First Cup: Tuesday

  • Bruce Arthur of the National Post: The NBA is not about princes, though it has plenty of those. It is about kings, because kings make franchises. And kings don’t play in Milwaukee. But if the league feels titled towards its most attractive markets, consider this. Five different franchises have split the last six titles — San Antonio, Boston, the Lakers twice, Dallas and Miami — and six franchises have split the last eight. That’s a relatively arbitrary time frame, but it is the first time the NBA has seen that kind of championship diversity since the 1970s. From 1980 to 2005, just seven franchises — the Lakers, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Houston and San Antonio — took home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Which means that while this feels like the era of dominant markets and second-class citizens, the last six years have been a relative free-for-all. Wasn’t that fun? Now, it feels like the field has narrowed again.

  • Jennifer Palmer of The Oklahoman: After NBA player James Harden's trade to Houston, “The Beard” shirts moved from fan favorite to the clearance rack. The player, whose facial hair inspired outrageous displays of fandom, Facebook pages and, of course, countless T-shirts, left Oklahoma City on Sunday to play for the Rockets. The Thunder franchise brought in two new players — Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb — on the trade. So, Harden tees are now half off. “It's nostalgic, you could say. We had a great year,” said USA Screen Printing & Embroidery Co. general manager Lateria Allen. Items featuring Harden at the company's retail store at 3100 S Meridian Ave. were marked 50 percent off, including jerseys, T-shirts and a design that features Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Store officials contacted Adidas to ensure they wouldn't receive any more Harden gear and ordered shirts for the new players, which should be available in a couple of weeks.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the anticipation of a new season and excitement of a blockbuster trade, Rockets players considered the first practice with Harden, Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook to be especially energetic and said so far the transition has not been difficult. “(Adjusting to Harden)was easy because I think for him, it’s just making the right play,” guard Jeremy Lin said. “Any time you have that, it’s very simple. You can just come out, attack, attack, make the right play. The ball will find everybody.” It didn’t take long for Harden to demonstrate that. Impressing new teammates might not have been the goal, but it was accomplished. “You can see how good a player he is up close for a full practice,” forward Chandler Parsons said. “The things he could do with the basketball and how effortless … it is for him. You can definitely see it. There’s some guys that look uncomfortable, look like they’re working so hard for their buckets. With James, it just seems like it comes very easily.”

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It's about rings. And it's about Ray. The rings will come first Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, putting an exclamation point on last season and the Miami Heat's first Big Three championship with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Then the page will be turned when Ray Allen takes to the court in the color of the opposition in his first game since leaving the Boston Celtics in the offseason as a free agent. In other words, a banner season-opening night will be bigger than even the NBA championship banner that will rise shortly before Tuesday's 8:10 p.m. tip-off. "We'll honor and respect what we were able to accomplish before the game,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. And then? "We want to make sure," he said, "we play well in front of our fans and not ruin the night." For those who forget, the last time the Heat received rings it hardly was a banner night, a 108-66 loss to the Chicago Bulls sullying the start of the Heat's ill-fated 2006-07 championship defense. “I just remember that we got beat," Wade said following Monday's practice "I don't remember the game."

  • Bob Hohler of The Boston Globe: Somebody was bound to say it. Why not a Hall of Famer and Celtics champion who respects the franchise’s history as much as anyone? “I’m going to get in trouble for this,’’ said Nate “Tiny’’ Archibald, who helped a young Larry Bird win his first NBA title in 1981, “but if you look at all the great point guards who have worn the Celtics uniform, Rajon Rondo does more than any of us put together.’’ Whoa, Tiny. More than you? More than Hall of Famers K.C. Jones and Dennis Johnson? More than seven-time All-Star Jo Jo White? More than the greatest of them all, Hall of Famer Bob Cousy? The five of you won a combined 19 championship rings. And Rondo (one lone band of emeralds and diamonds) outranks you all? “He’s in a different category from the rest of us,” Archibald said after witnessing Rondo’s breakout performance last season. “He’s amazing.”

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The Dallas Mavericks are in a make-or-break season, but not because Dirk Nowitzki's championship window is nearing a close. The Mavericks are trying to lay a solid foundation while 13 of the 15 players on their roster potentially could become free agents next summer. They are searching for some stability less than two years after winning their only NBA championship, and a bunch of players are fighting for long-term contracts. While he's still trying to locate a star to play alongside Nowitzki, owner Mark Cuban is adamant that his franchise will not become a proverbial revolving door where players are here one season and gone the next. "Our goal is to have these guys in Mavericks uniforms for a long, long time," Cuban said. "It's not like musical chairs at the end of the roster and guys know they're just rentals and can get cut at any minute. These are guys that have an opportunity to really contribute, really establish their careers and take themselves to the next level. It's always an audition, but we want to find reasons to keep guys." The Mavericks basically have gutted their 2011 NBA championship team in favor of players with less expensive and shorter contracts.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Mike Brown enters his second year with the Lakers not necessarily in a get-it-done-or-else situation, but close to it. You don't add Nash, Howard and the bench punch of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks to the core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace without also increasing the scrutiny and pressure on a head coach people were skeptical of since the moment he was hired to replace Phil Jackson. You don't put a team like that on the Staples Center floor, surrounded by the 16 championship banners hanging from the wall, and expect anything less than a Western Conference final. Or turn to the head coach with raised eyebrows if they fall short. So yes, the seat Brown occupies on the Lakers sideline is red-hot and growing warmer by the day. … Just down the hall from Brown's Staples Center office, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has his own kind of pressure with which to deal. No, the urgency to either get to the Finals or win it all isn't as intense as they are with the Lakers, but make no mistake, the expectations are soaring for a Clippers team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Chauncey Billups back and the additions of Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf. And with Del Negro entering the final year of his three-year contract and with only minimal talks occurring regarding an extension, the Clippers' ability to improve on last year's 40-26 regular season and second-round appearance in the playoffs will go a long way toward determining his long-range future.

  • Thom Loverro of the Washington Examiner: The Wizards begin another NBA season Tuesday night in Cleveland, and that means another year of pain and perspective awaits. That's the prism through which Wizards fans have to view the team, one of false promises for a better tomorrow and new ways to describe the futility of the past. In comparison, think about this: Oklahoma City Thunder fans were upset this weekend at the news that James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets. … So sad. So unfair. So pathetic. You want pain, baby? The last time the Wizards made the playoffs the Thunder still were in Seattle. The last time the Wizards/Bullets played in the NBA Finals, most NBA players couldn't even tell you what state Oklahoma City was in. To be a fan of the Wizards is to watch the world go by. It's like being stuck on a cold, desolate planet and looking through a telescope at the other worlds filled with life and basking in the glow of a warm sun.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The long arms are the same, and so is the stoic facade. The most anticipated rookie in the NBA this season combines a superstar’s skill set with a 12th-man’s work ethic, and a capacity for detail that borders on obsessive-compulsive. So it is not without merit that New Orleans’ Anthony Davis — the precocious 19-year-old from Kentucky drafted No. 1 overall in June — has earned impossible billing as “The Next Tim Duncan” among some NBA observers. To this common perception, the original Tim Duncan offers this humble rejoinder: “I’m not gone yet,” said Duncan, the Spurs’ 36-year-old, two-time league MVP. “Can I be me for a little while?” True, Duncan has not yet ceded the stage as one of the NBA’s top big men. But Davis is coming. And he is coming fast. Wednesday night at New Orleans Arena, in the season-opener for the Spurs and Hornets, the next Duncan gets a chance to begin his professional career against the real thing.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: How will the Orlando Magic fare this season? You'll hear a range of predictions as Friday's regular-season opener approaches. John Hollinger of ESPN.com forecasts the Magic will go 16-66. David Steele, the Magic's television play-by-play voice, thinks the team will contend for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. But everyone seems to agree that this will be a fascinating season in Orlando. Here are some of the most interesting issues to monitor as the year progresses. Just how low will the team go? The Magic will take a step backward without Dwight Howard. Everybody knows that. As one popular blog recently noted, there's a reason the team's new marketing slogan is "We Will" instead of "We Are." But you can argue that this team has more talent overall and more interior depth than the one that was competitive when Howard missed games due to injury last season.

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: Don’t expect Derrick Rose to be a regular visitor to the Bulls bench once the regular season opens on Wednesday. Coach Tom Thibodeau suggested Rose might have better things to do than cheer on his teammates for a full 48 minutes per game. “Just concentrate on the rehab. He’s taking care of that and the rest of the guys are taking care of being ready to play,” Thibodeau said Monday at the Berto Center. “At some point, he’ll rejoin us. He’s doing fine, working hard, coming along.” Rose might attend the home games, but work on his recovery from ACL surgery while at the arena. When the Bulls leave town for the circus road trip next month, it might make sense for Rose to visit his off-season headquarters in Southern California.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves ended the preseason ranked first defensively in the NBA in fewest points and lowest field-goal percentage allowed. Yep, you read that right. The same franchise that allowed 152 points in a game three seasons ago and surrendered 120 or more points a dozen times two seasons ago allowed opponents 80.9 points and a 38.3 shooting percentage in seven preseason games. "I understand the preseason is a little different from the [regular] season and definitely different from the playoffs," Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "But I think it's a good start. We all know great offense makes you excited, but only defense can win you the game."

  • Mike Jensen of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Analytics, all the rage all over the NBA, use data on player movement, even player speed on the court, plus efficiencies based on all sorts of variables, such as shooting percentages off dribbles, from certain spots on the floor, from passes by specific players. 76ers coach Doug Collins was asked the other day if he was an analytics guy. "No. If I did that, I'd blow my brains out," Collins said after a practice last week. "There's 20-page printouts after every game - I would kill myself." "My analytics are here . . ." Collins quickly pointed to his head. ". . . and here." He pointed just above the white waistband of his Sixers sweat suit - to his gut. At a glance, this seems surprising, this arm's distance, since Collins seems the type to want to know everything about everything. Now 61 years old, a grandfather of five, finishing his fourth decade in the NBA as a player, coach or broadcaster, Collins does not lack basketball sophistication. If you spent more than a minute listening to Collins analyzing basketball at the Olympics this summer for NBC, or ever take in any of his postgame news conferences, you might conclude that analytics simply are a way of divining and breaking down what the Sixers coach believes he can already see.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns know what they would like Michael Beasley to be. Nothing offers more potential than the clean slate they have given to the richly talented 23-year-old, whom they quietly hope can be a star. Beasley knows what he would like to be. He considers himself one of the NBA’s best players and said he should be reaching his potential to be an All-Star and maximum-level salary player. The pressing issue becomes figuring out how to get Beasley to live up to what he and the Suns want for him. It will take previously unseen focus from Beasley. It will require tough-love accountability from the franchise. … Friday night’s preseason finale was the ultimate tease. Beasley scored 29 points as smoothly as his friend, Kevin Durant. He had a hot hand but he still was shy of attack mode. Scoring 29 without a free throw would be impressive if not for the fact that he shot only eight free throws in seven preseason games. “B-Easy” has become too much of his game and personality. He can’t approach the game or his responsibility easily. “Beastley” must return.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers hired Chris McGowan as president on Monday. He replaces Larry Miller, who replaced Steve Patterson, who replaced Bob Whitsitt. Also, McGowan will work alongside general manager Neil Olshey, who replaced Rich Cho, who replaced Kevin Pritchard, who replaced Patterson, who replaced John Nash, who replaced Whitsitt. Point is, it hasn't felt easy to explain around here since Whitsitt left, has it? The hope here isn't that McGowan will walk on water, or help a basketball team that feels headed to another NBA Draft Lottery find a miracle way out of this mess. Rather, the hope is that McGowan can work closely enough with Olshey to end the convoluted decade of madness and again make the basketball, not the business (or some gobbled combination) feel like it's driving the bus again. Owner Paul Allen called the hire, "a great day for the Portland Trail Blazers." Thanks, but I think we'll wait and see, Mr. Allen, at least until McGowan tries to turn what's felt like a rudderless barge.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Robert Pera is officially the Grizzlies' majority owner. The 34-year-old Silicon Valley wireless technology entrepreneur on Monday afternoon closed his deal to buy the NBA franchise from Michael Heisley, according to sources with knowledge of the deal. Pera's purchase price was recorded at $377 million in documents presented last week to the NBA Board of Governors, a source said. … Pera's closing of the sale ends Heisley's tenure as NBA owner in Memphis. The 75-year-old Chicagoan purchased the team for $160 million shortly before its 2001 move from Vancouver and engineered its landing in Memphis, giving the city a franchise in one of the four major professional sports leagues for the first time.