First Cup: Thursday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Shock of all shocks — LeBron James is under fire. The latest round of criticism comes from an unexpected source: NHL players, who weren’t very sympathetic with the leg cramp that plagued him down the stretch of Miami’s victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday in Game 4 of the Finals. The best came from from Nashville Predators defender Scott Valentine, who tweeted the following: If Lebron somehow manages to pull off winning a ring after fighting through a thigh cramp.. it will be a story I tell my children’s children. James said Wednesday he should be fine for Thursday’s Game 5, when the Heat can finish off OKC for the first championship of his career.

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: The Lakers’ season has been over for a month, while Derek Fisher continues on with the Thunder. Come Thursday, however, Fisher probably will end up in the same place as his former team did in 2011-12 — title-less. As opposed to, of course, Titleist. The Lakers are about to enter a summer of transition, changes that could be significant or subtle. They could move Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol or simply tweak a roster that desperately lacks athletic ability and youthful energy. (At least compared to the two teams playing for the NBA championship.) What, though, is ahead for Fisher, a long-time Laker fan favorite who finds himself trying to wring dry a body that will turn 38 in August? Fisher will be a free agent this summer, and his playoff performance with Oklahoma City has been decent at times but hardly eye-popping. In Game 4 of the Finals, he was scoreless in 22 minutes and also had zero assists. In fact, in 99 minutes against the Heat in this series, Fisher, incredibly, has only one assist. He has scored 17 points. There figures to be a market for a veteran backup point guard with five NBA titles. That market, however, will not a lively one.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Why did the team pick Rob Hennigan? Let’s put aside his intelligence and his work ethic for a second. He’s smart and he works hard, but so do the other candidates who were considered. What’s clear is that the Magic have seen how the small-market San Antonio Spurs and the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder have built their teams, and the Magic want to replicate that model.The Magic have tried to construct their roster mostly through free-agent signings and blockbuster trades, and the result has been a bloated, inefficient payroll. Instead, the Magic want to construct their roster through the draft and through savvy trades, as the Spurs and the Thunder have done. Hennigan successfully communicated this vision and a plan to implement that vision in his interviews with CEO Alex Martins and the DeVos family. “When we began this process, we clearly stated we had several primary goals in our attempt to identify a new general manager, starting with an individual that had operated within a championship organization,” Martins told the Orlando Sentinel. “Secondly, [we wanted] someone who had a strategic focus and had the ability to develop a long-term strategic personnel plan for sustainability for success. And we believe we’ve found the individual who fits that profile perfectly in Rob Hennigan."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards face a crucial decision for the future of the franchise next week, when they will choose the third overall pick in the NBA draft and potentially find a building block and running mate for 2010 No. 1 overall pick John Wall. But Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said their plans for the selection would not be changed by the team’s move on Wednesday to acquire veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza for Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick in the June 28 draft. “It doesn’t affect the draft at all,” Grunfeld said. The Wizards auditioned Kansas junior power forward Thomas Robinson, Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal, Kentucky swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes and Connecticut big man Andre Drummond for the No. 3 pick. With the recent addition of size, the Wizards would appear more likely to address their needs for perimeter shooting and scoring help in the draft. Either way, Grunfeld said the organization would be patient with the draft selection. “I think we’re going to get a player that’s going to be with us for quite some time,” he said. “I don’t think we’re depending on a rookie to come in and play 40 minutes a night for us, either.”

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: With center Chris Kaman set to become a free agent July 1 and unlikely to re-sign with the Hornets, power forward Jason Smith is the only player on the roster who has played any significant time at center. The Hornets traded Okafor and forward Trevor Ariza to Washington in exchange for forward Rashard Lewis and the 46th overall pick in the second round of the draft. Zeller worked out for the Hornets on June 4 and is considered a safe pick because he can run the floor and rebound and has developed a go-to hook shot. He is the only projected lottery pick that stayed in school all four years. Coach Monty Williams has expressed the need for more length since the Hornets were overmatched by the Lakers’ size in the first round of the 2011 playoffs when they were eliminated in six games.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Five minutes into his tenure as Charlotte Bobcats coach, Mike Dunlap handed out fair warning: His players better show up for training camp in superb shape. Dunlap plans to run this team hard, in part because they need an up-tempo style to find some easy baskets. Dunlap’s predecessor, Paul Silas, had similar objectives, but never quite got the Bobcats there in a calamitous 7-59 season. Dunlap promised “different-type practices – very up-tempo,’’ at an introductory news conference at Time Warner Cable Arena. ... Of the 10 candidates the Bobcats interviewed, Dunlap had the least NBA experience. What put him over the top? “We have a plan and a strategy, and to get to the next step, you need a teacher,’’ team vice chairman Curtis Polk told the Observer. “This guy is going to be able to relate to young guys, and we’ll continue to be young. This is the guy to put that structure, that culture, in place and get the guys to buy into it. He will be a mentor.’’ Dunlap said he understands there will be doubters, and that’s fine. He has the capacity to laugh at himself, as when he mentioned, “I’m stealing (ideas) all the time. I haven’t had an original thought since I was born.’’

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Calling the rehab process "a tough road," Chauncey Billups made it clear he's ahead of schedule and expects to be ready when NBA training camps open in October. ... Billups didn't rule out a return to the Clippers, but is clearly eager to see what awaits him when the free-agency period starts in July. ... And though his heart is in Denver, there will be no return to the Nuggets, a team that has traded him twice already in his career. "I'll say this: Me and (team president) Josh (Kroenke) are cool," Billups said. "I'm good with everybody. But I can't see me, basketball-wise, playing in Denver again. What do you want me to do? They traded me two times."

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: It was previously believed that the Wizards would not let Kidd-Gilchrist fall past them at No. 3. The addition of Ariza might or might not change that, depending on whether you believe Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld. Asked Wednesday after the trade how it impacts the top of the Wizards’ draft board, he responded, “Not at all.” Regardless, Kidd-Gilchrist was in Cleveland on Wednesday (along with Andre Drummond) for his official workout with the Cavaliers. He certainly was familiar with the area after spending about a month here after the college basketball season working out at various gyms across the area. He was brought to town initially by Rich Paul, who lives in the Cleveland area and represents Kidd-Gilchrist as part of Creative Artists Agency. If the Wizards are happy with Ariza and use their No. 3 pick to fill their hole at shooting guard with Bradley Beal, it could leave the Cavaliers to choose from a collection of players that includes Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond and Kidd-Gilchrist. Prior to the start of the combine, it was believed Kidd-Gilchrist was the second player on the Cavs’ board behind Anthony Davis. Having the second player on their board fall to them at No. 4 would be a boon, but whether he remains No. 2 by the time the final board is set remains to be seen.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: I was told that Neil Olshey was slick. That he'd call me by my first name, make small talk and win me over, and that he knew how to draw people around him close and make everyone feel important. And to this I say: It's about time we had a guy like that around here. Now, I think we're about to learn how well Olshey can actually perform his job. The report from those who observed the Trail Blazers general manager in his last gig with the Los Angeles Clippers was encouraging, but not without criticism. Some felt Olshey never stopped selling them. Others say he benefited greatly from simply having been present when the NBA dumped Chris Paul in his lap. But if we're going to be fair to the guy charged with improving the Blazers, the only way to judge him is to see how good the Blazers end up after he gets to work. The high-wire act of Olshey's lifetime begins next week with the NBA draft. ... I was told Olshey was slick. He was smooth enough to navigate the interview process and get the job. He calls Allen "Paul." I suspect everyone in that draft room on Thursday will feel as though they're important. Not a thing wrong with that as long as they put him in charge.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Late Pistons scout Will Robinson liked to separate potential draftees into two categories: "Prospects" and "suspects." On paper, Monday seems like a big day for the Pistons in respect to next week's draft. Six players hoping to be the team's selection at No. 9 will be at Auburn Hills for a workout. The North Carolina duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson, Kentucky's Terrence Jones, Baylor's Perry Jones III, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Illinois' Meyers Leonard will be in town. And how the six go against each another could set the tone for the back half of the lottery. According to projections, at least five of those players should be available at No. 9 for the Pistons. But there's something important to ask, given Detroit's history and the league in itself: How important are these workouts? ... It plays a part, a piece to a larger puzzle that relies on how a player interviews, what officials hear from coaches and most importantly, how he played in college. The last two first-round picks for the Pistons, Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe, never visited Detroit before the draft. They were, however, interviewed at the combine.

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: So Robert Pera's bid to buy the Grizzlies is already falling apart. Or not. And Pera is suddenly worth only $200 million. Or not. And a group of local investors has rushed in with a new offer to buy the team. Or not. It's going to be a long summer of swatting down rumors, isn't it? This is what happens when an NBA team is being sold. This is especially what happens when the team is being sold by a guy who previously tried to sell the team to Christian Laettner, and is being sold to a guy who has the public profile of Keyser Soze. ... After more than a decade of NBA basketball, there's a deep understanding of what the Grizzlies have come to mean to Memphis. Mike Glenn, the FedEx executive, recently told me that Grizzlies playoff games "are Memphis at its absolute best." So, no, it's not ideal that another out-of-town owner may soon own the team. But it doesn't have to be a disaster, either. Local commitment is what brought the Grizzlies to Memphis in the first place, and it may ultimately keep them here.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Knicks guard J.R. Smith is disputing he missed 80 practices with his Chinese team — virtually all of them — in a lawsuit filed with FIBA to recoup the $1,078,500 withheld from his salary. In the complaint obtained by The Post, a four-page list of other alleged transgressions depict a player who had blatant disregard for the Zhejiang Chouzhou rules during his short tenure. Smith did not attend a series of pregame team meetings and took trips to Shanghai, Bejing and the United Kingdom during practice days without telling the club. Every missed practice was denoted by date from Oct. 25, 2011-Feb. 15, 2012. The Chinese team also alleged it requested Smith’s sister Stephanie be sent home to the U.S., claiming she was “abusive’’ and “the root’’ of Smith missing virtually every practice because she had him take her shopping. (Stephanie reportedly choked a Chinese fan during a game). The case will be ruled upon in the coming weeks by a FIBA arbitrator in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • John Connolly for the Boston Herald: When Robert Parish steps up to the podium for his induction into the Sports Museum’s Tradition of distinguished athletes next Wednesday night at the Garden, a fitting accompaniment would be the playing of “Hail to the Chief.” Parish, long a favorite among Celtics [team stats] basketball fans, was named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996 and occupies a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame (2003), but the lanky 7-footer will always be associated with his membership among the vaunted “Big Three” of Celtics lore, alongside frontcourt mates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. “For me, what stands out during my days in Boston were my teammates, especially Larry (Bird), Kevin (McHale) and Dennis Johnson,” Parish said recently. “They always had great respect for the game and they never rested on their accomplishments. In their premier years, they always got better. They never took a day off, whether it was practice or in the game.”

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "Nice take," Jonas Jerebko yelled Wednesday morning at Rochester Adams High as he jogged with a referee's whistle dangling from his neck. He officiated a pickup game at his first basketball camp, which concludes today. When it's over, campers will be able to marvel at an NBA player's event where the host was there every second of the camp, which began Monday. Jerebko, entering his fourth season with the Pistons, wouldn't have it any other way. "It's my camp, so I'm supposed to be here so the kids can see me, because it's my camp," Jerebko said after posing for pictures at the conclusion of the day's drills. "I don't see why you would do a camp and show up on the last day. "That's not how I do stuff. If it's my camp, it's going to be run right, and that's what we're doing. And the kids are having fun, and I'm having fun, so it's all good." Kids from all over the Detroit metro area participated, and it was clear Jerebko, 25, enjoyed the interactions with them.