First Cup: Thursday

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The debate can rage about who should guard who and who should start and finish games and the intricacies of the defensive schemes employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in the NBA final. But the undercurrent of the series — and the playoffs as a whole — has been the sartorial splendour of the players and while fans and experts can dissect, say, Russell Westbook’s game forever, isn’t it really all about what he wears to the podium? “I just got a style of my own,” said the 22-year-old Thunder point guard, whose eclectic fashion sense has been all the rage. “And I’m going to keep it that way.” Maybe the best description might be “geek chic” and there was Westbrook on Wednesday, a day after a spectacular debut in the best-of-seven championship series, chatting about his “look.” Yes, we may be approaching the dog days of a series that’s only two days old.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Time for all of those perceived magical intangibles to come to bear for Miami in Game 2 on Thursday night versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. See, for the first time in two years, somebody else might have more talent. For the first time in the Big 3 era, the Heat is a series underdog and rightly — all the more after losing Game 1. And for the first time in this MVP season of his, there is serious debate whether LeBron James is the best player on the court. You know what OKC looked like in Tuesday night’s Finals opener? Like it was better than Miami, bluntly put. Like that second half and that result were no fluke. You know what it looks like now? Like this next game, realistically, is all but a must-win for the Heat. And as usual Spoelstra is in the middle of everything, fiddling with his lineups, bench rotations, minute allotments, defensive matchups, game plans, everything. You get the sense nothing about this Heat team — beyond LeBron — is set or consistent. A lot of hoping and tinkering still is going on for a team in the Finals, and it has been thus throughout the playoffs. (Anybody remember Dexter Pittman starting one game at center and not being heard from since?) Some of this was set in motion by Chris Bosh’s injury, but not all of it. Much of it is just because this shiny, noisy, expensive thing that Pat Riley assembled is an imperfect machine.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: It seems a part of it is becoming a game of possum. After spending the second and third quarters setting up teammates and focusing on defense and rebounding, Durant came alive in the final period, scoring 17 of his game-high 36 points to lead the Thunder to a 105-94 victory. It was the eighth time this seasonthat Durant has scored at least 15 points in a fourth quarter. And there's a theme that has emerged in those contests: in five of those games, Durant had attempted 15 shots or fewer through three quarters. Tuesday, he had attempted 10. “I just know it's going to come back around,” Durant said when asked about his mindset during those dry spells. All season, the Thunder has been at its best when everyone is involved. Sure, Durant's scoring skills have carried the team, but it hasn't been the result of a one-dimensional attack. With fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook and reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, the Thunder has two other options that can be equally deadly. But only when less-heralded offensive players such as Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison are threats is when OKC has been truly unstoppable. That's what turned the tide for the Thunder in Game 1, and it's what figures to continue to be a key as the championship series rolls along.

  • Kirkland Crawford of the Detroit Free Press: With the 20th anniversary of Dream Team and the documentary that debuted Wednesday night, the lasting question remains how Pistons great Isiah Thomas got snubbed from the team? Well, the documentary covers that. More or less, most of the players, including Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, didn't want their big rival to join them in Barcelona. Not even Thomas' longtime coach, Chuck Daly, who was holding the lead whistle for the Olympic squad, could save Thomas. Just about everyone has talked about Thomas and the Olympic team except for Thomas himself. Until now. Here's Thomas' statement that he posted on the Internet Wednesday night: "Today, like all Americans, I congratulate the Dream Team on their anniversary. I am proud of my career in the NBA and have fond memories of going head to head with all the members of the Team. I can't speak to the selection process as I wasn't involved. But 20 years later, their gold medal is still a momentous achievement."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: It hasn't previously been acknowledged, but Kobe Bryant did have his private season-ending exit meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak – a week and a half after all the other players' meetings. Bryant and Kupchak got together for a Sunday breakfast meeting – the very day after Kobe's Disneyland jaunt with Vanessa – to huddle on how to get that next championship amid the economic realities facing the Lakers under the new collective bargaining agreement. Lakers vice president Jim Buss, who was around the office that first day of player exit meetings in late May but did not sit in with Kupchak and head coach Mike Brown for any of those meetings, did not join Bryant and Kupchak either. Brown also did not attend the June 3 meeting between Bryant and Kupchak. But one thing the Lakers do figure to have moving forward is better on-court strategy and execution with a longer training camp and more practice time to put Phil Jackson's era behind them.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Dwight Howard's annual basketball summer day camp at UCF for boys and girls has been postponed, and it's unclear when, or if, it will be rescheduled. People close to Howard say that Howard continues to rehabilitate his back in Southern California from April 20 surgery to repair a herniated disk. Howard was scheduled to be on site the entire camp. But the postponement of the camp will raise speculation that Howard will seek a trade from the Orlando Magic. Howard is under contract with the Magic through the 2012-13 season. The camp originally was scheduled for July 1-2 with a morning session for kids ages 7-11 and an afternoon session for kids ages 12-18.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: The Charlotte front office is an interesting dynamic. The elephant in the room is Jordan. You may remember him as a player. As an executive, he has been somewhat less successful. Jordan became minority owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and ran the club's basketball operations through 2010, when he became majority owner. Since then, he turned basketball ops over to Higgins, who had served as GM since 2007. Higgins and Cho share front-office duties. Though he is too modest to admit it, Cho is the point man on virtually everything, including the draft, free agency, putting together a summer-league team and the hiring of a coach. "Rod has been wonderful to work with," Cho says. "We complement each other really well. He has a smart basketball mind." Cho is mindful of not trying to take credit for Charlotte's front-office decisions. He wants everyone working toward a common goal. "It was a team effort in OKC," he says. "One of the things Sam always preached -- and I really believe in, too -- is teamwork. That's something I've instilled here with the Bobcats." Jordan has backed away from day-to-day responsibilities, and gives Cho autonomy to make decisions. "It's been terrific to work with Michael," he says. "He is very supportive. He has taken a step back, but we always keep him informed. When he is in town, we always talk."

  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: The Charlotte Bobcats have narrowed their coaching search to three candidates – Jerry Sloan, Quin Snyder and Brian Shaw. If I’m the Bobcats, I end the search and hire Shaw. If they don’t, somebody else – probably Orlando – will. Orlando has to hire a general manager first, so the Bobcats have a head start. Charlotte shouldn’t hire Shaw because it’s afraid that it will lose him. Charlotte should hire Shaw because he’s the best candidate for the job. I like Sloan. I liked him as a player and I don’t care that he’s 70. Comparing him to former Charlotte coach Larry Brown, simply because they are old, makes no sense. Based on his unceasing and public criticism of his players, Brown did not want to coach the Bobcats. Sloan does. Snyder might be a fine head coach, but how would anybody know? The last time the Bobcats attempted the unconventional they hired Sam Vincent. The Vincent era, which lasted a season, was not successful.

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Maybe he [Rod Thorn] couldn't have done much more, given the Sixers' salary-cap situation and what was available at the trade deadline, but he damn sure couldn't have done much less. In any case, the ownership team and the other important members of the basketball operation - a list that doesn't extend far past Collins - felt it was time for a fresh approach. The team is interviewing possible replacements, with Thorn taking part in the interview process as he heads toward a consulting role that probably won't include much consulting. It is a generous parting and reflects respect for Thorn, who is one of the nicest guys in the game. It also leaves no doubt, however, that the days of passive management are over. The new general manager or president, or whatever they choose to call him, will be the fourth person to sit in that chair in five years. Billy King was replaced by Ed Stefanski in 2007, and Thorn was brought in by Ed Snider to oversee things in 2010. Two seasons and one ownership change later, the wheel spins again. By all indications, it will spin quickly this time. If this were not going to be a busy offseason filled with upheaval, the management change wouldn't take place now. Although team sources are saying that it could take as much as a year to get the new guy in place and that Thorn will be in charge until that happens, don't believe it. That's just another way to make the transition appear gentler and less like the vote of no-confidence that it actually is. The new general manager will be here and he will be here very soon.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird and owner Herb Simon won't meet until next week to address Bird's future. The two had hoped to meet this week so that they could try to reach a new agreement on Bird remaining as president. Bird wants to talk to Simon about replacing current general manager David Morway with Kevin Pritchard, who is currently the team's director of player personnel. Bird likes Pritchard's basketball knowledge. Pritchard is a former general manager in Portland.

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: Any downgrade in pressure potential draftees thought they might have working out for a team with no head coach in place was quickly halted when a reasonably important figure in the Trail Blazers organization showed up Wednesday: team owner Paul Allen. Always known as a hands-on owner who looks forward to the draft with great anticipation, Allen sat next to Blazers general manager Neil Olshey and watched prospects participate in pre-draft workouts. He then spoke with reporters for the first time since mid-December. Among the questions fired Allen's way pertained to constant speculation that he plans on selling the franchise, a position Allen has repeatedly denied and continued to do so Wednesday. "I don't know where that would come from. I don't understand it," Allen said. "I'm the person that knows, and I know the answer, and I've stated the answer multiple times that the team's not for sale. So it's mysterious. There are mysterious figures lurking in the background whistling things, but who are they? Only a few people know." He also commented on the Blazers' coaching search, saying that Portland is looking for "somebody that brings a lot of positive energy," can "develop young players and bring them along," and that the team "really wants to match the coach with the players we have." What roster additions await the Blazers remain to be seen, and neither Allen nor Olshey would go into detail about any specific player.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: It remains unclear if the Wizards will have the opportunity to draft Thomas Robinson when they’re on the clock. The New Orleans Hornets own the top overall selection and are reportedly set to pick Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, although Robinson has said he feels he’s the better player. Charlotte could use the second pick on Robinson, but it also could go with Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Florida’s Bradley Beal. The Wizards clearly are comfortable with Robinson on the court and with his character and maturity off of it. His life experience includes handling a series of tragedies with the deaths of his mother, grandmother and grandfather during a one-month span from December 2010 through January 2011. ... “I’ll be happy to go wherever I get selected,” Robinson said, “but you know it would be a nice thing to come back. It’s a challenge that I want to take on. I think if I want to get to the top of this league, to take on a challenge, to come to this team and to help them get over that hump, then I defintely could be considered one of those players.”

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The Milwaukee Bucks’ quest for a big man resumes Thursday. The Bucks, who have been in the market for a center since trading Andrew Bogut to Golden State in March, will be working out several centers at their training facility in St. Francis. One of them is Tyler Zeller of North Carolina who, according to several NBA officials, is on the Bucks’ short list of candidates for their first-round pick, the 12th overall. ... Zeller, who is 6 feet, 11½ inches and weighs 247 pounds, and Illinois’ Meyers Leonard — the tallest player in the draft at 6-11¾ — are generally regarded as the Bucks’ top two draft prospects. Bucks officials will also be checking out another potential first-round center Thursday in Fab Melo of Syracuse, along with Kyle O’Quinn of Norfolk State, who is likely to be available when the Bucks make their second-round selection. Besides Leonard and Zeller, the Bucks have apparently zeroed in on North Carolina power forward John Henson, Baylor power forward Perry Jones and Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross for their top pick. Henson, Jones and Ross are expected to work out for the Bucks next week.

  • Robert Channick and Corilyn Shropshire of the Chicago Tribune: The United Center is known as the house that Jordan built, but for nearly three decades Deerfield has been home base for the Chicago Bulls. That is about to change. Like many affluent suburbanites at a certain time, the Bulls are putting a "for sale" sign on their comfortable north suburban digs and moving to the city. That's where the team plans to open a new practice and basketball operations facility. The draw reflects economics, culture and a desire to end grueling game-day commutes for players from their current practice site, the Berto Center. The significance is greater than a new ZIP code. The planned move, announced by the team Wednesday, could help fuel the continued gentrification of the Near West Side, change a prominent dynamic in the real estate market for North Shore mansions where many players have lived and boost street cred for the city emblazoned on Bulls uniforms as a place to live and work.