First Cup: Friday

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Royce White said he will join the Rockets for practice Monday in Houston, citing the team’s blessing to travel to a large part of the season’s schedule by bus as part of his plan to manage his mental illness. The Rockets, he said, were willing to put their agreement in writing and to even have it included in his contract, but because contracts are subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it could be a long process to gain approval from the NBA and the NBA Players Association for a unique addendum to the standard league contract. “We’ll go forward in a good faith deal between me and Rockets, and I’m totally comfortable with that,” said White, who has been absent from camp. “We can find a way to get it into writing at some point. We do have a letter between us. It’s an agreement, not in contract form, but those are technicalities. “What the Rockets are doing is astronomically appreciated by me and should be by the mental health community.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Critics have gone after Kevin Durant for years, each season claiming he needs to get stronger even in spite of his scoring prowess. It's been a justifiable critique seeing as how Durant easily gets pushed off his spot when fighting for position and frequently must drift well beyond the 3-point line to receive a clean entry pass. But Durant's body is changing. That much was evident when he walked across the court at the team's old training facility and into a small theater room where a crowd of media members waited. From his lower body, through his midsection on up to where it's as clear as ever — his upper body — Durant has bulked up. As with everything else that defines his skills, Durant isn't overly interested in discussing the matter. That he said as much as he did hints that he has indeed gotten stronger and is darn proud of it.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: When describing the Nuggets' defense last season, one is reminded of golfing great Ty Webb, who in "Caddyshack" consoled his struggling playing partner by explaining: "You're not, uh, you're not (pause), you're not good." But the Nuggets weren't, like, that bad — if you look at differential stats. Yes, Denver allowed the second-most points of any NBA team (allowing an average of 101.2 per game). But the differential stats show that Denver averaged 2.9 more points per game than its opponents (ninth-best in the NBA) and shot 1.96 percent better than its opponents (eighth-best). But coach George Karl believes the Nuggets' overall defense can improve, so he got himself a differential difference maker. "With Andre Iguodala, I think we have a stopper," Karl said of his new starting shooting guard, an all-star last season. "I don't think we're going to be statistically high in a lot of traditional defensive categories. But I think differential is the key for us — field-goal differential, points differential, turnover differential."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Forget Kobe vs. Shaq. The Lakers, who will retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey on April 2, have a new feud with O’Neal now that Dwight Howard is on the team. Howard had pointed comments Thursday when asked about O’Neal’s latest remarks about preferring the games of Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez as traditional centers over Howard. “I don’t care what Shaq says,” Howard said. “Shaq played the game; he’s done. He’s done. It’s time to move on. He hated the fact that when he played, the older guys were talking about him and how he played. And now he’s doing the exact same thing. Just let it go. There’s no sense for him to be talking trash to me. He did his thing in the league. He was one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. Sit back and relax. You did yours. Your time is up. So I don’t really care. He can say whatever he wants to say.”

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: When Omer Asik signed with the Houston Rockets and coach Tom Thibodeau talked about using Taj Gibson as a backup center, many assumed the Chicago Bulls would be playing small ball often this season. Thibodeau isn't among that group. "I like the fact we have several guys who can play multiple positions," Thibodeau said after Thursday's practice. "We don’t necessarily have to go small against people. We can go big." In fact, Thibodeau offered one situational lineup featuring Luol Deng at shooting guard, Vladimir Radmanovic at small forward, Gibson at power forward and Joakim Noah at center.

  • Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner: After his initial trepidation over John Wall's injury, Ted Leonsis was relieved to find out it would keep him out eight weeks instead of surgery that might have cost him the season. But Leonsis also tempered his assertion last spring that ending up in the NBA Draft Lottery again would be unacceptable. "We would all find it unacceptable if we finished with the second- or third-worst record in the NBA this year," Leonsis said. "That would be a failure, and the failure would start with me. I think we're much better positioned. I think we will get much better because our young players have now been seasoned." Like Wall, Leonsis is in his third season of changes and upgrades to strengthen the Wizards. He hopes to build a practice facility soon, and upgrades are being made to the locker room while the team is in Fairfax. Leonsis is most proud that Wall's status as the team's longest-tenured player is proof the roster has turned over completely since he took over as owner in 2010.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Gustavo Ayón, the third Mexico-born player in league history, offered a brief glimpse into his character after coach Jacque Vaughn said Ayón will start in the Magic's preseason opener Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. Ayón explained he wants to start only if he deserves it. … You can assume that no player inside Arena Ciudad de Mexico — not the Magic's Jameer Nelson, not even prized Hornets rookie Anthony Davis — will receive a louder ovation than Ayón on Sunday. Although the NBA has played a total of 19 preseason and regular-season games in Mexico, Ayón will become the first Mexican to play for an NBA team in the country. He grew up 460 miles outside of Mexico City. He has played for Mexico's national team. And he played professionally in Mexico for three seasons. The 6-foot-10 big man has something else going for him: He's a solid player. … Ayón will earn just $1.5 million this season, and the Magic hold a team option on him for next season. He couldn't ask for a more exciting start to his Magic career. Emotions will flood over him, both from the stands and from within. He expects 60 relatives to attend the exhibition. "We're going to play in Mexico, we're going to play in front of my country, we're going to play in front of my family," he said. The meaning of that is no mystery.

  • Kyle Veazey of The Commercial-Appeal: Robert Pera's list of headlining partners in his bid to own the Grizzlies continues to grow. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his wife, Ashley, a former Memphian, and Memphis basketball legend Penny Hardaway have agreed to become limited partners in Pera's ownership group, a source close to Pera said Thursday. Pera, whose purchase of the team from Michael Heisley is being vetted by the NBA, has assembled a group with star power and local ties, including recent additions such as pop star and actor Justin Timberlake and former congressman Harold Ford Jr. The group also includes AutoZone founder J.R. "Pitt" Hyde and financier Staley Cates, who were limited partners under Heisley. Edward Dobbs, Duncan Williams and Billy Orgel also have agreed to be local partners. Former U of M basketball star Elliot Perry has also agreed to be a partner, the source said. Perry is a limited partner in Heisley's group, too.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Watching Andre Rison brag about the fleet of sports cars he once owned during ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 opus, “Broke,” it was difficult not to think about Spurs forward Matt Bonner. Eschewing the stereotypical purchase of a SUV or tricked-out whip — the same kind of expenditure that has left scores of athletes, including Rison, bankrupt — Bonner settled for a more practical choice upon signing his first long-term contract in 2006: A white Pontiac Grand Prix. “When it comes to cars,” Bonner said at the time, “there are two things that equal satisfaction. No. 1, leg room. No. 2, gas mileage.” Contrast that to Rison’s philosophy: “How much is this one? It doesn’t matter, just get it.” As you’d expect from the down-to-Earth Bonner, he still has the same ride after 80,000 miles. “I just got a tune-up over at Freedom Chevrolet — hopefully that gets me a commercial or something — but they said it’s good for another 60-90,000 miles,” Bonner said. “I’ve gotten my money’s worth.”

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Samardo Samuels recently spent some time in his native Jamaica with Olympic champion sprinter -- and national hero -- Usain Bolt. The two grew up not far from each other, although Samuels said he was never overly impressed with Bolt as a youngster. "In high school track and field meets, everyone would gather at his high school to watch him run," Samuels said. "I didn't think Usain Bolt would be one of the fastest men in the world. … He's big. He came and played basketball with us a few times. He wasn't that good."

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Traditionally the glue guy on a basketball team is one of those older souls who comes off the bench and does the unheralded work. The last time the Raptors franchise enjoyed any real success in the standings, it was Spaniard Jorge Garbajosa filing that role. Garbajosa earned that role with his consistency. He consistently set good, tough screens for teammates to free them up. He consistently put the ball in exactly the right pair of hands to get off the right shot. If anything his value is best summed up by what has happened to the Raptors since he left. With him in 2006/07 they made the playoffs. Garbajosa was hurt for most of 2007/08 but he was still around and they made the playoffs again that year. They haven’t been back since. … In Landry Fields, the Raptors may have found someone who could be that Garbajosa-like player. The ‘glue guy’ term is one Fields, even in his rookie year was hearing. And he has his own definition of that kind of player.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: When it comes to finances, Draymond Green is the converse of many NBA rookies. He ate small meals during the Las Vegas Summer League, so he could pocket some of his per diem. He does his grocery shopping at the Pak 'N' Save, because he has yet to find a Walmart. Last month, he set out on a trek to see the Golden Gate Bridge up close and personal for the first time. He said it was a great life experience, but he couldn't help thinking about the price of gas and paying two tolls during the drive. "I've been pretty broke my entire life," Green said. "I'm not going to live that same life, but I'm going to keep those same principles."