First Cup: Tuesday

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: Five days into this new NBA, there is already a new rivalry. The city of Los Angeles versus David Stern. We don't like each other, not anymore, not one bit, not after the NBA commissioner's misuse of his powers has ripped out the heart of one Los Angeles team and the hopes of the other. Stern is the Boston Celtics with a smug grin. He is the Dallas Mavericks with a weak spine. He wears a suit, but he has shamefully spent the last week as if sitting in a Sacramento cheap seat screaming a chant that can be heard from here to Bourbon Street. "Beat L.A!" David Stern hollered, speaking as the de facto owner of the New Orleans Hornets, a position that should never be held by the boss of any league. Yes, since last season, the NBA has owned the failing Hornets. So, yes, as the NBA's top executive, Stern has the right to veto Hornets trades like Jerry Buss can veto Lakers trades. But should he? Shouldn't those calls be made by an independent consultant working in close conjunction with the New Orleans basketball people? Shouldn't basketball learn from baseball, which in recent years has quietly and successfully overseen transitions within the Dodgers, the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals?... As owner of the Hornets, if he can't approve a deal that would give the franchise a future in the wake of the impending departure of its best player, then he should just shut down the franchise. If he doesn't shut down the franchise, then he should figure out a way to make that trade with the Clippers, wash his hands, and try to avoid sticking them where they don't belong.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: There remains a chance Paul still could be traded to the Clippers in a revised deal, and both sides have returned to the negotiating table. After the deal fell through, Hornets General Manager Dell Demps and a flustered-looking Paul were seen walking out of the gym together at the Alario Center in Westwego on Monday, both with phones in their hands, about 45 minutes after the Hornets’ practice. When Paul returned to the gym, he was heard telling a Hornets official: “It’s crazy.” The Paul sweepstakes appear to be turning into a fiasco, heightened by NBA Commissioner David Stern’s insistence to meddle in the team’s basketball operation decisions. Last season, Demps had autonomy to make deals without interference from the league. Demps couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, and the league issued no statements regarding the failed trade. “I don’t think everybody is looking over their shoulder trying to figure out what’s happening,’’ New Orleans point guard Jarrett Jack said. “If we get word stuff is going down, we’ll all act accordingly.”

  • Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel: I'm not sure what last minute trade conditions, if there are any, would actually keep Howard and his camp from aggressively pursuing opportunities outside of Orlando after a seven-year run that's produced zero championships. Howard wants rings and like any true superstar he should pursue that. But what he shouldn'tdo is turn this into an ugly break-up. Right or wrong, his public finger-pointing and accusations of incompetent management by Magic GM Otis Smith on Saturday made him appear less than the classy leader you'd expect from a franchise player. Surely, no one is more emotionally drained about these dragged out discussions concerning Howard's future than Howard himself. But that doesn't excuse the unprofessional rip job he gave Smith Saturday. It's too easy to throw Smith under the bus for the Magic's decline after a slew of unsuccessful trades - Gilbert Arenas topping the list - and forget he's also the man capable of assembling an NBA championship bound team. I was fine with Howard questioning Smith's trade decisions and his lack of involvement in those, an assertion Smith denies. But publicly calling out his seven-year relationship with Smith after the two didn't speak for a couple days after Howard's trade request was just childish.

  • Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald: The new LeBron says he is the old LeBron. The LeBron who melted in the NBA Finals was an imposter, but the real LeBron is back. In a State of LeBron address on Monday, LeBron James declared that he has worked through the vitriol and angst of last season and is ready to take the Heat to a championship. James, looking relaxed and fit on a day when Heat players spent a couple hours posing for pictures and doing numerous interviews, is prepared to shoulder even higher expectations this year. So are his teammates. The trial run, which ended with a loss to the Dallas Mavericks, is over. The getting-used-to-each-other wrinkles have been ironed out. The celebratory hoopla about the phenomenal convergence of talent in Miami is so yesterday. For the Heat and the Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the options are No.?1 or failure. Win it all or accomplish nothing. “If we don’t win a championship, yes, it’s a bust year,” Wade said. Said James: “We didn’t come together to win a playoff series. We came together to win the NBA Finals.”

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Team officials felt Hamilton was immature, particularly after signing contracts totaling nearly $100 million, making him the highest-paid player in team history. Even if he wasn't happy, no one expected him to become such a disruptive force— and some of his actions probably will surprise him when he has the benefit of hindsight. It won't happen anytime soon, though. His feelings are too raw, and he'll probably say some things about the Pistons when he signs with the Bulls. He wasn't a leader. He wasn't cut like Dumars, who took Allan Houston and Lindsey Hunter under his wing when they were drafted in 1993. Hamilton, while liked by his teammates, didn't get along with John Kuester or Michael Curry, which was the determining factor in their fates. So when Hamilton returns to The Palace as a member of the Bulls on Jan. 4, remember the good times, but don't forget the early ejections and sometimes lifeless play that has marred his legacy in recent years. He deserves to be cheered — and he will be — although the love won't be at the level Billups or even Antonio McDyess gets. But also note, it was best for the Pistons — and everyone — to move on.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Griz officials were always confident about Gasol’s return. Other teams could pay Gasol only a maximum of $55 million over four years with 4.5 percent pay increases. Heisley said, even before the start of free agency, that the Griz would match any offer sheet Gasol received. There was speculation that the Houston Rockets would make Gasol an offer. But Gasol never signed an offer sheet with any other team. There is no indication that the Rockets even presented one despite reports they would. “I don’t think there was ever any Houston deal,” Heisley said.

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: When chaos is all around — and in the NBA these days, that's pretty much all the time — the Nuggets play possum. They did it when New York media broke the rumor-per-minute barrier last winter during the Carmelo Anthony soap opera. By waiting, Denver got a better deal from the Knicks than many expected, assembling a new foundation for the future. They're doing it again now, as the association plays musical chairs in a wild, postlockout free-agent market, hoping that in the end Nene and Arron Afflalo find their way back to where they started. Nene is among the top unrestricted free agents available, which would normally mean somebody would have thrown an insane contract at him within about five minutes of the market opening on Friday. The reason this hasn't happened yet is pretty simple: No one, it seems, considers him a center. Because Nene agrees, this puts everybody on the same page, but it also reduces his value considerably. ... So for now the Nuggets watch and wait. It's a strategy that has worked for them before.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Prokhorov announced on Monday that he would challenge Vladimir V. Putin for the Russian presidency. League officials greeted the news with a shrug. “There is no prohibition on N.B.A. owners running for or holding political office,” said Mike Bass, a league spokesman. Indeed, as league officials noted, the Milwaukee Bucks’ owner, Herb Kohl, has been a United States senator since 1988, taking office three years after he bought the team. But it would be unusual, to say the least, for a professional sports franchise in the United States to be owned by a powerful world leader. It could also pose challenges to the Nets. Prokhorov is already an absentee owner, attending few games and making rare appearances in the New York area on his team’s behalf.

  • Steve Duin of The Oregonian: Paul Allen has scheduled a news conference for this morning at Vulcan headquarters in Seattle, and it's a safe bet that he will not announce he is finally washing his hands of the Blazers, thereby validating my 2011 New Year's premonition. Apparently, I misread just how much Allen identifies with the Trail Blazers' slow dissolve into wounded irrelevance. As Brandon Roy and his battered knees exit the stage, the fanfare might lead you to believe we are witnessing the end of a golden era in franchise history. Which only reminds us what now constitutes success for team loyalists who survived the painful personnel decisions of the Jail Blazers' era. In Roy's five years on active duty, Portland never won a playoff series (a coup the Blazers last pulled off during the Clinton presidency). ... He departs a team that now lacks a general manager, an engaged owner, an innovative offense, appeal for the next generation of free agents ... or the willingness to be upfront and honest with its loyal fan base about the career-ending injuries to the players the Blazers need to sell tickets. Nate McMillan's squad will play hard, I suspect. The Blazers will upset a few contenders. But they will never matter again on Paul Allen's watch.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: The Celtics are downplaying Jeff Green’s medical-related absence from the practice floor, but the uncertainty of his situation has attached a red flag to undisclosed results from his recent physical. According to team officials, the newly re-signed forward was traveling yesterday to have further tests. “We really don’t know,” Doc Rivers said after yesterday’s practice. “They’re still doing tests. I knew already he wasn’t going to be here. (Team president) Danny (Ainge) told me not to expect him for the next couple of days.” Ainge declined to specify the problem, citing doctor/patient privilege, and also declined to say whether the issue was a typical basketball-related condition, such as a knee or ankle problem. ... Green recently signed a one-year contract, based on the Celtics’ $5.6 million qualifying offer. Ainge refused to speculate whether Green’s condition could put that deal in peril. “We’re not even close to that yet,” he said.