First Cup: Monday

  • Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times: Pinch me. Go ahead. Smack me upside the head and remind me this is real. This isn't another one of those dreams where I'm walking into KeyArena and the Sonics and Oklahoma City Thunder are gathering for the opening tip. Tell me this isn't the moment in that dream where the ball is tossed in the air, the lights go out and when they come back on, the arena is empty and the teams are gone and it's just me and Howard Schultz sitting courtside and wondering what went wrong. No this isn't a dream. And it isn't another one of those here-come-the-Kings teases. This time the deal is done. The Sonics are coming back in the form of the Sacramento Kings. After a couple of weeks worth of hemming and hawing the Maloofs have come to their senses and sold their franchise to a Seattle ownership group that includes Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. What's the rule on number of exclamation points allowed in a column? Why is the Hallelujah Chorus playing in my head? In one flurry of phone calls and Twitter posts, this worst Sunday of sports in Seattle in a long time turned into one of the best.

  • Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: The Maloofs have made their deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a group that would move them to Seattle – setting up a climactic showdown over the team's future that might not get settled by the NBA until the spring. A source close to the situation said Sunday that the Maloof family and the Seattle group, led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, could announce a deal as early as today. If the sale is approved by the NBA's board of governors, consisting of league owners, the team would move to Seattle next season and would be renamed the SuperSonics, after the franchise that left Seattle for Oklahoma City in 2008. A sale price wasn't released, but Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has said he believes the Maloofs were working on a deal that would value the entire franchise at $525 million. … Sacramento officials, however, vowed to press on with their plan to assemble a counteroffer that would keep the Kings from leaving. Johnson plans to bring a rival investor group to the board of governors' meeting in New York in April and make the case for keeping the team in Sacramento. The board would then presumably vote on which city would get the Kings – Seattle or Sacramento. "When it comes to keeping the team in our community, Sacramento is playing to win," the mayor said Sunday night in a prepared statement.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: You are faced with one of the toughest individual defenders in the NBA, an intense, driven competitor your coach calls a “one-man press.” So how did Jose Calderon handle Kobe Bryant? He shredded Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers defence, turned Landry Fields into a scoring machine and propelled the Raptors to one of their more significant victories of the season. Exposing the Lakers with speed, quickness and precision, the Raptors gave an Air Canada Centre sellout crowd something to remember with a 108-103 victory that snapped a four-game Toronto losing streak. Calderon was the maestro with 22 points and nine assists in 30 minutes, not the least bit bothered by Bryant’s pressure at the start of the game or in the decisive fourth quarter. “He’s a great all-around player. He can play great defence, but maybe they are not used to guarding so many screen-and-rolls,” Calderon said after the Raptors moved to 15-26 on the season. “I was trying to put him in as many screen-and-rolls as possible to get out of that pressure.”

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant said after the Lakers dropped to 17-23 — with two tough games in Chicago and Memphis left on this trip — that such struggles can lead to a team fragmenting because of the blame game. “Everybody wants to know what’s the reason, or whose fault it is , this that and the other,” Bryant said. Bryant requested the blame fall on him. Bryant said: “Just point the finger at me. Let me take all that, and this way we don’t have to worry about that as a team. It’s a part of my responsibility. I’ll take the arrows; we can just focus on doing what we do best, which is playing together and trying to figure out how we can get out of this ditch.” Bryant added: “I’ve been through the most, man. I’ve been through worse times than that, so let me take all that.” Bryant played 42 minutes and shot poorly in the loss to Toronto, and the Lakers come right back without a day off to play in Chicago on Monday.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Kobe Bryant has company. Denver has a new NBA villain, and he is Russell Westbrook. Super mascot Rocky shoots backward half-court shots during a fourth-quarter timeout of every game. If he makes one, fans get free Qdoba queso. Well, Rocky's final attempt appeared to be going in, but the Thunder's Westbrook, walking onto the court, jumped up and blocked the shot. The arena erupted in boos and continued every time he touched the ball. Then Rocky tried again during the next timeout and Westbrook, again, caught the shot, this time throwing the ball into the stands. The boos became deafening. But Westbrook seemed to feed off it, first flashing a villainous smile, but then firing a dagger of daggers. With 22.9 seconds left, and the Thunder down three points, he unflappably floated an arcing 3-pointer over Wilson Chandler, tying the game. "Russell made a lot of friends here tonight," Karl said sarcastically.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: There are plenty of reasons why the Thunder lost this one: A lack of energy early; 24 turnovers resulting in 31 Denver points; getting outrebounded 50-39, including 20-11 at the offensive end; getting thoroughly dominated in the paint 66-36; getting doubled-up on second-chance points 18-9; Kevin Durant (7 for 20) and Russell Westbrook (10 for 26) combining to shoot just 17 for 46 (.370) from the field and 4 for 17 (.235) from 3-point range; plus three offensive fouls on illegal screen in the final three minutes of overtime. The one aspect that clearly was the difference: The Thunder bench got outscored 57-18. That’s the most points the Denver bench has scored this season, which resulted in the most points OKC has given up so far this year. … As if the current six-game, 10-day road trip wasn’t already long enough, the Thunder already has added two extra five-minute periods by going overtime in the first two stops at Dallas and Denver. Sunday night’s loss to the Nuggets leaves the Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers with the best record s atop the NBA at 32-9 and they happen to meet Tuesday in LA.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Shawn Marion basically got fined by the NBA a little over $1,000 for every free throw Kevin Durant shot on Thursday night. Marion’s $25,000 fine for saying that it’s hard to beat anybody “when you play five on eight” seemed a bit excessive. Especially to Mark Cuban, who knows a thing or two about fines. “Yeah, I thought that was ridiculous by the NBA to fine him like that,” Cuban said before the Mavericks’ game against Orlando tonight (5 p.m. tip). “And I let them know. You hear guys making comments like that every so often and I don’t recall that they’re always fined for that kind of statement. And Shawn’s not somebody who gets fined all the time. He usually lets me do it for him. So I was surprised.” Cuban added that Marion definitely didn’t get his money’s worth. “But nobody ever does,” he said. Marion has elected not to comment on the fine. But it’s possible his agent will file with the league to have it rescinded.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Next up on Jacque Vaughn's agenda: the Feb. 21 trade deadline, and how it can freak out players until it passes. The Magic will not boldly proclaim that they're looking to deal with everyone and anyone like Sunday's opponent, the Dallas Mavericks. Their owner, Mark Cuban, has declared that "the Bank of Cuban is open." But the Magic's rebuilding club is certainly listening to teams who are eyeing their modest assets. Everyone should be in play except center Nik Vucevic. Vaughn's challenge will be to keep his players focused or — as he likes to call it — "in the now." It's tougher today in an age of 24/7 sports talk and when an instant trade-rumor tweet can have your shooting guard worrying whether he needs to forward his mail. "I haven't said one thing about the trade deadline or a trade or anything along those lines to any individual," said Vaughn, who added that he could address it at some point. "Players talk. They are even more accessible these days with the web sites and social media. Some players tell agents [that] they don't want to hear anything; other players can't live in that unknown. It's interesting times. It's in your face all the time if you want it to be."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Pistons centers Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond saw extended playing time together, as Monroe finished with his 16th double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists). It was a reason the Pistons controlled the boards (50-42), a point of emphasis before the game. "It's one of my jobs as big men to get second-chance shots and I think we've done a good job of that, especially controlling the boards on defense," Monroe said. As for the Pistons' winning four straight over the Celtics, all in double-digit fashion, forward Tayshaun Prince was astonished when told of it. Monroe thought it was because Pistons coach Lawrence Frank knows Celtics coach Doc Rivers so well, since Frank was an assistant in Boston (2010-11 season). "Maybe it's the familiarity of the coaching staff, coming from over there," Monroe said. "They understand what they (Celtics) try to do and understand how to stop it."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Afterward, following the Celtics’ bumbling 103-88 loss Sunday night to the downtrodden Detroit Pistons, Doc Rivers unleashed his fury on a team that he is increasingly beginning to dislike. He threatened changes, his most serious attack on his team since this maddeningly inconsistent season began. … And then Rivers threatened to shake up his roster. “I gotta either find the right combination, the right guys or we’re going to get some guys out of here,” he said. “It’s the bottom line, because this group right now, they’re not playing right and it’s in them to play right but right now they haven’t been because I’m not getting to them or they’re not getting to each other. Either we’ve got to do that or we’ve got to make changes. I’m saying if we don’t get it right we may [make changes].’’ The players were left to rummage through the rubble left by Rivers’s comments. The Celtics are 20-20 and were embarrassed for the second time in two months by the 15-25 Pistons, who scored 13 of the game’s first 15 points and never trailed.

  • Zach Buchanan of The Arizona Republic: If Gentry’s firing was a “surprising shock” to general manager Lance Blanks, as the GM said Sunday, one can only imagine how it hit the players. Gentry was particularly well-liked among some of the longer-tenured Suns, like Sebastian Telfair, Marcin Gortat and – in two stints – Goran Dragic. “It sucks. It’s a disappointing season for a lot of us, not only him,” Telfair said. “It sucks that he has to take the fall for it. It’s not only his fault why our record is the way it is.” … Out of breath from their first practice with Gentry’s successor – a practice Hunter learned he’d be leading just 45 minutes before it started -- the Suns were asked to analyze their new boss. Practice was crisp and energetic, they said, although some of that had to do with the two-day layoff. The players respect Hunter’s 17-year career as a player in the NBA, and none expressed concern over his lack of coaching experience. The man apparently isn’t hard to figure out. “He doesn’t put up with B.S. at all,” said rookie point guard Kendall Marshall. “He doesn’t mind keeping me in the gym for two hours after practice at nights and stuff like that. That’s what you want from a coach. You want a coach that’s going to push you and get the most out of his players.”