBA commissioner. It has spurred me to send my colleagues to Sacramento to help the team respond to the enormous demand for sponsorships and tickets, and assist them with the permanent hiring required to replace employees who left because of the franchise's uncertain status. ... I have assured Mayor Johnson, Rep. Matsui, Sen. Steinberg and regional leaders that the NBA will continue to support the efforts to make the Kings a self-sufficient franchise in Sacramento and to assure that they are playing in a state-of-the-art arena made possible by a public-private partnership that will be a continuing source of pride for the greater Sacramento region. But let me say it one more time: Thank you, Sacramento!"

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "This was a day to celebrate. Thunder 105, Grizzlies 90. On an afternoon when Oklahoma City had lots of stars as it punched its playoff ticket to the Western Conference Finals, Kevin Durant notched the best performance of his already storied career.He scored 39 points. He fueled the Thunder. What's more, he did so less than 48 hours after a clunker of a game. 'Durant ... showed the heart of a champion,' Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. This was a defining moment for Durant. This was the kind of game that will be highlighted in the early years of his career when he's some day inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. What Durant did Sunday in a high-stakes, winner-take-all Game 7 is impressive on its own, but against the backdrop of his Game 6 no-show, it is even more remarkable. Last we saw Durant, he looked nothing like the league's two-time scoring champ, chucking up ugly shots and getting even uglier results. 'I guess I can say it now -- he stunk last game,' Thunder coach Scott Brooks said."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "Two years ago, Thunder coach Scott Brooks was so disgusted with how his team executed the alley-oop play, he banned it from competition. 'That's a true story,' Brooks said. This year's Thunder team frequently has turned the lob play into an art form. It transpired in Game 7 on Sunday afternoon with an alley-oop pass from Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant with 6:39 left in the third quarter that sparked a 19-7 run for OKC in the next five minutes against Memphis and made an already raucous sellout crowd of 18,203 grow even louder inside Oklahoma City Arena."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "I believe that was an absolute blast. I believe you will remember this Memphis Grizzlies team for the rest of your days. I believe a whole bunch of you will save your growl towels, maybe even have them framed. I believe that we will never again have to hear that the Grizzlies have never won a playoff game. I believe the Grind House is a nickname that will stick around for a while. I believe that Shane Battier's 3-pointer to win the first playoff game is as perfect a moment as I have ever seen in sports. I believe the community needed a run like this. I believe it's about more than basketball. I believe in Memphis, in its people, and in its ability to surmount its problems with faith, joy and hard work. I believe that spirit was perfectly reflected in this Grizzlies basketball team. I believe that nothing that happened in Oklahoma City on Sunday afternoon changes any of that. And yes, it's over. The Thunder defeated the Grizzlies in Game 7, 105-90. 'They made shots, we missed shots,' said Battier, which is about all the analysis you need. This isn't a day for analysis. This is a day to bask in the kind of season that comes along once or twice in a lifetime."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "They never used Rudy Gay's absence due to injury as an excuse for losing. But the Grizzlies, unprompted, brought up their talented small forward time and time again as a reason they will be better next season. 'When Rudy Gay gets back we'll be a better team,' Griz guard O.J. Mayo said. 'It'll definitely help us on the perimeter as far as scoring and I think we'll be a better team.' Gay sat in the locker room looking dejected Sunday after the Griz lost Game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in their Western Conference semifinal series. He'll wear a sling for another two weeks, then begin treatment on his surgically repaired left shoulder. He won't be allowed to participate in contact activities for another four months, but is expected to be ready for training camp in October. Although players, coaches and media didn't harp on Gay's absence, the Griz made a surprising playoff run without their best perimeter player."

  • Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The Mavericks are older, wiser and more playoff-tested. The Thunder, meanwhile, has the playoff keys for the first time, and it's out for a cruise. Oklahoma City will likely throw the customary parade of big bodies at Dirk Nowitzki, hoping to weary him. Yawn. But Nowitzki seems too hungry to be sidetracked this time. The Thunder may have more trouble with the mobile Shawn Marion or Peja Stojakovic, who seems to have finally found his niche with his new team. A rowdy reception probably awaits the Mavericks when the series shifts north of the Red River. After all, this is Oklahoma and Texas, again. Once, Mavericks fans were just as rowdy, just as wide-eyed as the Thunder faithful. They thought they were on the threshold of something perennial. They, too, were once the new kids on the block. Thirty years since they came to Texas, however, the Mavericks still haven't tasted that first NBA title. Even the franchise's original arena didn't last. But they're close again, and they know it. Age and experience are expected to show them how to handle this latest conference finals. There goes the neighborhood, though."

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "With 10:42 left in the second quarter of the Bulls' 103-82 Eastern Conference finals rout Sunday night, Taj Gibson rudely welcomed Heat superstar Dwyane Wade back to his hometown. Soaring with a nice pass from C.J. Watson, Gibson dunked emphatically over a defenseless Wade for the highlight that most defined Game 1. Put that play on a poster under the bold words 'You Got Taj'd, Bro!' and distribute it to every fan at the United Center before Game 2 on Wednesday. It was the image that encapsulated everything good the Bulls got from their opener: They weren't going to be intimidated by the Heat's Big Three, who were expected to dominate the series, and much of the credit goes to Gibson and the bench. Gibson and the group of players who dubbed themselves 'The Bench Mob' ignited the Bulls after an uneven first quarter marked by shaky ballhandling and poor transition defense. Until Gibson posterized Wade, the Bulls looked like a team content to let the Heat force the action. 'I just went up and tried to make a play,' said Gibson, a major factor again in 23 minutes. 'Sometimes you need small plays to inspire the team, and it was one of those that got us a little bit more motivated.' Indeed, after Gibson's slam tied the score and re-energized the crowd of 22,874, the Bulls' suffocating defense returned, the ball was shared and second-chance points were scored."

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The kid from Englewood is the difference-maker. He has been throughout the season and will be until the final red light goes off, whether it’s in this round or in the NBA Finals. There’s no reason to chant ‘‘MVP! MVP!’’ whenever Derrick Rose touches the basketball at this point. It’s old, played out and no longer gives him the credit he deserves. Of course, he’s the most valuable player in the league. But as the Bulls’ 103-82 rout Sunday of the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals showed, Rose is clearly the best player on the floor no matter whom the opposition brings to the dance. That was never more evident than it was against the Heat, which has two of the biggest superstars in the NBA on its roster. After the 48 minutes were up, Dwyane Wade had shot 7-for-17 and LeBron James (5-for-15) evidently had left his talents in South Beach. 'King Derrick’ kind of has a nice ring to it."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "I still believe the Heat will win this series. Wade and James won't be held down like this again. But there's a flip-side question in that, too: Can Chris Bosh have this kind of impact again? Bosh had 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting. He had nine rebounds. But Noah got eight offensive rebounds against him. Or against someone. Because Bosh often had to leave Noah to help out on Rose. 'In the third quarter we held them to 33-percent shooting and they extended it to a double-digit lead,' Spoelstra said. There are some decisions for Spoelstra. Due to a pregame decision to have Zydrunas Ilgauskas join Erick Dampier on the inactive list, that meant the Heat's starting centers for 79 of 92 games this year were inactive. It also meant center Jamaal Magloire played for more than 10 minutes. And those were big moments for the Bulls. They outscored the Heat by eight points when Magloire was in the game. Conclusion? The Heat have no good options beyond Joel Anthony at center. None. And even then Anthony is such a limited offensive presence that it allows Noah or Carlos Boozer to roam the lane to keep Wade or James from driving."

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: "For me, the 2011 NBA playoffs have been like receiving a bottle of Geritol. With the Miami Heat playing the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals and the Dallas Mavericks facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference, the NBA that I knew is officially passing into the sunset. The first NBA Finals I covered was in 1996, when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls beat the Seattle SuperSonics in six games. I was 30 years old. That was the first of 12 consecutive NBA Finals that I covered for the Daily News, through 2007. Jordan played in the first three, but after that, the Finals have been the showcase of three players - Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Between 1999 and 2010, at least one of those three players has competed in every NBA Finals. I attended nine of them. Those Finals coincide with a 12-year span of my life during which I matured from single with no responsibilities to anyone but myself to getting married with a 6-year-old daughter. That's about as a 180-degree change in lifestyle as you can have. But this year, for the first time since Jordan won his second threepeat in 1998, the NBA Finals will not have Duncan, O'Neal or Bryant. The next wave of NBA stars is ready to take their shot at the throne. They have replaced the generation of stars with whom I was most professionally associated."

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News "OK, I will immediately agree that Kobe Bryant is almost assuredly not one of the 10 worst defensive players in the league and I don’t imagine any opponent’s eyes light up when he sees Kobe guarding him. I will stipulate that putting him on this list is, in large part, grading Kobe against his past performances on D, and that’s not entirely fair. So what. His imploding effort on defense this season forced me to put him on this list, just to make sure we remember how good he used to be and how shaky the Lakers get on D when Bryant is as bad as he was this season. ... We saw Bryant cross that fateful line this year: From good defender to a bad defender, just like that. Overall, Bryant was statistically the Lakers’ worst regular on defense–the Lakers gave up 4.1 more points per 100 with him playing than with him out and opponents shot 48.9% EFG when Kobe played vs. 45% when he was out. Obvious point: Bryant has a bad knee and various other nagging ailments; at 32, having just finished his 15th NBA season, he’s wearing down and now the toll is showing. One stat that illuminates the accumulation: Bryant is only a few months younger than Stephen Jackson (both born in 1978), yet Bryant has played 21,186 more minutes, regular-season and playoffs, than Jackson has. That’s the equivalent of seven 82-game seasons averaging 40 minutes a gam (which nobody does) that Bryant has played MORE than Jackson, who himself has shown signs of wearing down for a few years now. Bryant was voted on the first team All-Defense this year, as he is most years. Most years he has deserved it. Not this time. Not even close."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "The newness of Pacers president Larry Bird and owner Herb Simon’s handshake agreement has worn off. Now it’s time for the Pacers to turn their attention to the coaching search (and the predraft camp in Chicago) this week. Bird is expected to talk to the media about his decision to return for another season and likely answer some coaching questions Tuesday. Frank Vogel, who led the Pacers to a 20-18 record and the playoffs, is still the likely frontrunner for the job. Bird said last month that Vogel will get the first and last interview during the process. He also said he wants to 'talk to a few (other) people' before making a decision. The Pacers have yet to contact potential candidates Mike Brown, Dwane Casey or Chuck Person, according to sources. Expect that to change this week."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "While our city hasn't experienced ultimate success in ages - no World Series titles for 54 years, no NBA championships in 40 - few places can make the claim of being home to two of the greatest players ever in their fields. No list without Henry Aaron and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar somewhere in the top five is legitimate. Hammerin' Hank regularly comes back to Milwaukee, but The Captain's returns have been sporadic. On a Friday afternoon in a floor-to-ceiling windowed suite atop one of the tallest hotels in town, Abdul-Jabbar could literally point out his professional roots. 'You can see it, 1129 North Jackson Street in Juneau Village,' he said. 'Eventually I moved over on the west side and then to East Kane Place.' Much has happened since Kareem left 36 years ago. A skyline sprouted. A man grew up. ... In 1968, he said he felt like the only Muslim in Milwaukee. Times change, but challenging times do not. 'You live your life and you have to make certain adjustments for reality, but it's my moral anchor,' he said. 'The difference between right and wrong is very clear. There are only two types of people in the world, good people and bad people. Once you understand that, you can get by and get along.' Abdul-Jabbar said such equality for all led him to produce 'On the Shoulders of Giants,' about a team that played in the '30s and endured the kind of racial prejudice he never experienced as a professional athlete. He screened it downtown Friday night as part of the Bucks' 40th anniversary championship celebration."