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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "The Pistons have an important decision coming. Either Rip Hamilton or Allen Iverson must become the sixth man. Neither will like the demotion, but there's no alternative. This is becoming Rodney Stuckey's team much faster than anybody envisioned. Michael Curry can no longer mess around, massaging massive egos with a three-guard starting lineup that simply isn't compatible with the physical defensive demands of Eastern Conference basketball. ... Curry remained coy Monday about his decision. But Iverson should come off the bench. It's not a slap against A.I. He and Stuckey meshed well together in the starting backcourt during Hamilton's stint on the injured list, recovering from a groin tear. But Iverson's game, as it pertains to these Pistons, better fits coming off the bench than Hamilton's. He dictates the flow of the game, whereas Hamilton's offensive style remains more reactionary. Rip's game demands more patience, working through screens and gradually developing an offensive rhythm. If Iverson is as serious about doing whatever's necessary for the team as he stated during his introductory press conference last November, he'll see the positives of becoming the best sixth man in the league."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Big-man prospects Darrell Arthur, Donte Greene and Kostas Koufos had just disappeared from the draft board when the Wolves contemplated selecting Mario Chalmers for themselves and deferred because they already presumably had combo guards O.J. Mayo, Randy Foye and Marko Jaric on their roster and intended to re-sign free agent Sebastian Telfair. 'At that point, I just said I don't want to take a guy we'll have to cut because of numbers,' said Wolves coach Kevin McHale, then the team's vice president of basketball operations. 'Right after we said we'd do the deal with Miami, Memphis called, and we said to each other, 'Well, we would have taken Chalmers.' We were just so loaded up at that combo spot, and then 10 minutes later we weren't.' So they traded that pick for two second-round picks this summer and upwards of $1.5 million. The Wolves presumably could have used that cash to, say, buy out unhappy Antoine Walker, one of three veteran contracts they turned around and unloaded in the Memphis trade. They will receive the lower two from Miami's collection of three second-round picks this summer that include the Heat's own as well as Philadelphia's and Indiana's. On draft night, McHale said, 'We almost wanted to call Miami and see if we could take him back, but I don't think that would have worked.' ... 'I really like Mario, we liked him a lot,' McHale said, shrugging when asked if he regrets the trade and its timing. 'We said we'd trade that pick, and then everything changed. That's the way it is in this business sometimes.'"

  • Sarah Rothschild of The Miami Herald: "Since turning 20 on Friday, Michael Beasley has posted consecutive 23-point performances. The Heat's second-leading scorer is giving Miami a formidable 1-2 punch, making teams pay for stacking up defenders on Dwyane Wade. Beasley's game is maturing, and he's using a simple-minded approach. 'I'm just not thinking,' Beasley said. 'I'm going out there and doing what I do. I'm not afraid to be aggressive.' Beasley is averaging 18 points and 7.4 rebounds in the past five games, better than his season averages of 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. He's shooting 53.4 from the field during that stretch (compared with 45.8 for the season)."

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: "If you feel you're seeing more vintage Shaquille O'Neal than just old Shaquille O'Neal with the Suns this season, you're probably right. O'Neal said he is physically able to dip into his repertoire and pull out some low-post moves that were gathering dust when he arrived in a trade for Shawn Marion last season. The result is a revitalized O'Neal, who enters tonight's game making a pretty convincing case for a reserve spot on the Western Conference All-Star team. ... 'You always take what the defense gives you, but I couldn't always do that last year,' he said. 'I've got a lot of young, energetic, new-millennium trainers here, and they're really into their craft.' O'Neal said his problem was major. 'A muscle in my (rear) wasn't firing,' he explained. "So they left me for dead. 'He's old. He don't have it anymore.' Now I'm doing things I couldn't do last year because my (rear) wasn't firing.' Makes sense. O'Neal without his gluteus muscles is like Allen Iverson without his crossover, Tim Duncan without his bank shot, Rasheed Wallace without his rants."

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: "Perhaps Larry Brown and the Bobcats' management team think Felton must go in order to allow rookie D.J. Augustin to truly become the team's leader. Reports indicate that Augustin's current abdominal strain (which is expected to keep him out of action for 10 days) scuttled the deal -- at least for now. Does that mean the Bobcats are having remorse at letting Felton go for so little or do they think so little of Watson and current third-string point guard Sean Singletary that they had to have Felton to run the team until Augustin returns? Time will tell. But the bigger message may be that no one on the current Bobcats' roster is safe if they expect to make Charlotte a long-term option. Already this season, top scorer Jason Richardson was traded to Phoenix and the team's last surviving expansion pick -- Gerald Wallace -- has been linked to several trade rumors and many think he still can be acquired for the right price. With Felton now firmly on the trading block, it's pretty clear the Bobcats are willing to deal anyone. And for a franchise in desperate need of creating excitement in the marketplace, it'll be interesting to see if that will be perceived as more rebuilding or trying to win at all costs."

  • Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times: "He made The Shot. He was great on the radio and did an amazing job pulling the Bulls out of their deepest, darkest hole. But if John Paxson cleaned up the worst imaginable mess, he has now made another one. Chicago has a love affair with the golden boy, but don't let that block you from seeing that the Bulls are on the verge of total collapse, and the pieces of this mess were put in place by one guy. It's always a struggle to decide whether to blame management, coach or players. But in this case, it's all the same."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Cavs (29-6), Magic (30-8) and Celtics (31-9) are so close they could be triplets. Boston jumped to a 27-2 record, reeling off 19 consecutive victories. While the Celtics' recent slump has brought them back to the field, they are capable of another long run with
    the Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen). Cleveland has used a remarkable 19-0 start at home to sit on the pole in the East. The Cavs also have LeBron James, regarded by many as the MVP frontrunner over Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Orlando simply is one of the hottest, most consistent teams in the NBA. The Magic are a league-best 14-5 on the road and 16-3 at home, owners of an 11-game winning streak at Amway Arena. And what are the Magic's chances of winding up as the top seed? Good. Real good. Maybe better than you think."

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "Even with a revolving-door lineup and a laundry list of injuries, they've positioned themselves to make the playoffs. To make more than a token appearance requires a healthy, happy Tracy McGrady. They have no idea if they're going to get that guy this season. If they can't have him, they prepared to move on with what they have."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Oklahoma City doesn't have to worry about rap mogul and New Jersey part owner Jay-Z having his eyes set on Kevin Durant as a backup plan in case the Nets fail to land LeBron James in free agency in 2010. Durant said Monday that he doesn't have a relationship with Jay-Z, who was not in attendance Monday night. 'I don't know him at all,' Durant said. 'I met him twice, but I don't know him that well. I love his music. I'm a big fan, but I just never got around to it I guess. I've never been a guy who's been like, 'I need to meet Jay-Z. I got to meet him.' I want to stay in Oklahoma as long as possible. I do, that's the honest truth. I love it there.'"

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "With Carlos Boozer set to miss at least four weeks following left knee surgery, Jerry Sloan came to his All-Star forward's defense at shootaround, calling it 'very unfortunate' that 'people start getting on him a little bit here and there.' 'There's nothing he can do about injuries,' Sloan added, 'and he's done everything we've asked him to do that I know of as far as to try to help himself get better, but all I hear is complaints about him not doing anything.' Sloan suggested that Boozer would need practice time "like going through training camp" to get up to speed before playing again."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James, wearing a dark jacket, white shirt and dark tie, graces the cover of this month's issue of GQ, on sale today. 'Growing up, you never think you're going to be on the cover of GQ,' said James, displaying a new silver ring with crowns on his left pinkie. 'But I've done a lot of things I never thought I'd do growing up.' Then he added, 'If you look good, you play good.'"