First Cup: Friday

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: In a matter of months, five teams — three in small markets — had lost their franchise players. Now three more teams, including the small-market Magic and Hornets, are coping with that anxiety. The superstars are still flexing their leverage despite a raft of new restrictions. And the owners’ competitive-balance concerns may soon be exacerbated. If Paul forces his way to New York and Howard ends up with the Brooklyn-bound Nets — who are pursuing him — it would leave eight of the N.B.A.’s top 20 players concentrated among just three teams (Knicks, Nets, Heat). Add the Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol), the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and the Boston Celtics (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo), and 15 of the league’s top 25 players would be spread among just six teams. In a league where superstars rule, that is depressing news for the other 24 franchises. Superteams may boost ratings in May and June, but they do nothing to help ticket sales for a Detroit-Charlotte game in January.

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: No team will make the trade for Paul unless the All-Star is willing to sign a contract extension. If the Hornets look to move him to an undesirable destination he can’t veto the move, but if he won’t commit long term it’ll scare off suitors. Then, they’ll be in a position the Hornets could find themselves in: watching Paul walk without receiving any compensation. No, the Hornets have to get something now, while they can. They have to leverage the situation as best they can while they have a smidgeon of influence. None of us wants to see Paul leave. There’s a finite number of athletes who are great players and great people. But the Hornets can’t sit back and hope on this one. If they can’t get Paul’s name on a contract extension, they have to use his game to haul in a return of players and picks that makes the parting worthwhile. And they have to do all of it sooner, rather than later.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: There is also nothing wrong with Paul (or Williams) choosing not to sign an extension since that could cost them roughly $30 million. If Paul, who days ago said his heart is in New Orleans, does indicate that there is no way he will ever put his name on a Hornets contract,the Hornets do need to make a move sometime before the next trade deadline. That’s where things will get interesting. The Knicks have very little to offer the Hornets unless someone can be convinced that Landry Fields and a first-round pick in 2018 is worth one of the best point guards in the league. Assuming then that the Hornets will not deal Paul to New York, they could face an entire lame duck season and the sort of circus the Nuggets struggled through last season. Worse, the Hornets might be wasting time they don’t have while searching for someone willing to buy a team losing its star in the league’s smallest market. If Paul confirms when the Hornets are permitted to actually talk to him that he won’t return to the Hornets next season, they would seem to need to get what they can for him this season.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: It was supposed to be a joyous day at AmericanAirlines Arena. Then Udonis Haslem dropped a bombshell: Mike Miller is injured again. With that, a mini-celebration of basketball’s return to Biscayne Boulevard was tempered with news that Miller, the Heat’s oft-injured wingman, recently had hernia surgery. Thursday was the first day Heat players could set foot in their team’s facilities since the lockout began July?1. Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman and free agents James Jones and Juwan Howard showed up to work out individually and without Heat personnel. Absent was Miller, who was at home nursing his fourth surgery since joining the Heat last summer. “When it rains it pours,” Miller said. ... Now it seems even more likely that the Heat will waive Miller and his hefty salary in order to free salary-cap space and sign a replacement or two. “If we’ve learned anything over the last couple of months it’s that this is a business and that’s not going to change this situation,” Miller said. “[The Heat] is going to do what they feel is best for them. We’ll see what happens.” In other words, a future in Miami doesn’t sound very promising for Miller.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: To hear Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers tell it, it’s a badge of honor for a player to have his name mentioned in trade rumors. “I think he’s one of the top point guards in the NBA,” Rivers said yesterday of Rajon Rondo, who has been mentioned most prominently in trade discussions involving the Hornets’ Chris Paul. “I think he’s established that. “There’s a reason that when this thing leaked out, it was all over the news — because the players they’re talking about are both really good,” Rivers added. “Rondo established that through his play. He’s a great basketball player, he does so many things for our team. He should be flattered; this is news.” It’s also, according to Ainge, a remote option for the Celtics, though the general manager skated circles around the subject of his all-star point guard’s trade-ability during yesterday’s press conference. Ainge said he didn’t intend, didn’t want to, nor wasn’t close to trading Rondo. The one thing Ainge didn’t do, however, was entirely shoot down the rumors by saying he wasn’t going to trade Rondo. In other words, the door is open.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Brandon Roy has a simple question he wants the Trail Blazers to answer: Do you want me or not? Blazers president Larry Miller has a not-so-simple answer for Roy: Maybe. And that maybe is if, and only if, Roy can convince the team he is willing to accept a reduced role and be a good teammate. And even then, the answer is still maybe. For Miller, the question of whether to use the NBA's recently added "amnesty clause" on Roy has little to do with basketball. And it has little to do with money. He is convinced Roy's cartilage-less knees are beyond repair and will never allow him to consistently play like the three-time All-Star we came to know when Roy broke into the league. And he knows that freeing the payroll of Roy's $63 million contract gives the Blazers a better chance at remaining competitive both in the short and long term. The decision on whether to waive Roy, then, boils down to two things, Miller says: Whether Roy would be a good teammate, and whether cutting him would be a public-relations disaster.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Steve Nash worked out at US Airways Center on Thursday. It is hardly news for any other December, but this one is the starting point for a Suns season. Nash, Robin Lopez and Zabian Dowdell were the first Suns through the door when US Airways Center was opened to players for the first time since the NBA lockout began July 1. On Friday, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress, Markieff Morris and Garret Siler are expected to join them. Unlike most people, Nash believes the Suns are a playoff team after missing the postseason last season at 40-42. Their roster and rotation likely will look largely the same as the front office keeps salary space in tact to pursue at least one maximum-level free agent in July. "I definitely would love to see us improve our roster but I think it's up to us to find that little bit of magic and collectively and individually to give ourselves a chance to win enough games to get in the playoffs," Nash said.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: On the eve of last year's training camp, Derrick Rose surprisingly shed his aw-shucks routine and rhetorically asked why he couldn't be the NBA's most valuable player. Seven months after achieving that goal, the youngest in league history to do so, the Bulls' guard has another target. "My whole goal this year is to win a championship," Rose said Thursday at the Berto Center. Not surprisingly, Rose was the first Bull at the practice facility on the first day such access was granted to players now that the pending collective bargaining agreement is near ratification. Rose even told Luol Deng he'd show up at 3 p.m., but said he got bored and arrived three hours earlier. "I'm trying to be more vocal as a leader," Rose said. Rose covered familiar themes, blaming himself for the Eastern Conference finals loss to the Miami Heat and saying the Bulls need no new parts to challenge for a title. ... Rose also reiterated his support for Keith Bogans, who started all 82 games at shooting guard last season. The Bulls own a team option of $1.73 million on Bogans, with sources indicating they are likely to pick up that option, though Bogans could play a reserve role. And that stance might change if the Bulls use their entire midlevel exception.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Heat power forward Chris Bosh is ready, willing, and, this time, able to play center if called upon. After shying from the assignment for much of his career, Bosh said he has resigned himself to the reality that he might be the Heat’s best option in the middle at times. “You know, as much as every time I try to run from it, it just comes and pulls me back in,” he said during the start of informal team workouts Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “So I accept it. If I’m a five, put me down there, have me guarding the biggest guy, I accept the challenge. It is what it is. Every year that I’ve said ‘Oh, no, I’m not doing it,’ I’m in there anyway. So, I accept it.” Bosh arrived bulkier than last season. “Leaps and bounds better in my opinion,” he said of his revised physique.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A funny thing happened amid the latest report that Josh Smith wants the Hawks to trade him to another team. Smith was the first Hawks player to show up for voluntary workouts at Philips Arena on Thursday, the first day NBA players were allowed to use team facilities. Not that Smith, who looked much slimmer than last season, planned it that way. “I thought somebody got here before me,” he said, chuckling. “I didn’t know I was the first one. I wanted to be able to come here and use the facility. Being able to come here, this is my sanctuary. I can relieve stress and clear my mind and work on my game.” The league authorized players to use team facilities as the official end of the lockout waits on legal formalities. No coaches or front-office personnel were allowed to be present.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: While weighing offers from four teams, Rockets center Chuck Hayes' agent said Hayes' preference remains to return to the Rockets, his only team in his six NBA seasons. Hayes has received offered from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors, agent Calvin Andrews said. Andrews has also spoken with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, though not about a specific offer. Hayes turned down an extension offer from the Rockets last June worth roughly $2.5 million per season and Andrews said offers have exceeded that.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: On Thursday, a Nuggets player practiced in the Nuggets gym — but without Nuggets coaches, while wearing Trail Blazers? shorts. The NBA lockout isn't officially over, but players were allowed inside NBA gyms Thursday, so there was Andre Miller, traded to Denver in June, wearing shorts from his old team, since his new team can't yet issue gear. The only other player to show up Thursday was Chris Ander-sen. Training camp is expected to open Dec. 9. And while coaches can't contact players until both sides ratify the new collective bargaining agreement, the players can start working out in their home arenas. "I feel all right. I still have a long way to go," the 35-year-old Miller said about his physical status. "I've been trying to stay in decent shape. I still am going to be a little out of shape. I'm just trying to be fundamentally right." Andersen, a reserve center, dealt with knee and back injuries late last season. "I hate to say it, but the lockout actually kind of helped me, especially with my knee, getting all that better, letting it heal 100 percent," said the Birdman, who played in just 45 games last season, averaging 5.6 points and 4.9 rebounds.

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: Early indications are the Jazz will not be major players once the NBA free-agency period begins Dec. 9. After two days of informal discussions between teams and agents, multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune that Utah will likely focus on making minor additions to what will be an 11-man roster once rookies Enes Kanter and Alec Burks are signed. The Jazz are expected to primarily focus on adding a proven backup point guard, and could use veteran minimum contracts to fill out the remainder of their roster. Utah has expressed initial exploratory interest in unrestricted free agents Rasual Butler, Sebastian Telfair and Roger Mason, a source said. Meanwhile, a source close to forward Andrei Kirilenko gave no indication the Jazz are actively attempting to re-sign him. Kirilenko did draw immediate interest from multiple teams, though. Sources also reiterated to The Tribune the Jazz are not expected to immediately use their amnesty clause on veteran center Mehmet Okur, and said Utah isn't actively pursuing a trade involving Millsap.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Thaddeus Young is a restricted free agent, meaning any team can make him a contract offer, which the Sixers can match to retain him. And though president Rod Thorn and coach Doug Collins continuously professed their love and need for Young in a meeting with reporters on Wednesday, it might be out of their hands as to whether they are able to keep the 23-year-old. Young made close to $4 million last season, when he thrived as a key reserve for Collins, averaging 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and shot 54.1 percent from the floor. Early last season, when numbers were being thrown around, rumor had it that Young and agent Jim Tanner were looking to get something close to $11 million a year. That appears pretty steep, especially when you consider someone such as reserve guard Lou Williams is locked in the middle of a 5-year, $25 million deal. While the Sixers desperately want to retain Young, there are factors working against them. As Thorn and Collins pointed out on Wednesday, many teams are under the salary cap, some "significantly so." An offer by one of those teams could blow the Sixers out of the water. Secondly, under the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement, team payrolls must be at least 85 percent of the salary cap. If a team finds itself having to spend an extra million or two to reach that point, they might do it by throwing it at a coveted free agent, basically overpaying just to reach the 85 percent mark. That could happen to Young.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Pacers fans probably cringed every time president Larry Bird or general manager David Morway talked about patience when it comes to how they’ll look to improve the roster once free agency starts in about a week. “Just because you have a lot of cap space doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend $21 million,” Bird said. We’ve talked to teams about players, but it’s a long process and it’s just the beginning of it,” Bird also said. “We don’t feel like we’re in the position where we have to add a players,” Morway said. I’m sure that’s tough to hear if you’re a Pacers fan. You guys have been waiting just as long as the Pacers to be in the position to go from picking up scraps to being big spenders. And now this? Bird and Morway aren’t sitting in their office playing solitaire on their computers. They’re on the phone making calls, texting and sending emails out to agents and opposing team officials. At the same time, though, they’ve got to be careful. You don’t have the star power of LeBron, Amare and D-Wade in this free agent class. This year’s class isn’t as strong.