First Cup: Thursday

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Earl Boykins had a message for Kyrie Irving after Wednesday's reports that Cavaliers coach Mike Brown has hired assistant Igor Kokoskov. "You're going to love this guy," Boykins said in a telephone interview from his home in Denver. "He believes point guards should have the ball all the time." Kokoskov, a Serbian native who became a U.S. citizen in 2010, has spent 13 years in the NBA, starting with the Los Angeles Clippers and then the Detroit Pistons before joining the Phoenix Suns five years ago. He served as the Suns' unofficial offensive coordinator after Lindsay Hunter replaced Alvin Gentry earlier this season. … Boykins was with Kokoskov for two seasons in Los Angeles, where Kokoskov became the first full-time foreign-born assistant coach in NBA history in 2000. He also is the coach of the Georgian national team featuring Zaza Pachulia. "He's very, very creative," said Boykins, who hopes for one more shot in the NBA next season. "I liked Igor. A real good guy. He only gave you suggestions. He didn't tell you, 'You should do this or you should do that.' The way that he approached players, he's very personable. He has a lot of tricks." Kokoskov is the second assistant hired by Brown, joining Phil Handy, the Lakers former development coach. Assistant Jamahl Mosley remains on the staff.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: The Nuggets are in a holding pattern, waiting to hear which team Masai Ujiri will run next season — Denver or Toronto. No decision was made Wednesday by the 42-year-old Ujiri, who won the NBA's executive of the year award this past season. Ujiri had verbally agreed to a multimillion-dollar, multiyear deal with Denver, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke told The Denver Post last week, but when the Toronto job opened, Ujiri interviewed with his former team. ESPN reported that Ujiri's contract with Toronto could be for as much as $3 million per year for a five-year deal.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Come now, a well thought out move is one thing, but it’s about time to do your business or get off the pot. Yes, we’re talking about Masai Ujiri’s imminent arrival or — equally likely at this point — his gracious refusal of Toronto’s offer to become the Raptors’ next general manager.Earlier this week we wrote that we expected Ujiri would take his time with this. We just didn’t think it would take this long. … But there is work that needs to be done whether that’s re-affirming the coaches that were employed that they will in fact be back or much worse going out and replacing all or some of them. As it stands now, three highly respected names have already gone from available to taken and that’s just in the past few days. Atlanta scooped up Mike Budenholzer, long-time assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, the Bobcats snared Steve Clifford, former Lakers assistant, and Phoenix opted for former NBA player Jeff Hornacek. The Sacramento Kings are reportedly locked in on former Canadian National team assistant and more recently Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone as well, though the Clippers are said to have an interest there, too. Calls right now are being made to fill out those staffs, meaning the pickings for assistants are getting slimmer and slimmer. Perhaps more importantly is that the time frame Ujiri, or whomever winds up moving into that general manager’s office in the Air Canada Centre to make significant changes, is shrinking by the day. … Bottom line: A new GM is going to need some time to put whatever stamp on this team he chooses and if that includes the draft then the franchise is already on the clock. So what do you say? Thursday sound good for everyone?

  • Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: They’ve dangled sole control of all personnel decisions and the security of a multi-year contract. The Raptors have done everything short of cutting a big, gold key inscribed “To The Castle” and hanging it round his neck. But Ujiri wants to think about it. That’s the Raptors problem. When an opportunity pops up to move to Toronto — no matter how good — everybody everywhere in the NBA wants to think about it. Put aside the white noise about “class” organizations and rings you’re never going to win in Denver, Toronto or two-thirds of the rest of the NBA. Just ask yourself this — if someone offered you a 500 per cent raise, how long would you need to turn it over in your mind? You’d need the three seconds it’d take to bite open the tip of your index finger and sign the contract in your own blood, just in case the pen didn’t work. But Ujiri needs to think. About doing the same job in a better city for a lot more money. That’s the frightening part. If Ujiri is willing to forego years of earning power in order to stay in Denver, he must see the Toronto job as a career killer. If one of the brightest young minds in the NBA takes an objective look at the Raptors and says to himself, “That can’t be fixed,” we’ve got much bigger problems than nameplates on the boss’s door.

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: Karl Malone is returning to the Utah Jazz — not as a 50-year-old power forward but as a part-time tutor for the team’s young big men, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Malone was approached by head coach Tyrone Corbin about the possibility of him working with Favors and Kanter after the season. The franchise’s chain of command recently signed off on the idea and CEO Greg Miller spoke of the team’s new relationship during a Wednesday afternoon radio interview. "Everything is about timing," Malone said, "and the timing is right. The fact they think I might be able to help is pretty neat. … "I’m not getting bored or anything. I’ve got plenty to do. But I also grew up playing basketball my whole life, so this is exciting for me." At the same time, Malone didn’t make any promises. He called Favors and Kanter "two of the most talented bigs in the NBA right now" but added, "If someone is looking for Karl Malone to come in and wave a magic wand, that ain’t happening. These kids will be as good as they want to be. It’s up to them."

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The Bucks are likely to lose starting shooting guard Monta Ellis, who has an opt-out in his contract after this season, and veteran backup shooting guard J.J.Redick, who is an unrestricted free agent. What’s more, Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent who, after the last opening-round playoff game against Miami, publicly stated he wasn’t sure if he wanted to play for the Bucks next season. … The Bucks are almost certain to pursue a guard in free agency as well. There will be several fine guards available, including veteran Devin Harris of the Atlanta Hawks. Harris, 30, is coming off a solid season with the Atlanta Hawks. He was a part-time starter during the regular season and a full-time starter in the playoffs. In fact, Harris averaged a whopping 37.5 minutes a game in the postseason. The fact Harris has been a starter for most of his career and, at 6-foot-3, can deftly play both point guard and shooting guard will make him an attractive free agent. Asked if he would entertain the possibility of signing with the Bucks, Harris, a former Wauwatosa East High School and University of Wisconsin star, said: “I would. Of course. Who wouldn’t want to play for their hometown team? “I know they got a lot of decisions to make, but I know I would be interested in them. If it’s going to work out, who knows?”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Reggie Jackson is rapidly rounding out his game. But there's one thing still missing. A reliable 3-point shot. As the Thunder point guard prepares for his third NBA season, strengthening that skill will be one of Jackson's main goals this summer. It certainly will be the most important one. Jackson made just 23.1 percent of his 3-pointers this season, ranking last among players with at least 100 attempts. Serge Ibaka made a higher percentage. Shoot, Ronnie Brewer made a higher percentage. So you know Jackson struggled from beyond the arc. It was a weakness that lingered as the biggest hole in Jackson's game and stood out for the wrong reasons in what was an otherwise fantastic season of growth. “He still needs to continue to improve and he will,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's a guy that loves the gym. He's going to have another big summer of improvement. We'll be with him step by step in that improvement.”

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: The next phase of the Trail Blazers’ 2013 offseason begins on Thursday, when the team hosts its first predraft workout in preparation for the NBA Draft. Blazers GM Neil Olshey does not release the names of predraft visitors until shortly before workouts open to the media, so it’s unclear who the visitors will be or how many prospects will be roaming the practice facility in Tualatin. But it’s an important day, nonetheless. NBA front offices place significant value on predraft workouts. Sure, Olshey and his staff have evaluated many of these players extensively for nearly a year. In some cases, they’ve been monitoring the players since they were in high school. But bringing them to Portland allows the Blazers’ brass to put them through tailor-made workouts and to test their athleticism and basketball ability in a variety of ways. Also, perhaps most important, Olshey and the Blazers will gain valuable insight into the personality and character of players through face-to-face interviews and interaction.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Representatives from 26 teams, including NBA coaches Mike Woodson, Randy Wittman and Rick Adelman, evaluated two days of workouts that ended Wednesday at Target Center. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo was there, too. What was a college coach doing among all those NBA executives? Izzo is serving as something of a draft consultant to buddy Flip Saunders while he waits until after the draft before reconfiguring the team’s front office. “He’s good because he has seen a lot of these guys play, recruited a lot of these players,” said Saunders, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations. “Him coming in to look and talk just helps, gives you insight. One of the biggest things you want to do is background checks, so you know as much about these players now and where they were four or five years, what improvement they’ve made. Have they reached their full potential or do they have a lot more to go? He’s good for that.” Saunders and Izzo on Wednesday finished two days of workouts featuring Gophers forward Rodney Williams, Wisconsin centerJared Berggren, Illinois guard Brandon Paul and others — players just hoping to hear their names called in the second round of next month’s NBA draft.

  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: Explain what the philosophy is on free agency is this summer and signing guys to longer-term deals. Mark Cuban: "Last year, we knew we would be able to have some cap room continuity between this year and next year. Dirk's contract comes up after this year; Trix's contract comes up after this coming year. That changes all the math. Now, we want to start building a team that has continuity. We want to be able to say, 'OK, look, if we get the big name, we're not gonna have a lot of other cap space and it'll be a two-year deal - big name this year and fill around next year or possibly even another big name next year depending on how things plays out.' If we don't get the big name, then we want to start building that base of a team that can start having some continuity of playing together. We have a lot more flexibility."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards lucked into the third overall pick in the June 27 draft after jumping up five spots at the NBA draft lottery. There certainly isn’t a player in consideration at No. 3 expected to be a franchise building block like Jordan, but history has often smiled upon teams in picking third. Jordan, Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich, Dominique Wilkins (1982) and Kevin McHale (1980) all posted Hall of Fame careers after being snubbed by the teams drafting first and second, and Carmelo Anthony (2003), Grant Hill (1994), Anfernee Hardaway (1993), Chauncey Billups (1997) and Pau Gasol (2001) have made multiple all-star appearances after going third. Franchise building blocks are often found among the top three picks, but since 1980 the third overall choice actually trumps the second pick in terms of players who have made the Hall of Fame and made at least one all-star selection. A

  • Mark Berman of the New York Post: According to an NBA source, Woodson has only one more fully guaranteed year left on his pact. The final year of the pact — 2014-15 — is not guaranteed. The three-year deal signed Memorial Day weekend last year is worth $10.5 million, the source said. Some league observers were surprised Woodson didn’t get a guaranteed third year. Woodson fired his longtime agent, the late Joe Glass, and hired the superagency CAA, which represents a handful of Knicks. Glass, who had been Larry Brown’s agent, had warred with Knicks owner James Dolan during Brown’s messy exit and multiple reports suggested the owner made Woodson change agents. (Glass died in November.) Woodson’s guaranteed portion of the contract coincides with Carmelo Anthony’s opt-out clause next summer. The Knicks can give Anthony a contract extension no earlier than mid-February.

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford was reluctant to declare a “playoffs or bust” goal for the upcoming season. Of course, given the franchise’s woeful past, it would be hard for any coach hired here to make such a proclamation. Clifford was officially introduced Wednesday as the Bobcats’ sixth head coach. Since none of his predecessors lasted longer than inaugural coach Bernie Bickerstaff’s three years, a reasonable goal for Clifford would be to simply last long enough to coach the Charlotte “Hornets”; Owner Michael Jordan applied to the NBA last week for the franchise to inherit that name in the 2014-15 season. More directly, Clifford’s goal will be to become this franchise’s Flip Saunders or Lionel Hollins. What do those coaches have to do with the Bobcats you ask? Saunders and Hollins were the first coaches to guide the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies franchises, respectively, to playoff victories. And based on their current path, the Bobcats unfortunately are following the path of those two longest-suffering of franchises in recent NBA expansion history.

  • Roger Simmons of the Orlando Sentinel: Shaq soda? Just in time for the hot Florida summer, former Magic center Shaquille O'Neal is launching a new line of sodas. O'Neal made the annoucement on Twitter today to his 7.1 million followers. "Yo! @DrinkAriZona Just launched the new delicious #SodaShaq! Keep up kids :-) Comin to stores very soon," he tweeted. Beverage industry website BevNet.com reports that O'Neal's deal with AriZona Beverages includes the launch of "Soda Shaq" flavored cream sodas "in AriZona’s well known giant 23.5 oz. cans." The Shaq cream soda flavors are strawberry, orange, vanilla and blueberry and have 90 calories each. BevNet says Soda Shaq has a suggeted retail price of $.99 price "and come emblazoned with one of eight photos of the big man’s unique facial expressions."