First Cup: Monday

  • Louise Watt of The Associated Press: "Yao Ming's expected retirement could diminish the NBA's once-burgeoning popularity in China, with many fans saying they would no longer watch games. 'What's the point of watching NBA now?' asked an online user called Lubingxia on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like site. An online poll on Weibo by Monday lunchtime showed that 57 percent of respondents would stop watching the NBA after Yao's retirement. The 7-foot-6 center is expected to announce July 20 at a news conference that he's retiring from the NBA after nine seasons because of leg and foot injuries. He boosted the popularity of the basketball league in China and throughout Asia, spiking merchandise sales and TV ratings for games after the Houston Rockets made him the top overall pick in the 2002 draft."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "In truth, Oklahoma City owes Yao a debt of gratitude. By opening up Asia and globalizing the NBA, he helped make international stars out of the NBA's best regardless of where they play. NYC. MIA. OKC. Doesn't matter. And that's good news for Thunder fans. Durant can grow his brand while playing here in Oklahoma City. Granted, being a big brand isn't the be all, end all for players -- being able to contend for championships is a big deal, too -- but it's one thing that Oklahoma City doesn't have to worry about when it comes to the face of the franchise. He doesn't have to be in one of those major cities to be known all across the globe. Durant has Yao to thank for that. OKC has the big man to thank for that, too."

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: "Shane Battier was disappointed, bothered really, that the Rockets traded him at midseason. With as much as he had put into the organization, he left thinking the job wasn't done. 'I was disappointed that I couldn't see to the finish what I started out,' he said. 'It would have been nice to go through one more stretch run with those guys.If it didn't work out, I would have been happy with time I put in over the five years.' Even the postseason fun he had with the Memphis Grizzlies, who beat San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs and took Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals, didn't close the wound. 'I was happy that I went to a place that worked out and we found lightning in a bottle, but it was disappointing in a weird way to see (the Rockets) finish behind us,' Battier said. Telling it like it is Battier's view of the Grizzlies and Rockets going forward might be somewhat disheartening for Rockets fans. Particularly those who hang on to the shaky glass-half-full thread that Memphis finished "only" three games ahead of Houston in the standings. 'Houston is a franchise in transition. From a talent standpoint, Memphis is going to be a force to deal with for a few years,' he said. 'Talent wins. You can have all the rah-rah you can muster, but at the end of the day in the NBA, talent wins. The Grizzlies are more talented than the Rockets.' See? Sometimes Battier's swing is pretty good."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "In tweeting up a storm in the wake of the lockout, Orlando Magic guard Gilbert Arenas actually offered a few cogent points (yes, we're shocked, too) about the stacked deck the NBA will maintain regardless of the structure of a new agreement. The essence of Arenas' thoughts, in a neatly packaged Twitter translation: 'Lakers, Dallas, Miami, Knicks, Magic, Bulls, Boston, and a few others always have the best chance at the top free agents due to city and money. So the smaller cities team can't compete. So they can never get better and they're always losing money.' Comforting, isn't it, Memphis, Sacramento, Salt Lake City? In recent years, when a secondary-market team could mass max cap space, they at least could put themselves on the free-agent map. It's how Utah landed Carlos Boozer in the first place, how Orlando lured Rashard Lewis. But when those star slots are gone, a hard cap could leave equivalent salary spots throughout the league, making some landing spots more attractive to top-tier B-list possibilities. Think larger markets, warmer weather, and, apparently, east rather than west. ... Location might not mean as much as in a 16-week sport that ends shortly after the turn of the calendar, but when you're going six months through the dead of winter, all things being equal (which they just might be the case cash-wise under a new NBA agreement), the ultimate deciding factor in filling out rosters could be location, location, location."

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "Nobody questions former Illinois player Deron Williams' right to sign a one-year deal for up to $5 million to play professional basketball for the Turkish club Besiktas. Only his sanity. NBA superstars, go ahead and take as many vacations in Europe as you wish. But take your basketball careers there at your own peril. Sure, reports say Williams stands to make $200,000 a month with housing and tax breaks as well as access to a car, a security guard, an around-the-clock assistant and probably the Aegean Sea. But if Williams sustains a serious injury before the NBA lockout ends, then he's the turkey for giving the Nets reason to void the final two years and $34 million of his contract. I get Williams' desire to stay busy and, in the spirit of Latrell Sprewell, feed his family during the work stoppage. But this isn't a fringe player trying to improve a part of his game so he can one day make a living in the league. This is an All-Star coming off April wrist surgery risking a huge salary for the reward of competing in Europe's second-tier league on a team with a history of cash-flow problems. Williams didn't major in risk management at Illinois, did he?"

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: "NBA commissioner David Stern has long touted his league as the most global of the four major sports. Now, what many have called Stern's long-term goal has the potential to derail the owners in this lockout. Nets star point guard Deron Williams' decision to play in Turkey if the season doesn't start on time could prove to be the rule, not the exception. Williams said in interviews with national media he could be the first of many star players to take overseas deals. Many have drawn the natural comparison of the NFL to the NBA, in terms of the labor situation. The NFL has gone through lawsuits, court battles and just now seems to be on track for an agreement. Unlike NFL players, NBA players, particularly the stars, have options overseas. If Kobe Bryant or LeBron James actually put themselves on the open market internationally, it could shake up NBA owners. ... Stern's lockout moves, which have gone as far as removing player images from team websites and prohibiting team employees from attending player weddings, has irked players. It gives off the message, 'You can be replaced.' Well now, the players can send the same sentiments back to the NBA."

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: "Clearly, given the inordinate influence a single player can have in basketball, compared with the other sports, the NBA needs such a mechanism to restore competitive balance. Otherwise, fans in the 'fly-over' cities, the ones that aren't major media centers or resort towns, are severely disadvantaged. In the NBA, parity is already largely a myth. Only nine franchises have won championships since 1980 (vs. 14 in the NFL and 18 in Major League Baseball). Team stacking is more detrimental to parity in the NBA than lack of a salary cap is in baseball, given the many competitive checks and balances inherent in the latter game on the field. Team stacking in the NBA takes away the one thing the NFL, to its everlasting credit, can extend to every franchise, no matter how bedraggled it is -- hope. If Stern can't get a hard cap, he shouldn't come back without a franchise-player clause."

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "When the Cavs talk about being 'strategic' and 'flexible' with the payroll, this is what they mean: Regardless of what the league looks like on the other side of this lockout, they are in great shape financially. Without having to commit big money to J.J. Hickson, the Cavs now have 14 contracts on the books next season worth a little more than $55 million. They have only about $31 million in guaranteed money for the 2012-13 season, when Antawn Jamison’s contract comes off the books and Baron Davis remains as the only overpaid veteran. Anderson Varejao, at $9 million, is the only player under contract for 2013-14, although the Cavs will still have control over Omri Casspi and Christian Eyenga. They don’t have any guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season. ... What’s it all mean? The Cavs will be fine if this lockout results in some form of a hard cap. Most everyone I’ve spoken to around the league doesn’t expect a hard cap to go into effect next season, but one could be eased in over the next two to three seasons. If that’s the case, the Cavs have the type of payroll flexibility to withstand any sort of cap in the coming years."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Metta is a state of loving-kindness, but the dude has yet to make it official with the state of California, so until his mid-August hearing, he's still Ron Artest. This is good, because the situation in which I found him Friday night was pure Ron Artest. He was hosting a four-city comedy tour even though he had never been on a comedy club stage in his life. 'I know two jokes, then I guess I'm going to wing it,' he said. He was stepping under the lights at one of the country's most legendary comedy clubs despite practice sessions that consisted entirely of listening to comedy acts on his Hyundai's satellite radio 'I always embarrass myself, anyway, so what's the big deal?' he said. 'So I'll be booed. Awesome. How many people have a chance to get booed. I want to get booed.' ... True to his word, he never told more than two jokes, but the crowd hooted and hollered as if he were Seinfeld, and that was more than enough for a guy whose basketball season ended in silence. Artest said he was so upset by the four-game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks, he began practicing immediately. 'I worked out at the practice facility at 4 a.m. after we landed from Dallas,' he said in the pre-show interview. 'Shot for an hour.' Artest also said he is going overseas to play during the lockout, but not where you might think. Instead of playing for one of the prestigious teams in southern Europe, he plans to play for either the Cheshire Jets or Glasgow Rocks of the British Basketball League. Um, dude, there's a British Basketball League?"

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "Now that Jonas Valanciunas has concluded a stellar FIBA U19 tournament by leading Lithuania to gold the temptation is to go over the top in praising the prospect. You know, the way most basketball fans in this country went totally nuts when they found out the Raptors had rolled the dice on another big man of non-North American descent. But just as that draft night reaction was ridiculous -- most Valanciunas detractors had never even seen the man play -- so too would be going overboard based on his play against competition that was, with apologies to those participating, not overly impressive. The Americans had a hard time getting their top prospects over -- though Florida centre Patric Young is considered by some a potential 2012 lottery pick -- and no other players were capable of dealing with Valanciunas’ combination of size, skill, agility and competitiveness. That said, what Valanciunas accomplished in Latvia certainly is deserving of recognition and Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo surely is doing cartwheels, though, citing NBA lockout rules, he declined to admit as much to the Sun on Sunday afternoon. ... At the end of August and into September, Valanciunas is expected to be the senior teams’ backup centre as Lithuania hosts Europe for the Eurobasket competition. ... Valanciunas intrigued in Latvia, but what he does at Eurobasket in a couple of months will paint a clearer picture of how close he is to making an impact in the NBA."

  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: "On Saturday’s game in Los Angeles, protestors gathered by Dodger Stadium demanding a boycott by Dodger fans, according to a report by KABC’s Melissa MacBride in Los Angeles. The boycott is not of the players, but because they want owner Frank McCourt to sell the team, which has in financial issues due the McCourt’s divorce. MacBride reported that Roger Arrieta organized the demonstration and would like to see Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban take over the franchise. Cuban applied for the Cubs’ ownership in 2008 before losing out to TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts . He then lost out to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan for the Rangers’ ownership in 2010 when he partnered with Houston businessman Jim Crane. Cuban has stated publicly he's interested in Major League Baseball, but the situation has to be the right deal. "

  • Staff of The Boston Globe: "A site has been chosen for the statue of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and the location will be announced today by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a team spokeswoman said yesterday. The mayor will be joined by Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca and members of the Bill Russell Legacy Project Committee in detailing plans for a tribute to the NBA Hall of Famer. In February, President Obama presented Russell, who won 11 NBA titles with the Celtics as a player and a coach, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of his civil rights advocacy."

  • Damien Wilkins for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I’ve always been a sneaker freak. I had a cousin who could dress like a bum, but his sneakers were always fresh and new. I adopted that from him. Of the 300 pairs I’ve collected the past three years, about 75 are Nike Air Force Ones. I have all the Air Maxes since 1995. I have every pair of Jordans, even some I didn’t like. I even have some casual low-top Jordans not even for basketball. Shell-toes are some of my favorites, though they can get dirty quick. I’ve got high-top Adidas, old school retro Adidas, Chuck Taylors -- man, the list goes on and on. I’ve got some unusual colors. Some make no sense. I’ve got a pair of Adidas that are turquoise, yellow, black and gray. I wore those with jeans once. ... When I run out of closet space, I end up giving 150 pairs of shoes to my friends who wear my size. If I haven’t worn a pair in months and have no plans to wear them again, I put them in the throw-out collection. In the summer, my friends call and say, 'Hey, have you cleaned out your closet yet?' They know they’ll go away with bags of sneakers. As soon as I clean out the closets, I am running out of room again. That’s how fast I collect shoes."