First Cup: Thursday

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: General Manager Dell Demps said losing Paul, who rebuffed the team’s five-year, $100 million offer of a contract extension last week, was bittersweet. “We wish Chris the best, and he will be dearly missed,” Demps said. “…I think this transaction here gives the team a long-term foundation. We’ve got some exciting young players in the program that will be developed and we have the opportunity to add more.”

  • Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times: All right, NBA. What have you done with Donald Sterling? As Los Angeles sports fans, we have a right to the security and comfort of the known. Death, taxes and Clippers incompetence are the axioms by which we live. Pretty soon, somebody will tell us that the Angels have Albert Pujols and the Dodgers' most important player is a hard-hitting bankruptcy judge. Nah, couldn't happen. The Clippers have completed a deal that brings Chris Paul into their backcourt. This guy isn't just a point guard. He is point perfect. The position was invented for him. There was some guy named Cousy and now CP3. Even his nickname is cool. It sounds like something out of "Star Wars," and the Clippers' action this season might be just as colorful. It cannot be overstated what a huge moment this is for the Clippers. It's not that they have never had highlights. This is the team that once drafted Benoit Benjamin, who soon reacted to booing from the stands with the ever-memorable, "I don't give a [bleep] about the fans." ... Until now, this was a Clippers team with one superman who could leap tall buildings in a single bound — OK, mid-sized cars. But after Blake Griffin, there were lots of question marks. Now, even with steady-but-unspectacular Chris Kaman gone at center and superb shooter Eric Gordon gone at guard as part of the trade, the Clippers look tremendous. Yes, we'll say it. Almost better than the Lakers.

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: So here we sit, comparing the Clippers to the Lakers, and the Lakers are coming off as the losers. Whom do the Lakers have to match the unbridled enthusiasm attached to Blake Griffin's high-flying game? Kobe has been there and done it, but the new kid in town is fresh, and how goodwill he be with Paul feeding him the ball? The anticipation alone is thrilling. Cutting through Clippers euphoria, the Lakers probably still will win more games, but there's just no buzz about them. I don't know if it's true the Clippers had more to offer than the Lakers in trading for Paul, but right now it sure looks like the Clippers have more to offer fans looking to be entertained. Griffin and CP3 together. Yeah, go ahead and make the case you just can't wait for Metta World Whatever to put on a show or hear what handicap spot Andrew Bynum might park in next. ... It now it appears the only thing that can put the Lakers back on the map in this Clippers town is Howard. Someone might argue on a basketball level they don't need him as long as they have the Big Three in Kobe, Bynum and Gasol. But how do the Lakers regain their L.A. swagger when it appears Showtime this season will be presented by the Clippers?

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Ok, so having solidified the future of one small market franchise, let's see if Stern remains committed to keeping the Kings in Sacramento. Mayor Kevin Johnson meets with the Commissioner Friday in New York to discuss the status of financing for a new arena. That said, Stern did send an entire marketing crew to Sacramento last spring when the team returned for at least another season - the same group he dispatched to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He also is encouraged by ticket sales and the community's renewed passion for the franchise. It doesn't hurt that co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof emotionally have jumped back in, are spending money (as promised) to assemble an intriguing roster, and are closely involved in the daily marketing operations.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Watching from afar but with insight from his time in Orlando, Rockets guard Courtney Lee understood the frustration that Magic center Dwight Howard has had since the breakup of their Finals team. Howard has asked for a trade, though he later said there are conditions in which he would be open to remaining in Orlando, including greater say in roster moves. "I know from my experience talking with him he was very frustrated about it when I left," Lee said. "Not being involved and not having a say-so with the organization, he felt a little let down."

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: "It's unclear when or even if Baron Davis plays again this season, but it definitely won't be as a member of the Cavaliers. The club released the 32-year-old point guard Wednesday night through the amnesty clause, allowing it to clear $28 million of salary cap space over the next two seasons and put the offense in the hands of rookie Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers must still pay the sum to Davis, who likely is headed to free agency with a bulging disc in his back. The move places the Cavaliers roughly $7 million under the $58 million salary cap -- assuming they don't use a trade exception set to expire on Friday. That savings could become significant at the trade deadline, rumored to be March 15. ... Davis' widely-anticipated release came on the same day a second opinion revealed the bulging disc (L2-3). The two-time All-Star has a history of back and knee problems and it's believed he re-injured his back playing basketball during the labor impasse. He arrived at training camp on Friday, but complained of tightness during the first conditioning run. A league source said the ailment could sideline him up to three months. The injury, however, had no bearing on the Cavaliers' decision. They had been mulling the move since it became clear the amnesty clause would be in the new collective bargaining agreement.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Marc Gasol, 26, made official Wednesday his four-year, $57.7 million contract agreement with the Grizzlies. The 7-footer also made this clear: leaving Memphis this season was never an option. The Griz had a right to match any offer sheet Gasol might have received from another team. But Gasol said he never intended to sign an offer sheet with another suitor. His intention was always to get an acceptable long-term deal with the Griz or play this season with a $4.5 million qualifying offer and become a unrestricted free agent next summer. "I didn't see myself with another team," Gasol said. "I definitely thought I'd be here this year. There was a lot of talk but it didn't feel right."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Before a question about Derrick Rose working on his post game had finished, Thibodeau started smiling. "He had a great post-up (Wednesday)," Thibodeau said. "He called for the ball, looked like he knew what he was doing down there. "He did some of that last year. It wasn't real noticeable because it wasn't a primary option. But he has a nice little jump hook down there. He has his turnaround jump shot. He has to continue to work at it." Of course, placing Rose in the post means playing him off the ball. Will that be a consistent option? "You have to have that balance," Thibodeau said. "He's a great pick-and-roll player. He and Carlos (Boozer) play exceptionally well together. It's another option we can add to what we have. Post-up, elbow isolation, catch-and-shoot, pick-and-roll. Obviously, there's not much he can't do."

  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press: The Pistons have a true head coach, Lawrence Frank. Rip Hamilton is gone. Brandon Knight is here to help with the playmaking. If Stuckey is the star he thinks he is -- and the star the Pistons thought he would be -- he should thrive. The longer he waits, the more Frank will rely on Gordon and Knight as his backcourt. Stuckey should be the leading scorer on a surprisingly competitive team. He should excel at multiple positions, offensively and defensively, because he has the size, speed, quickness, strength and skills to do it. He should put together back-to-back great efforts, instead of coasting after good games, as he has done in the past. He should love Frank, because after the Kuester debacle, they all should love Frank, at least for a year. And when it's over, Stuckey should be a coveted -- and unrestricted -- free agent. Then he can get his superstar money. Stuckey has no leverage with the Pistons now; he has gone from the key piece of their rebuilding puzzle to just a piece. He has limited value in the marketplace. The only way to create demand for him is by helping his team win. I hope that one of these years, he realizes that.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: Sheesh, Jamal Crawford must have wanted a one-hour television special. You know, Jim Gray as host. ESPN shilling commercial spots. All that culminating with the NBA free agent announcing, "I'm taking my talents to Stumptown." Forgive me, but while we were waiting for Crawford to choose between free-agent offers from Portland and Sacramento, I lost interest. Was the guy waiting for some input and a call back from Ms. Turkoglu or what? Don't get me wrong. I like the move. Crawford is a nice guy by all accounts. Also, he can create his own shot. He can score. He's not interested in playing defense, but Crawford takes big shots and can finish quarters and games with the ball in his hands. And Portland could use a player like that. Still, Portland needs more than $10 million worth of improvements to alter the course of the franchise. But here was Crawford over the last couple of days, tweeting, teasing, soliciting input and torturing a couple of small-market fan bases. He's a terrific sixth man, but also, a flat-out diva. I'm pulling hard for Portland to land the guy. Not because he can play and will complement LaMarcus Aldridge. Rather, I'm thinking Nate McMillan is exactly what Crawford needs in his life. You know, no headbands. No cellular telephones. No fuss. Around here, it's Sarge in charge.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: So the big questions linger: Who will be the man for the Nuggets? Does anybody here really want to shoot the rock at crunchtime? Can Denver ever be regarded as a destination city for an NBA star craving a championship ring? "When you are in an environment like we are in Denver, I don't know how many of those highest-level caliber players are screaming that they want to come here," Denver general manager Masai Ujiri told me. All-star point guard Chris Paul? obviously doesn't regard Denver as a dream destination. Center Dwight Howard isn't walking through the doors at the Pepsi Center. Is Nene the best the Nuggets can do? If so, this team had better hope for pure dumb luck in the draft lottery to become a contender. Is it possible for Ujiri to halt the perception Denver is too snowy all winter for an NBA title to ever bloom in the spring? "Yes, it is possible," Ujiri said. "We have to create a team with a great culture, a great atmosphere, a great playing style and a great coach. I think that's going to be attractive to players. ... We can't just sit down and pout and say, 'Nobody wants to come to Denver.'?"

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: Since Jordan made the “deep in the playoffs” remark in October 2010, the team has changed coaches (Larry Brown to Paul Silas) and traded away its two best players (Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson). The Bobcats are going young this season, with two top-10 draft picks joining Gerald Henderson and D.J. Augustin. They will absorb losses by the dozen this season, and although Jordan won’t say it, I will: If these Bobcats make the playoffs, it will be an utter miracle. Still, it’s apparent Jordan has a plan. He wouldn’t say it like this, but ultimately to get better, the Bobcats are first going to have to get worse. Their ceiling with Jackson and Wallace at the forefront was never high enough to win a single playoff game. So Jordan is trying to do something different, and I commend him for that. He still believes he can fly. But he also now understands how difficult – although not impossible -- it is to build a pair of wings big enough to lift an entire franchise.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: There's no mention of the Indiana Pacers' newest addition on the latest roster sheet, no height, weight, college background or experience level. Because it's this: Expectations. We're not talking about the usual humble expectations that have accompanied the past few Pacers' seasons, the ones that come with about a half-dozen caveats, "Well, if Roy Hibbert does this, and Brandon Rush does that, and A.J. Price stays healthy, and Danny Granger has the best season of his career, then maybe, just maybe, they can make the playoffs through the back door." No. These are reasonable expectations, not products of blind hope or wishful thinking. The Pacers should not only make the playoffs this season, but should grab no lower than a fifth seed and even make a run at home court in the first round. They're not going to challenge Miami, Boston and probably Chicago in the Eastern Conference, but they can duke it out with Orlando, Atlanta, the Knicks and Philly (with other teams' hopes still to be determined by whom they add or lose). "Finish this sentence: The last time you had expectations for this team, it was what year?" I asked Jeff Foster. He jogged his memory, using The Brawl in the 2004-05 season as the guidepost. "Probably '05-06, when we had Ron (Artest), Jack (Stephen Jackson), Jermaine (O'Neal) and all those guys," he said. "Until that fell apart."

  • Ken Belson of The New York Times: Thanks to the N.B.A. lockout, the regular season is 20 percent shorter this season. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the players are taking a 12 percent pay cut. And fans who buy NBA League Pass, which lets them watch nearly every game on television, the Internet and their mobile phones, will pay at least 7 percent less. The only problem is that fans are unlikely to know they are saving that much because the Web site advertising the service, nba.com/leaguepass, does not mention any discount or, for that matter, any apology to fans for the inconvenience of missing 16 regular-season games. As a result, fans have taken to Twitter to accuse the league — mistakenly, it turns out, — of not discounting their service to offset the loss of 16 games. “I’d love to pay full price for 80% of this sandwich please,” wrote a person with the Twitter handle @pdxlex. Even if their anger was misplaced, the fact that fans took umbrage at what they perceived to be the league’s parsimony suggests that not everyone has forgiven the players and the owners for the lockout. It also suggests that the league may not be doing a good enough job publicizing its remorse, or its discounts.