First Cup: Thursday

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: The names Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller have been floated around of late as potential pieces leaving the Heat, whether in a trade, or in the case of Miller, by simply being waived to take advantage of the financial flexibility it would offer the Heat to complete its roster. It seems like a typical offseason basketball discussion to weigh the benefits of moving either one of them for the sake of bettering the team, especially this team that has such high expectations, not only for this season but for several seasons to follow. But these two players create an entirely different dialogue, one with concepts that can’t be measured in points, rebounds, blocked shots or charges taken: loyalty and sacrifice. The simple question is this: How would it be viewed if the Heat waived or traded either Miller or Haslem, or both, for the sake of significantly improving a roster that was already championship level. Under normal circumstances, no one would ever question the reason of such moves because the goal of every franchise is to improve, with loyalty and nostalgia only considered mental roadblocks toward the ultimate goal. But in the case of these two, there would appear to be a particularly cold, almost heartless element to the Heat ridding itself of either.

  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers have not made any decisions on using the amnesty provision to waive Brandon Roy. Team president Larry Miller, in a packed news conference at the Rose Garden on Wednesday, was adamant a that column by The Oregonian's John Canzano -- which quoted a source saying Portland had decided to waive Roy -- was dead wrong. "We have not, and regardless of what's been said by John Canzano and others out there, (made a) decision on amnesty as of yet," Miller said. In addition to Canzano, KATU.com and at least one national website reported that the Blazers intended to use the amnesty clause to jettison Roy's contract from the salary cap. Miller said interim general manager Chad Buchanan called Roy's agent at 6 a.m. this morning -- the earliest team officials could contact agents -- to arrange a meeting with Roy.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: For his part, Danny Ainge said, “I don’t make any comments on trade rumors. I’m just not commenting on any of it. Everybody knows how valuable Rondo is to our team. I’ll talk to Rondo, but I don’t want to talk about it publicly.” That being said, one can safely infer that the Celtics do not believe Rondo is the NBA’s uber point guard, the most perfect representation of the species.If the Celtics did not have questions, they wouldn’t be willing to think about losing someone who’s locked in for four more years at reasonable money. Four years at an average of around $11.5 million is an utter bargain for an All-Star point guard. So now that we’ve established that they would, the question becomes whether they should. The Celtics should trade Rajon Rondo if they can get in return a major talent they believe they can better build around following this season. They should trade Rondo if doing so opens the door to more than one key player. In the NBA, a dollar is worth more than four quarters — that is, a player actually worth $16?million is more valuable than two guys who make $8?million. But the Celts have to start thinking about how they’ll be able to remake their roster.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Masai Ujiri heard from seemingly every agent except Jerry Maguire on Wednesday, the first day NBA executives could speak with player representatives. Free-agency talks have begun, and Ujiri's first priority is re-signing a certain Brazilian big man. "We want Nene back," said Ujiri, who isn't targeting any other big-name big men in free agency. And if the Nuggets don't re-sign the Brazilian big man? "We're going to give our young big guys a chance," Ujiri said in reference to Timofey Mozgov, Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos?. "I was studying the free-agent class. We want to be smart here; we want to make the right decisions. Are we going to go out and do anything crazy? I don't think so. These young guys are going to play. They'll get the opportunity. They'll play hard and compete.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: What a great time for the Hawks to push for the one move they could make that would grab everybody’s attention, fill Philips Arena and possibly move them closer to title contention: Trade for Dwight Howard. I realize this is a long shot. But Howard almost certainly is going to be traded some time over the next several months. He can opt out of his contract after this season and there’s no indication that he wants to stay in Orlando. Howard never has stated that he wants to come back home to Atlanta to play center for the Hawks. But let’s put the team’s potential sales pitch to him on hold for just a minute. Here’s the plan, after my high-level talks with Michael 'Ice Man' Cunningham: Tell the Magic they can have any two players they want. At some point, Orlando will come to the realization that it can’t convince Howard to stay so management will go looking for the best deal. I can’t believe any other team in the league could offer as valuable a trade package as the Hawks can. Tell the Magic that they can take Joe Johnson and Al Horford. Or Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Or Al Horford and Josh Smith. Regardless of which two players Orlando chooses.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: It doesn’t matter whether it’s an 82-game regular season or the 66 thanks to the lockout. Come April, the endgame will be the same: The Bulls will be the best team in the Eastern Conference. They’ll be the best defensive team, they’ll have the deepest frontcourt, all while boasting the most exciting player in the NBA. Maybe the world. No ifs, ands or buts. One problem: That doesn’t earn you a ring. As they are constructed today, the Bulls are elite in many ways. But they are not LeBron-proof, and unless chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is willing to incur a hit with the luxury tax, they will once again fall to the Miami Heat when it matters most.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: The phone calls began at 6 a.m. PST Wednesday, all of them giving Neil Olshey a positive vibe about where the Clippers stand as a potential destination for free agents. It was easy for Olshey, the team's vice president of basketball operations, to figure out why players are interested in joining the Clippers, something he said has "escalated exponentially since this time last season." They have seen the emergence of All-Star forward Blake Griffin. They have seen the play of shooting guard Eric Gordon, the young and talented roster, the new practice facility, the sunshine and blue sky in Los Angeles and the money the Clippers have to spend. Though the new collective-bargaining agreement has yet to be ratified, Olshey, in his first interview since the NBA lifted its media blackout on team personnel, sounded excited about his team's playoff possibilities. "I don't think there's ever been a more pivotal time in the history of this organization," he said, referring to the team's flexibility under the salary cap, existing roster and a desire among other players to come to L.A. "From that perspective, all these crossroads are meeting at the same time. We've got to take advantage of it."

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: With NBA teams now allowed to contact agents, Bucks officials made several telephone calls inquiring about their clients. One of the people they contacted was Raymond Brothers, the agent for Racine native Caron Butler. Butler, who played last season for the world champion Dallas Mavericks, is one of the most coveted players available on the free-agent market. The 31-year-old Butler is coming off major knee surgery, but that apparently hasn't deterred interest in him. In fact, some of the NBA's premier teams, including the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, discussed Butler's future with Brothers. The Mavericks have also made it clear they want to retain the 6-foot-7 forward who was one of their best players before rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee against the Bucks January 1 in the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Francisco Chronicle: With the Warriors, it’s still the same basic story: The Warriors want to make dramatic improvements but keep running into the same wall–can they do this with Monta Ellis on the roster? They love Ellis’ scoring and heart and love that Warriors fans love Ellis. Yes, the Warriors could get worse for a while without Ellis scoring at such a high rate. But they aren’t a playoff team as constructed around Ellis, or if everything works out, they top out as a No. 8 seed, and that’s not enough. Yes, Mark Jackson desperately wants to coach Ellis. Jackson has made a point of reaching out to tell Ellis that the Warriors aren’t trading him. And Lacob doesn’t want to move Ellis unless he gets a killer deal–for matching or superior talent and lesser dollars. But those great deals are almost impossible to pull off, especially with a small shooting guard as the centerpiece of the talks. And yet… To get much better, the GSWs will probably have to tear apart some of the aspects most beloved by their owner and front office, and that means dispatching either ultra-beloved David Lee or mostly-beloved Ellis.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Fourteen months ago, Glen Taylor was asked how much longer he wanted to continue to own a franchise he bought in 1994. He said he wanted to fulfill his work as the NBA's Board of Governors chairman and see through the negotiating of a new labor agreement. On Wednesday, Taylor -- recently re-elected as chairman -- again was asked how long he wants to own a team that under his guidance reached the 2004 Western Conference playoffs but hasn't sniffed the playoffs and now is on its fifth coach and second general manager since then. "I'm excited right now, now that we have the agreement," said Taylor, 70. "I'm excited that it'll enhance our chances to be competitive. I'm a very competitive guy and I like that." He is one month removed from celebrating a WNBA championship with the Lynx team that he also owns after years of playoffs missed and high draft picks selected. It was an experience that reminded him of that emotional 2004 playoff run led by league MVP Kevin Garnett. "I think my experience that year showed me where that could have gone and how that could have maybe gone," Taylor said. "That was a very exciting time for us. I think that was the first time that I saw that and experience how that might be, and now the Lynx winning a championship probably reinforced it."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Griz owner Michael Heisley reiterated that the Griz will exercise their right to match any offer sheet Gasol might sign with another team. "Obviously, we want to sit down and try to make a deal with Marc," Heisley said. "I'm committed to keeping him. I'm committed to winning a championship." Gasol likely will command a starting salary ranging from $10-14 million. Just like under the rules of the league's last CBA, the Griz can offer Gasol a contract with more years and higher raises than any potential suitor. "I don't know when people are going to stop doubting Mr. Heisley. He's 3-for-3," Wallace said, referring to speculation that the Griz might balk at paying Gasol's market value after having agreed to contract extensions with Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph. People close to Gasol are convinced that his desire is to remain in Memphis.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: The NBA amnesty clause has fans wondering which players will be cut from their teams. Take the Pistons off that list. A source told The News the team doesn't plan on using the clause — at this time. The Pistons have the life of the collective bargaining agreement to use the clause, and it appears the team will focus on the trade market. Richard Hamilton is the obvious candidate the Pistons could use the clause on, since they nearly traded their longtime shooting guard twice the past couple seasons. Hamilton is scheduled to make around $12 million this season, but it will be prorated for 66 games. Ben Gordon is the second-highest-paid Pistons player, but many expect the team to hold onto him since they believe the 28-year-old can regain his form from his days with the Bulls. There also was a market for Charlie Villanueva last season.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The Raptors might get an unexpected gift when the NBA lockout officially concludes. The remainder of the traded player exception (TPE) the team acquired when Chris Bosh was dealt to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade could be returned to the team. About $9 million U.S. is left on the TPE after the rest was used to facilitate moves last season. According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, “NBA execs (are) expecting to get lost time back on trade exceptions that expired in lockout.” The Raptors had just over a week remaining on the year-long exception when the lockout got underway on July 1. President/general manager Bryan Colangelo is keeping quiet until the legal I’s and T’s have been dotted, but, based on his previous comments, don’t bet on the TPE being utilized. For one thing, with five roster spots to fill but just $7 million in cap space to do so (plus an extra $2.9 million or so once the season starts and 2011 first round pick Jonas Valanciunas remains in Lithuania), spending it all would put the team over the cap. Spending a good chunk of it would put the Raptors uncomfortably close, with a number of roster spots still to be slotted in.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: And with that, the Kings reached out to their free agents – Marcus Thornton and Samuel Dalembert – to begin what will be an important, compressed free-agency period. Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie said the team will have to spend $16 million to $17 million to reach the minimum salary level and is about $25 million under the projected salary cap. It is the biggest salary cap cushion of any team in the league. Petrie said the Kings won't use the amnesty clause to release a player for salary cap relief because the team is well under the cap and would still have to pay the player, depending on how much of the deal his new team picked up. Petrie said he's unsure if the Kings will bid on amnestied players, and that the rules of the process still have not been defined.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: When the Minnesota Timberwolves open their abbreviated 2011-12 season soon after Christmas, they’ll unveil an abbreviated franchise player. After an extended offseason of honing his body, Kevin Love will no longer qualify for the “beefy” category. Minnesota’s 6-9 power forward will enter training camp on Dec. 9 weighing in at 240 pounds, down about 25 from his playing weight at the end of last season. “Haven’t been this low since my freshman year in high school,” quips Love, 23, the former Lake Oswego High standout. How did Love become the NBA’s version of Gisele Bundchen? “If I give you all the secrets, then …” Love teases during a Thanksgiving weekend visit to the Oswego home of his parents, Stan and Karen. Love continued his workouts through the offseason with trainer Gunnar Peterson near Kevin’s home in Santa Monica, Calif., but it was more than that.