First Cup: Friday

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: If they do nothing else through the Feb. 21 deadline, Charlie Villanueva picks up his $8.5-million option for next season, and they decide to keep Rodney Stuckey for the full $8.5 million for next season, the Pistons will be roughly $20 million-$23 million under the cap. If they decide to invoke the amnesty clause on Villanueva during a weeklong window in July and cut Stuckey (they would owe him $4 million) before the June 30 deadline, the total could move to roughly $30 million-$35 million. The cap space means the Pistons could be players in free agency next summer. A more likely outcome is the Pistons being in position to facilitate a trade with a team looking to dump a good player for financial reasons. But don't discount the Pistons trying to keep Calderon -- at a reasonable price. A Pistons source said the team is open to trying to re-sign Calderon over the summer, adding that the team thinks his playmaking skill would be a major boon to rookie center Andre Drummond.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Fortunately for all concerned, Colangelo is giving every indication the Gay trade is merely a first step. He was talking openly about trading former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani, though not committing fully to the idea. Either way, the prospect of more change has to be viewed as a positive because the way the roster stands right now, there’s too much duplication of the same skill sets and a severe lack of anything substantial in the lineup that might be able to stop opposing offences from going off. Casey’s creativity notwithstanding, it’s an area that needs to be addressed with some roster tweaking so perhaps all that pressure on Colangelo hasn’t yet been relieved.

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Although it's not yet mathematically official, it is emphatically apparent. Brace yourself, Orlando Magic fans, because your team is now the worst in the NBA. You may have the Bobcats and Wizards by a couple of games in the win column,but that won't last long. The Magic have now lost seven in a row, 18 of their last 20 and are well on their way to being the front-runner in the Shabazz Muhammad sweepstakes. Coming soon: Fox Sports Florida announces Magic games will be shown on tape delay. … Usually when a team is exceptionally bad, you call for the coach or GM to be fired, but Magic fans can't do that. You can't blame Hennigan. He's the guy who took over a few months ago and inherited the task of trading the best player in franchise history. You can't blame Vaughn. He's the guy who took over for the best coach in franchise history and inherited a roster that not even Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach or John Wooden could win with. The only person to blame is Dwight himself and what good does that do? Magic fans have been banging that drum for far too long. Now the only thing to do is to accept your fate as the worst team in the NBA, swallow hard and ring that rhythmical bell. Ding-dong, y'all, for the ping-pong ball!

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: As the Celtics attempt to push away from the Rajon Rondo effect and sail more toward ball movement and shared responsibility, some of those players who perhaps suffered as a result of Rondo’s ball domination are expressing renewed optimism about increased opportunities in the offense. Jason Terry and Brandon Bass pointed out that the new rapid ball movement the Celtics will employ now that Rondo, the league’s assist leader, is out for the season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, is likely more conducive to their games. Both players struggled offensively during the first half of the season, and the question is whether Rondo’s dribble-heavy style robbed them of chances to receive the ball in favorable spots. … While the team laments Rondo’s absence, said Bass, he doesn’t deny that some players are looking forward to more touches. “Of course you feel better by the ball touching your hands,” he said. “It feels good. But at the same time we still miss Rondo.”

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Steve Nash's idea of saving his legs for the fourth to carve up a defense unaccustomed to defending him is a great one ... except it's pretty much impossible to envision Bryant standing off to the side at crunch time. That's the time Bryant wants the ball more, not less. So Nash's search will go on. He has the sweetest attitude of anyone, but Nash must find something for himself. Whether it's making five 3-pointers every night or seizing a pick-and-roll time with Gasol early each game to play his old way, the guy who has made so many role players look so good in his career needs to find a role of his own. Nash's mind doesn't work like Bryant's — always looking for something for himself, and thus indirectly the team — but it needs to start. Assuming Nash's body is ready, he needs to go get something for himself and show everyone he's not just the good guy willing to help his team, he can still be the bad boy crushing opponents' hopes.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: After an eye-opening showing against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, the Danilo Gallinari Watch is back. Is this man the lead actor the organization has hoped he would grow into being since trading for him two seasons ago? Is he finally turning that corner? That answer, now, from Karl, is yes. "I think Gallo has moved into kind of a fight for, 'Who is our best player?' " Karl said. "And I have no problem saying that on a lot of nights, and maybe even most nights, he is our best player." This is, and has always been, a story more about Gallinari's willingness to raise his level of play and stay at that level on an everyday basis than his talent. And, his desire, or lack thereof, to accept the leadership requirements that accompany the role.

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Point guard Ricky Green was considered the fastest of them all by former Utah Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley. When it comes to sinking 3-point shots, a similar moniker could be given to Randy Foye. The starting shooting guard is the fastest of them all (Jazz players, at least) to hit 100 3-pointers in franchise history. Foye, whom some vocal fans are hoping will be invited to the 3-point-shooting contest later this month, reached that mark in Monday's game and now sits at 102 3-pointers this season. Only six previous Jazz shooters sank 100 in an entire season, and Foye is well on his way to blast past all-time-organization-leading Mehmet Okur in the top two spots (129 and 114). C.J. Miles (109), Bryon Russell (108, 106), Jeff Hornacek (104), Kyle Korver (103) and John Stockton (102) also had 100-plus from long range. Foye (102 of 235) is just 25 3-pointers shy of tying his personal season-high of 127 treys, which he reached in the lockout-shortened season.

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: Andrew Bynum went in Thursday for his twice-yearly service. Bynym headed to New York to receive two scheduled Synvisc shots in his knees from personal physician Dr. David Altchek. Synvisc is a joint lubricant that can provide up to six months of knee pain relief per injection. This is the third consecutive season in which Bynum has had two sets of Synvisc injections, with the second typically coming right before the all-star break. He got the first ones this season in late September. A 76ers spokesman said Bynum, who is recovering from bone bruises in both knees, is expected to return to rehab and working out as soon as Sunday. Bynum has said he hopes to make his Sixers debut soon after the Feb. 14-19 all-star break, but there is still no official timetable.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: Which brings us to Hickson, the undersized, out-of-position center who signed a one-year, $4.4 million free-agent contract with the Blazers in the offseason after a successful half-season audition in 2012 and the club’s failure to land restricted free agent Roy Hibbert last summer. The prevailing opinion was that Hickson — who shined when the Blazers were totally devoid of talent during the final two months last season — would be a stopgap measure this season. Warm the seat to eventually be taken perhaps by Leonard, or by a bigger, more defense-minded veteran. Guess what? Hickson, 24, is averaging 12.9 points and ranks third in the NBA in double-doubles (25), seventh in field-goal percentage (.557) and eighth in rebounding (10.9) in just 29.5 minutes per contest. The 6-9, 240-pound Hickson has packed high energy nearly every game and been better than all but a handful of centers around the league — much better than the offensively challenged Hibbert. … The trade deadline is Feb. 21. If the Blazers stay in the playoff picture, Olshey would be inclined to keep the roster intact and let Hickson go into free agency in the summer. If they fall out of it, though, he might look to move Hickson — in part to gain some value for him, in part to open more playing time to help with the 7-1 Leonard’s development.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Since the announcement of the change, Hornets Coach Monty Williams and his players continue to get peppered with questions about it, especially during road games like Sunday afternoon at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. "We like the name,’’ Williams said. "Mr. Benson is passionate about the team and all that goes into it into the Pelican name. It’s much more than a bird or a mascot. The revitalization of the coastal wetlands in Louisiana is a big deal. If you live there and love to fish you understand how important that is. I love the logo and I love the colors.’ Hornets rookie forward Anthony Davis said some people don’t think Pelicans are tough enough to be a mascot name for an NBA team, but he disagrees. "It’s going to grow on guys,’’ said Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft out of Kentucky. "Yes, it’s the state bird and the logo is fine. It’s better than I thought it would be. The colors are nice.”

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: Ever since Luol Deng was sidelined by a hamstring injury on Jan. 18, it's been impossible to keep Butler off the floor. The second-year forward from Marquette has averaged 15.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and shot 51 percent from the field in the last eight games. Now that Deng is healthy again, Thibodeau has become a fan of playing Butler and Deng together, giving the Bulls a versatile defensive lineup. "With Jimmy and Lu, you can go big at the two (shooting guard) or you can go small at the four (small forward), and both guys can play both positions," Thibodeau said. "You can put them on big guys and they can outquick those guys. You can put them on small guys where a small guy has to guard one of them and you can post them. "So there's an advantage to it and it becomes more of a power (low-post) game. When it becomes more a power game, that allows us to get back and get set. Then our defense is that much tougher."

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Since early in the season, those on the fringe of the Heat’s rotation have squared off in 2-on-2 half-court skirmishes — starting about 75 minutes before tipoff and ending, as Dexter Pittman put it, when “the coaches pull us off the court.” Originally, these were 2-on-2 matchups, and the since-departed Josh Harrellson was a regular. Now the proceedings have expanded to 3-on-3, with Pittman, Jarvis Varnado and Rashard Lewis taking on Mike Miller, James Jones and Chris Andersen. “If you watch it, we’re not BS-ing out there, we’re really going at each other,” Pittman said after Thursday’s optional workout. “Yesterday, I got a bloody nose. The other day, (Varnado) got a bloody mouth. J.J. said every day there’s going to be bloodshed.” “They’re very serious,” Lewis said. “You’re guarding guys, you’re getting shots up, playing with a defender on you. It helps a lot.”

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: It seems noteworthy that, in this era of N.B.A. superteams (and superteam-inspired angst), no one seemed too bothered by the Nets’ $330 million summer shopping spree. The Celtics shook up the league when they united Pierce, Garnett and Allen in 2007. James provoked a national outcry when he chose to join Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in 2010. Anthony’s move from Denver to New York (to join Amar’e Stoudemire on the Knicks) in 2011 stoked concerns about the concentration of talent in the big markets. But Williams, Johnson and Lopez generated a national shrug. The Nets are indisputably talented, but they do not inspire fear or dread. … Can these Nets, if properly motivated and unified of purpose, reach such heights as currently constructed? Their 7-16 record against winning teams (and 0-3 mark against the Heat) suggests no. Their February schedule, which includes eight games against winning teams, should be revealing. Perhaps the Nets — who are, after all, still developing chemistry after a radical roster overhaul — will find a way to maximize every skill and fuse them all into something better. Or maybe they just need to get a little mad now and then.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: J.J. Barea thinks the Timberwolves would be better off if they all tried to be a little more like Greg Stiemsma. Seriously. But Barea was talking mainly about the attitude the team's backup center brings to a game. Barea -- who said the team needed to get tougher after Wednesday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers -- was asked about Stiemsma standing up to three different Clippers during a stretch in the second quarter. First, Clippers forward Matt Barnes sent a forearm into Stiemsma's throat on a hard pick, which got Barnes ejected. Moments later, Stiemsma was called for a flagrant foul on Grant Hill, and Caron Butler and Ronny Turiaf were whistled for technicals for getting in Stiemsma's face. After the game the Clippers said they used that moment for motivation to turn around a slow start. Barea, meanwhile, pointed to those moments as proof that the Wolves need to get tougher. He reiterated that Thursday. "That's something we, as a team, need to be better at," Barea said. "We have to be a little tougher, and just be a little more like Steamer sometimes."

  • Ryan Lillis, Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: In an indication of how seriously Sacramento City Hall is taking the prospect of an arena at Downtown Plaza, City Manager John Shirey's office is preparing to analyze the site if it becomes the city's chosen location for a new sports facility. That analysis could examine the different locations within Downtown Plaza where an arena could fit, an arena's impact on the site's utilities and the nearby transportation infrastructure. Shirey also announced this week that he was rehiring arena consultant Dan Barrett to assist the city in the likely event that an arena plan is developed in the coming weeks. JMA Ventures, the firm that bought the mall last year, has conducted its own feasibility study of placing an arena at the mall.