First Cup: Monday

  • Darnell Maybery of The Oklahoman: For all the hype surrounding the revamped Los Angeles Lakers, and all the talk about how the Western Conference no longer goes through Oklahoma City, it might come as a shock that it's not the Lakers that should command the Thunder's attention out of the gate. It shouldn't if you've been paying attention. With training camp now one week away, the Northwest Division looks like it will be the stoutest of all this season. And while none of the Thunder's four division rivals will be as sexy as the Thunder-Lakers matchups on paper, they'll certainly carry more combined meaning in the won-loss column. The Thunder will face Denver, Minnesota, Portland and Utah four times apiece this year now that the league is returning to a customary 82-game schedule. That's 16 games — or essentially 20 percent of the schedule — against teams that contend for playoff berths in the top heavy Western Conference. That's enough to bring meaning to divisional play in a league in which many have deemed it largely irrelevant.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki has some encouraging words for Mavericks fans who might be, at best, unenthusiastic about the team going into the season and, at worst, downright jaded. First, he’s not the least bit disheartened by the moves — or lack of marquee moves — the Mavericks made this summer. In fact, he’s encouraged about the possibilities with training camp opening this week. Second, and more important, Nowitzki feels wonderful physically. His right knee that gave him such trouble during the first half of the shortened season in 2011-12 no longer is a concern to him. That’s huge. “I tried to keep in shape all summer long so that it would not be hard to pick up my usual training routine,” Nowitzki said in an email interview. “I feel great. My knees feel fine, and that’s important. I am ready to go.” Nowitzki has been working out extensively in Germany with his friend and mentor, Holger Geschwindner.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Kendrick Le'Dale Perkins is a menacing guy. One scowl might be enough to scare Harden into signing, but evidently Perk doesn't anticipate the need for a stare-down. ... Peer pressure can be a powerful tool, intentional or not. Perkins believes Harden's decision might be swayed when he re-enters the Thunder practice facility this week and exchanges playful banter with the group that finished one step shy of becoming NBA champs last season, when he rekindles those morning shooting competitions against fellow guards Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor and Daequan Cook, when he feels the comfort of being surrounded by young, talented teammates with a limitless future. All this must happen naturally. There will be no intervention. Teammates will not confront Harden and guilt him into staying. It doesn't work that way among pro athletes, who are extremely respectful of each other when it comes to contract talks. Thunder players want what Harden wants, and they will respect his decision whether he stays or goes.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday The Knicks are considering signing former All-Star big man Rasheed Wallace, league sources said. Wallace, 38, hasn't played in the NBA since the 2009-10 season. But multiple sources said Wallace worked out at the Knicks' practice facility last week and is considering a return to the NBA . He has a good relationship with Knicks coach Mike Woodson , who was an assistant with Detroit when Wallace helped the Pistons win the 2004 NBA championship. ESPN .com first reported Wallace had worked out for the Knicks. The Knicks are looking for a defensive-minded backup power forward/center.

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Tony DiLeo, who has been an assistant coach; head coach; and, most recently, senior vice president of basketball operations in his 22 years with the Sixers, will be introduced Monday at a news conference at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. ... On Monday, DiLeo will talk about his transition into the general manager's position and elaborate on his responsibilities moving forward. During the revamping of the team, which included the trading of Andre Iguodala and the acquisitions of center Andrew Bynum and shooting guard Jason Richardson, team officials have said that DiLeo was heavily involved in the process. When it became known that Thorn would not return as the team's general manager shortly after the Sixers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last spring, reports were that the Sixers would look to replace the old-school Thorn with a more analytical type. But Sixers owner Joshua Harris, who was hands-on in the draft and the other decisions the summer, was impressed with DiLeo's approach.

  • Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Since retiring a decade ago after 18 seasons, the native of Lagos, Nigeria had given a handful of these high-level clinics to rising and in some cases established stars. Kobe Bryant was the first, visiting in 2008 to work on his post moves after a Finals loss to the Celtics, then reeling off two more championships the following two years. “Kobe started all of this,” Olajuwon says. Dwight Howard visited two straight years, including the week before LeBron in 2011. This summer, it was Amare Stoudmire of the Knicks and a pair of Nuggets big men: JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried. Soon, as a favor to former Rockets teammate Mike Woodson, now coaching the Knicks, Olajuwon will pay a visit to Knicks training camp. However, when it came to LeBron, something was different than the others. There was almost a desperation to his visit. “He was so determined,” Olajuwon says, clenching a fist. “That’s number one. He was always saying, ‘I’m here.’ That pushes me. When somebody wants it so much and is so eager … wow. I was very happy because I knew I could help him.” The package of moves Olajuwon shares is tweaked for the particular skills of each NBA visitor. LeBron, he quickly surmised, had some of the same physical attributes of Howard, but no one in the modern game, maybe ever, can fully approximate what the Heat star brings to the table. That’s why they had to go beyond the norm in their sessions. “What I work on the most is the mentality,” Olajuwon says. “When you come here, we are not big men. We are not trailers. We are sports cars. Speed, quickness, agility.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies tend to put the hard in hardball given that their degree of difficulty the past two seasons was increased by major injuries. Memphis' roster changes were so subtle during the offseason that its competitive nature essentially rests on health. General manager Chris Wallace compensated for the loss of O.J. Mayo by betting that young guards Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington are ready to break out. But the Griz are mainly counting on this: All-Star forward Zach Randolph's return to form from a knee injury that rendered him ineffective last season and a healthy Darrell Arthur showing no ill effects following an Achilles injury. If the Grizzlies can again field a powerful and productive front line, they can be dangerous and difficult to deal with in the West. If Griz coach Lionel Hollins can count on his big men to get easy baskets, then the team can improve on its 20th-place finish in league scoring from last season.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of The Palm Beach Post: Mike Miller is mobile. That was the primary takeaway from his appearance at an event hosted by Dr. Randy Goldfarb at Bru’s Room in Deerfield Beach late last week. After a regular three-hours-per-day rehab regimen, he’s feeling quite a bit better than he did throughout last winter and spring. That means he’ll be available for training camp, though it won’t be surprising at all if the Heat adopts a “Dan Majerle” policy with him this season, where he practices sparingly and then dresses for games. Dwyane Wade is close. He’s made that apparent during a string of promotional appearances for his book, “A Father First,” and through tweets about his workouts. Norris Cole is nicked. Cole’s been held back during workouts due to a groin strain, but he’s expected to be ready to go by the time practices start for real.

  • Ryan Wolstate of the Toronto Sun: With training camp still a week away, prized Raptors prospect Jonas Valanciunas has injured his left foot. While the team said a full update likely wouldn't be coming until Monday, Valanciunas does not appear to be seriously injured, though he was photographed in a walking boot outside the ACC this weekend. Valanciunas, like most basketball players, has had minor ankle issues in the past and walking boots are known to speed up recovery from minor sprains and strains. He was not using crutches and was putting weight on the foot, both positive signs. The 6-foot-11 centre has been playing nearly non-stop since being selected by the Raptors fifth overall in the 2011 draft.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: The Pistons are bringing in another former lottery pick to training camp. Point guard Jonny Flynn, the sixth pick in the 2009 draft, will be with the team when camp begins next month, according to a source. Flynn, 23, has career averages of 9.2 points and 3.9 assists and spent last year in Houston and Portland, where he only played 29 games recovering from hip injuries that have plagued him in his career. He is a speedy, pass-first guard who isn't much of a scoring threat.

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: A little more than a week away from entering his third season with the Jazz, the most promising player on Utah’s roster not named Derrick Favors sounded more assured than ever Saturday during an autograph-signing appearance at a sporting goods store. Hayward, 22, declared he’s eyeing an All-Star selection and an eventual spot on the United States Olympic basketball squad. He wants to soak up minutes during the 2012-13 season, no longer content to live an unpredictable life as an NBA reserve or be relegated to the fifth option in Utah’s offense. The offseason additions of veteran shooting guard Randy Foye and small forward Marvin Williams only have made Hayward hungrier. A Jazz training camp that starts Oct. 2 should be the most competitive since Deron Williams joined the franchise, with three positions completely up for grabs. Hayward is still too polite and deferential to demand he must start when Utah tips off its regular season Oct. 31 at Dallas. But for the first time in his career, he’s on the verge of publicly demanding respect.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As news of Dean Cooper’s position as a Rockets assistant coach spread and he received words of congratulation, his brief text-message response said a great deal. “It’s great to be home.” Cooper began his coaching career with the Rockets before taking jobs with four different staffs on two other NBA teams. But in many ways, he never left. “This is going on my 14th year in the league, and 10 will have been here,” Cooper said. “Houston has been home since I moved here. I never moved when I worked for Minnesota or Portland. I kept my permanent house here." ... McHale was so comfortable with Cooper that when he replaced Wittman as head coach, he retained Cooper on his staff. When McHale was replaced in Minnesota, Cooper joined Nate McMillan’s staff in Portland and finished the season working with Kaleb Caneles. ... While the Trail Blazers were in the process of hiring Terry Stotts as head coach this summer, Cooper began talking to the Rockets. “When this opportunity opened up, he was one of the first guys I talked about,” McHale said. “Being around Coop, Coop’s got a good feel for a lot of stuff.”