First Cup: Friday

  • Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times: Dissenting voices of a proposal to build a new arena in the Sodo District designed to lure the NBA back were nowhere to be found at Occidental Park on Thursday. Instead, a two-hour rally organized by Chris Hansen, the lead financier behind the plan, served as an opportunity to remember the Sonics' history and fire up those hoping for the team's return. "Thank you, Chris," yelled a crowd estimated by Hansen's group at 6,000 — and by others at 2,000 to 3,000 — as Hansen took the stage to open the rally at 4 p.m. "This is why I'm doing this, right here," he said motioning to the crowd. For the next two hours, a steady stream of former Sonics took the stage, as well as politicians who support the proposal. The former Sonics included Gary Payton, Slick Watts, Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf. The politicians included King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell and King County Council member Bob Ferguson. Constantine told the crowd that the proposal is the best the area will ever get to bring back the NBA and possibly lure an NHL team.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: America’s Team is already taken, so it might be time to nominate the Heat as Adversity’s Team. Probably a better fit, anyway, considering the way most of America feels about Miami — and the way this team is using negativity as a springboard in these playoffs. Miami on Thursday night turned the NBA Finals back in its favor and gave itself a fighting chance to become the first team in league history to win a championship after trailing in (as LeBron James might put it) not one, not two, but three playoff series. The Heat offset an opening loss here in a dramatic, hang-on-for-dear-life 100-96 Game 2 triumph over Oklahoma City to level the series heading back to Miami for three consecutive games starting Sunday night. The Finals segues now from the Thunder dome to the bedlam of Bayside with Heat hopes immeasurably higher than just two days earlier. Miami could win its second franchise championship on the home wood with a sweep of the next three games, but, after the first two here, a bet on that likelihood might not be fiscally wise. ... The Heat has trailed in each of the past three playoff series and then won the next game. But hanging on to win Thursday night after what nearly was a monumental collapse — that might have amounted to the biggest adversity of all to survive.

  • Michael Sherman of The Oklahoman: The Thunder could use a new opening act. OKC fans' tradition of standing for the first basket lasted three minutes, but their basketball heroes stood around a while longer. Don't blame Russell Westbrook for the stagnant offense. Credit Miami for making it extremely tough to dribble, pass or shoot. Especially shoot.Oklahoma City missed 11 of its first 13 shots and 12 of 16. Of course, Durant swooped in late again, five fouls and all, and hit seven straight shots at one stretch. Even more impressive were two big steals in the lane to extend the game. But the breaks went Miami's way down the stretch, starting with those three critical bank shots — Battier really needed to call it on that 3-pointer. Wade's running banker going left was big, but LeBron's pullup banker at 1:26 was the biggest. It was his first field goal of the fourth quarter. Thunder fans may want to cry foul on Durant's potential game-tying 7-footer with 9.9 seconds left. KD missed with LeBron's forearm in his ribs. But neither Brooks nor Durant complained in the postgame news conference, and that's as it should be. It's bad form to fall behind 18-2 and then claim you got jobbed by the refs. In at least that way, it's nice to see Oklahoma City living up to its identity. Spoelstra and the Heat certainly reclaimed theirs.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: “On the last play, I figured they were going to go to him,” LeBron said. “He got a small step on me. I just wanted to try to keep a body on him, make him take a tough shot, and he's made tough shots all year, all series, and just that one he missed. KD is an unbelievable talent. I think we all know that. We all see that. He can make every shot on the floor. Just try to keep a body on him, take contested shots. He got away from me a couple times, got a couple of 3s that I am not too happy about.” But Durant didn't get away from LeBron when the Thunder needed it most. Durant had launched a game-winner against Dallas and two against the Lakers and had become the NBA's Mister Clutch. But King James trumped King Closer, and now we've got a series on our hands.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Alex Rodriguez feels badly for LeBron James. The New York Yankees slugger said Wednesday that he can relate to the national vitriol James has had to endure since joining the Heat. Rodriguez, who has dealt with plenty of bad publicity through the years, said on ESPN New York’s The Michael Kay Show that it’s “not fun being the villain.” “Sometimes I feel so bad for him,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like I feel his pain more than anybody.” Rodriguez said winning the World Series in 2009 helped his image, and he is hoping the same will happen for James. A friend of Heat owner Micky Arison and a Miami native, Rodriguez is pulling for the Heat to defeat the Thunder in the NBA Finals.

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: Fortitude upstairs at the end of games is the only thing missing from James’s repertoire. (Okay, a back-to-the-basket move — a go-to move that’s smooth and in the flow of the game, something that doesn’t resemble a rodeo bull angrily trying to buck its rider, would be nice, too.) If LeBron is on his way to conquering that, and he went a long way Thursday night, the Thunder has a much tougher road ahead than imagined. Durant finished with 32 points, coming on strong at the end again despite being in foul trouble for much of the game. But LeBron’s line — 32 points, eight rebounds, five assists and that 12-for-12 mark at the line — meant more. “When I shoot double-digit free throws, that means I know personally I’m being aggressive when I’m getting to the rim,” James said. “At the end of the day, it’s helping our team.” After all the K.D.-Can’t-Be-Stopped hype after Game 1, the MVP answered by seizing home-court advantage and overcoming his worst fears in the final seconds. Memo to everyone waiting for LeBron to fail: Touche. It’s now officially a series.

  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: Mavs center Brendan Haywood joined Ben & Skin on KESN-FM this week. Here are some highlights: On who the best player in the world is right now: “Kevin Durant. I’m riding and dying with Dirk Nowitzki, but if you say right now, what this guy has done -- and I love LeBron’s total floor game -- but when it comes down to your best player in those crunch moments and clutch moments, he has to come through. I’m not as critical of LeBron as other people have been, but when you see what Durant did against the Heat last game and what he did against the Spurs ... and he had three game winners in Oklahoma’s first seven playoff games. What he’s done as a superstar is tremendous and to step up big in those moments takes a lot.”

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: And then there were two … Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan pulled out of the mix for the Charlotte Bobcats head-coaching job Thursday, making it a two-man race between Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Quin Snyder. Both Shaw and Snyder had second interviews this week, to involve Bobcats owner Michael Jordan in the process. Jordan was involved with Sloan’s initial interview in Salt Lake City, but was not part of the discussion when Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins and general manager Rich Cho first interviewed Shaw and Snyder. There were no indications early Thursday night that Bobcats management had yet made a decision between Shaw and Snyder.

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Jameer Nelson got an extension from the NBA on Thursday and has until June 29 to make his decision: Does he opt-in for one final year where the Magic must pay him the handsome sum of nearly $8 million? Or does he opt-out for a longer deal elsewhere? Or perhaps, too, he could opt-out and the Magic could restructure his deal to give him less money next year but more years on his contract. "Who doesn't want a long-term deal?" Nelson says. "Everybody wants that security. … I love the Magic organization … but at the end of the day, I have to do what's best for me and my family." It doesn't seem so far-fetched now to think we have seen the last of both Dwight and Jameer in Magic uniforms. They came in together as first-round draft picks in 2004 and now they might go out together, too. Dwight has been the heart of the Magic for eight years; Jameer has been the soul.

  • John Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Who’s next? Kenny Smith? Or how about Ernie Johnson? Now that Charles Barkley is notifying folks via text that he’s interested in discussing the 76ers president/general manager job, why shouldn’t Smith and Johnson, the only two remaining members of TNT’s Inside The NBA crew not yet to have their names mentioned in connection with an NBA front office job, throw their names in the hat? Apologies to Craig Sager. Maybe next year. Barkley, the Emmy award winning broadcaster and former Sixers great, texted “Yes sir” in response to a text from 94WIP’s Anthony Gargano asking Barkley if he would be interested in being the team’s GM. ... From a marketing standpoint it would be great. Barkley is Hall of Famer and one of the five greatest players in the franchise’s history. Sixers coach Doug Collins has the team heading in the right direction and the front office loves him – he’ll probably be getting a contract extension very soon. But the biggest reason why this could never happen is that Barkley’s personality is just too large. He could never come back to Philly and be in the reduced role that it is believed the next general manager will assume here. Barkley wouldn’t take this job without full control, something he would never get. And if it’s true that Collins won a power struggle with Rod Thorn – which Thorn denies – there is no possible way Barkley comes in here and plays second fiddle to Collins or anyone else.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Neil Olshey on Thursday said he still doesn't get Portland. The Trail Blazers' new general manager, who grew up in Queens and worked the past decade in Los Angeles, says he understands the attention, intensity and passion of the Blazers fan base. But he says he can't figure out the negativity here, mostly within the media, about the upcoming draft, free agency and the impending coaching search, which he assures will be "exhaustive." He's been on the job all of 10 days and he says he feels like the media and some of the fan base want him to already have hired a coach, decided who he is going to draft with the Nos. 6 and 11 overall picks, and chart a course for free agency. I didn't feel the need to educate him on the fact that general manager is a bit of sticky subject around these parts, not that I could get a word in edgewise with the fast-talking, ever-confident Olshey. See, in Portland we've waited more than a year for a general manager to provide leadership and direction. And no NBA fan base has been tortured by the decisions of its general managers more than Portland, which has been haunted by draft-night passings on Michael Jordan, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant and a trade history that includes sending Moses Malone and Jermaine O'Neal away as they entered their prime. So yeah, we kind of want to get an idea where Olshey's mind is these days. On Thursday, I like the answer Olshey gave: He doesn't know.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Luol Deng will participate in Britain's Olympic training camp, which began Thursday with players arriving in Houston, where coach Chris Finch is an assistant for the Rockets. The team will spend close to three weeks in Texas, playing five exhibitions before flying to England in advance of the London Olympics. British basketball officials remain confident insurance for Deng, who has a torn ligament in his left wrist, will be secured. Deng consistently has maintained his plan to play in the Olympics despite the injury. He will make his decision on offseason surgery in August. Former Bull Ben Gordon, who was born in London and has played a cat-and-mouse game for years with British officials regarding international participation, was an early no-show at camp. Joakim Noah remains hopeful he can play for potential medalist France. But Noah still is rehabilitating the severely sprained left ankle he suffered May 4.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: This much is true — few promote this team like Pietrus. And despite Saturday’s elimination, he clearly feels one of his best chances at a ring resides with this team. “Part of chasing my goal is to win a championship,” he said. “I’m going to keep fighting for whoever I play for next year. I’m going to fight for the Celtics, and I’m going to work hard in the summertime. I want to win one before I’m gone.” Asked if the Celtics were his first choice, he said, “Of course. They work hard, play hard, and every day is about history. That’s what I was born for. I have to go home, try to relax and work hard in the summer, because I believe in my team.” Rivers clearly believes in Pietrus as well. Though the swingman never found a groove offensively in the postseason, his defense on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade contributed to the Celtics’ ability to last for seven games against Miami.

  • Richard Samdomir of Newsday: A federal judge Wednesday dismissed Cuttino Mobley’s lawsuit against Madison Square Garden for forcing him to retire from the Knicks in 2008, soon after being acquired, because of a heart condition. Deborah A. Batts, a federal district court judge in Manhattan, said that Mobley had not proven he could perform his job after he received a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle that can make the heart work harder to pump blood, from his doctors. Batts wrote that the Knicks did not have to accommodate Mobley by letting him play with a defibrillator implanted to shock his heart to life if it stopped. If the Knicks believed his condition “posed a direct threat to him,” Batts said, “they were not required to engage in the accommodation process.”

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Austin Rivers is either a really, really good salesman or he really, really wants to begin his NBA career in Toronto. With his freshman year at Duke behind him, the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers continued an abbreviated tour of potential NBA landing spots at the Air Canada Centre practice gym on Thursday. The combo guard — he can play either point guard or shooting guard but the Raps consider him right now to be more of the latter — made it abundantly clear that he considers Toronto among his top choices to call his name on draft night in just under two weeks. The key word there being “among.” Rivers said between himself, his father and his agent, the trio has scheduled just five workouts. Toronto was No. 2. He will also visit Washington, Portland and Cleveland. He has already been to New Orleans. ... Apparently the Raptors organization also has the blessing of his father. “This is one of the places he likes a lot too,” Austin said of his dad, Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: One great scenario for the Bucks on draft night would have 7-foot Tyler Zeller and 7-1 Meyers Leonard still on the board when the No. 12 pick rolls around. If that happens, Milwaukee would have its pick of center help to replace Andrew Bogut, traded to Golden State in the Monta Ellis deal in March. Bucks general manager John Hammond, coach Scott Skiles and the staff got a close look at Zeller, Leonard and Syracuse's Fab Melo in a four-center, two-guard workout Thursday at the Cousins Center. Zeller, the senior from North Carolina, is considered a lottery pick and possibly a top 10 selection. Leonard impressed teams at last week's NBA draft combine in Chicago and the sophomore from Illinois also may have moved himself into lottery position. It was the third time Zeller and Leonard have worked out together, after earlier sessions with New Orleans and Portland. "There's no doubt in my mind, I feel I had something to prove," Leonard said. "Over the last couple weeks with workouts and at the combine, I feel I have surprised some people." Leonard said he thought the Bucks were a realistic landing spot.

  • Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: We are less than one month away from the Dallas Mavericks beginning their official pursuit of Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams, but a fan has created this very nice site dedicated to recruiting D-Will. I say official because this pursuit unofficially began back in December when they gutted their title-winning roster. This very nice, and official looking, site has no direct affiliation with the Mavericks. The site's mission is: "Darin’ for Deron was created by Dallas Mavericks fans to convince free agent Deron Williams to come back home to Texas and sign with the Mavericks." My gut tells me a giant truck load of cash is going to trump a very well-intentioned website by passionate fans, but ... who knows? Can't hurt.