First Cup: Monday

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Whatever happens now, the local NBA franchise has made Indianapolis a Pacers town once again. Win or lose Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, Indianapolis has been transformed — or rather, re-transformed — into a city that lives and dies with its Pacers. Whatever happens tonight — and only a fool fails to give them a chance — they have set the table for years to come. The city has fallen head over heels for this team the way they fell for the Peyton Colts and last year’s Luck Colts. And for good reason. The first being, they win. This town — most towns, really — won’t support a loser, even if they’re populated by choirboys and saints. That was the case through the Mike Dunleavy/Troy Murphy years. Two years after the Brawl, attendance was in the 11,000 range. The second being, they’re really a terrific bunch of guys. They’re approachable. They’re open. They’re honest. Sometimes too honest. (Roy Hibbert is way too smart to be dropping expletives or making gay references in televised press conferences, and should be looking at a fine from the league office. I don’t believe he was being malicious or homophobic, but it was a dumb thing for a sharp young man to say in a very public forum. He apologized the next day. End of story). That aside, though, this is an easy team to embrace, the kind of team Indy has been desiring for more than a decade.

  • Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Despite returning to South Florida in the wee hours Sunday morning and clearly substituting sleep for game-tape study of one of the Heat's worst playoff performances of his five-year tenure as head coach, a surprisingly upbeat Erik Spoelstra said it was up to him to restore confidence to two of his "Big 3" stars. Following Saturday's dismal 91-77 loss to the Pacers in Bankers Life Fieldhouse to force Game 7 Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, a sore-ankled Chris Bosh was filled with guilt over his five-point outing on 1-of-8 shooting. It marked the first time since his rookie season of 2003-04 that he has scored single digits in three consecutive games. "I've got to get [Bosh] in spots where he could be aggressive and feel comfortable,'' Spoelstra said Sunday afternoon. "Chris is already here watching film and working on the court. He shows up big when the moments are biggest and brightest, and that's what we're looking for tomorrow.''

  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: Everything somehow keeps escalating, which seems impossible given the dizzying, difficult-to-breathe heights we’ve already experienced. One victory ago, it felt like everything was coming together; one loss later, it feels like everything is falling apart. Perspective?It gets swallowed whole by emotion now, like a T-Rex eating a Teacup Maltese. Game 7 tonight. Best thing in sports. In a building that will bounce and sway with the odd combination of joy and terror. In the world of fun and games, things don’t get any BIGGER than this. This feels awful. This feels wonderful. Wonder-awful? Never mind finding this anywhere else in entertainment. There isn’t very much in life that feels quite like this yo-yoing of feelings from day to day, not unless you are in a passionate relationship with a crazy person, and you swing wildly from the fights to the making up. It is hard to live here, in the extremes, for extended periods. It is exhausting, no matter the result you get. You can’t sleep because you are wired from a triumph. You can’t sleep because you toss and turn with haunting after a loss. Your work suffers. You suffer. Isn’t it great?

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Manu Ginobili said he’s not about to underestimate the defending champion Heat should they advance despite their recent struggles. In addition to a bruised knee for Dwyane Wade that isn’t expected to heal until after the postseason, Chris Bosh is in his worst scoring slump since his rookie season, and key reserves like Shane Battier and Ray Allen are struggling as well. About the only Heat member who is consistently playing well is — surprise, surprise — reigning MVP LeBron James, averaging 28.5 points per game in the series and 25.8 in the postseason. “The last few games, they look like they’re depending on LeBron a lot,” Ginobili said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that tomorrow, or in the Finals if they win. You never underestimate the heart of a champion, as they say. They struggled for a few games, but they’re still the champions.”

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Back in the spring of 1994, I asked then-Charlotte Hornets coach Allan Bristow who would be the best point guard in that draft. “Grant Hill,” Bristow replied. “Hill is a small forward,” I shot back. “Grant Hill is anything he wants to be,” Bristow concluded. Bristow meant that in a basketball sense, but the description applied more broadly. Hill was and is one of the more eclectic and intellectually curious athletes I’ve met. To define him purely as a basketball player disregards what made him so interesting. The former Duke star announced his retirement from the NBA Saturday at age 40, nearly 20 years after he left Durham for the Detroit Pistons. Remember that “SportsCenter” commercial where Hill was playing a grand piano? It was funny because it was also accurate. Hill could diagram a pick-and-roll as well as anyone, but he was just as interested in studying music or language or art. That didn’t detract from his basketball; I think the fact that he had other interests kept him mentally fresh to play as long as he did. … I was looking around Twitter Sunday morning to see what Hill’s fellow players thought of him. Three words kept coming up: “Teammate,” “professional” and “integrity.” No better way to be remembered in retirement.

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: Grant Hill did everything he possibly could to give the Magic a return on their investment, and his body betrayed him. Professional sports is always an unforgiving beast. You are judged on your contributions on the field of play, and not on the energy you expend tying to mend a broken body. Hill finally got some cosmic payback, in a good way, during his time in Phoenix, where he averaged 11.9 points in five seasons. Meticulous as always, he hired a macrobiotic chef and regularly saw an acupuncturist as part of the preventative medicine deal. But Grant Hill 2.0 was never the same as the original, the guy who averaged 21.6 points in his first six NBA seasons while playing in Detroit. There is much unfilled expectations here, and much regret. The Magic, and Hill, too, pushed away too hard, way too soon. Hill should have never been on the court at times during those first four years. Too much money, too much pressure. "It may have been bad for my career," Hill once said of all the injuries, "but it was good for my development as a human being. In a weird way I'm glad it happened." Hill obviously got over it and persevered. Anybody else still piling on should do the same.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Now that Grant Hill has retired as a player after 18 NBA years, he has the wealth of talents, connections and options to become a businessman, a politician, a broadcast analyst, a full-time father or the often-rumored Phoenix Suns executive. Regardless, Phoenix can always be home. Home is where you are embraced. Despite all the money he made ($93 million) and time he spent (seven years) with Orlando, Hill was ridiculously booed upon every return trip to Orlando for past injuries he would not wish on an enemy and ones he tried to overcome with surgeries, even a life-threatening one, and five 3-inch screws in his left ankle. Phoenix will always be waiting with an ovation that wraps up Hill with appreciation and affection. Phoenix did not get to see Hill in his playing prime but Suns fans, staff and media did get to see him at his personal best. He was the consummate professional that put behind his superstar years filled with Sprite and Fila commercials, All-Star games and Michael Jordan comparisons to reinvent his game and be the ideal teammate and representative. He went from scoring leader to team leader, setting an example for work ethic for teammates and making an evident standard for coaches to accentuate.

  • Justin Boyd of the Houston Chronicle: NBA free agency doesn’t officially begin until July 1, but rumors about center Dwight Howard and where he’ll wind up are in full swing. The Los Angeles Lakers big man is expected to draw heavy interest from four teams in addition to L.A.: the Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Earlier this week, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that according to sources close to the process, the Rockets had received “hopeful signs” that Howard was considering leaving the Lakers and coming to Houston. Sources indicated that Howard would field in-person visits from the Rockets, Mavericks and possibly other teams once the free agency period begins. Howard confirmed that much in his first interview since the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. In a chat with Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, Howard said he will use the summer to seek out the best situation for himself.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: At least forward Carmelo Anthony gave the Nuggets six months' notice. General manager Masai Ujiri quit on the team, took the big money and fled to Canada. Hey, the NBA is a tough business. But now Nuggets president Josh Kroenke has lost his best friend in basketball and is stuck with a team with thornier problems than its 57 regular-season victories would suggest. I can't blame Ujiri for taking a huge raise to become the general manager in Toronto. When push came to shove, he wanted out of Colorado. The same as Melo did. The message was also the same: It will be more fun and profitable to chase an NBA championship somewhere other than Denver. There was never a chance the Kroenke family was going to match the stupid money offered by the Raptors. No offense to Ujiri. He's among the smartest, most decent men I've met in an often cutthroat sport. But what did the Nuggets do in the playoffs under his guidance? Nothing. … So whoever replaces Ujiri probably needs to be skilled at office politics, while also being satisfied with few ego strokes and a relatively modest salary. Who wants a job like that? There will be no shortage of candidates. I have been told Tommy Sheppard, who has spent the past decade in Washington's front office, would relish a shot at returning to the Nuggets, where he cut his teeth in the NBA.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Now that he has accepted the job, new Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is wasting no time getting down to business. Less than 48 hours after word began to leak that Ujiri was leaving Denver for Toronto, Bryan Colangelo’s replacement made his first official moves. They were moves that will be felt throughout the organization, but moves that certainly can’t come as a surprise. Ujiri made the decision to let executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski go, along with a handful of scouts, including Jim Kelly who served a variety of scouting positions with the Raptors for the past 18 years. The moves fall into the “Not necessarily surprising” category because it is often the way professional sports business is conducted. A new decision-maker is hired, and, more often than not, he wants the guys working for him to be people of his own choosing. … Front office overhaul? Check. Next on new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s list? Perhaps a new home for Andrea Bargnani. It seems to be what the fan base would like to see addressed first, but in reality is that possible? Short of making the decision to amnesty Bargnani and cut your losses once and for all, a quick resolution to the Bargnani question, which is preferable for all parties involved, would appear to be difficult. The question that has to be answered is how much of an effect have injuries had on Bargnani’s game.

  • Victor Contreras of The Sacramento Bee: If DeMarcus Cousins can have Paul Westphalrun out of town and can verbally backhandKeith Smart and only have his wrist slapped as a result, what might the Kings' resident bad boy do to a greenhorn like Michael Malone? Malone wasn't a first-round draft choice like Westphal, who played 12 NBA seasons and in five All-Star Games. And Malone hasn't coached nearly 600 NBA games like Westphal, who has won more games than he has lost. Malone didn't make the winning shot for Indiana against Syracuse in the 1987 NCAA championship game like Smart, whose heroics are played nonstop each March just as the movie "AChristmas Story" airs constantly every December. And Malone wasn't a second-round draft pick in 1988 like Smart, nor has he coached 263 games for three NBA teams. So will Malone be chewed up and spit out by Cousins sometime around Thanksgiving? It's unlikely. Cousins soon will learn that the rules have changed. He won't be allowed to be disrespectful to his coaches or bully teammates without severe consequences. His enablers, the Maloof brothers, have cashed in on the team, and there's a new owner in town, Vivek Ranadive, who we bet didn't make his fortune in the high-tech industry by coddling troublesome employees.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: It's early June, and while the Pistons don't yet have a coach, they still appear to be dedicated to the "process." Current Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, who also coached the Portland Trailblazers and Philadelphia 76ers, has visited with Pistons owner Tom Gores in Los Angeles, which was first reported by ESPN and confirmed by The Detroit News. His recent visit to Auburn Hills qualifies as the third interview for Cheeks but it isn't a direct indication of an endorsement from Pistons president Joe Dumars. Nate McMillan, former coach of the Trailblazers and Seattle Sonics, also met with Gores in Los Angeles earlier. The timing of Cheeks' meeting was a function of his personal schedule. Both McMillan and Cheeks have met with Dumars and the team three times since the coaching search began, and The Detroit News reported the two were generally considered the front-runners on the night of the NBA Draft Lottery. … The Pistons don't seem to be worried about either Cheeks or McMillan going for other jobs. Meeting with a candidate three times is usually enough for a franchise to make a decision on the direction it chooses to go in. But on Gores' watch, these things seem to take a little longer than folks around here are used to.

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News:Ever since he shocked the basketball world in 2011, Jerry Sloan's name has popped up in rumors and reports for a multitude of NBA coaching positions. Portland, Charlotte, Milwaukee and so on. Add another possibility — one much closer to home — to the mix. The Utah Jazz have had a preliminary discussion with Sloan about returning to the fold in an unspecified position. Twenty-eight months after resigning from being the Jazz's head coach, the Hall of Famer is open to considering taking a role with his old organization to help the rebuilding franchise and his successor, Tyrone Corbin. "That's up to (them). That's a situation that's strictly up to Ty or somebody in the Jazz organization," Sloan told the Deseret News. "If they want me around, fine. If they don't, (fine). They'd talked to me a little bit about it a little bit earlier." … If Sloan has a Jazz reunion, it wouldn't be unprecedented in franchise history. His predecessor, Frank Layden, became team president after surprisingly stepping down early into the 1988-89 season. The Jazz's first Utah-era coach, Tom Nissalke, has remained in Salt Lake City, working on the team's broadcast crew many years after being replaced by Layden in 1981. Similarly, Phil Johnson, Sloan's top assistant for nearly 23 years, has taken on a commentator role for Jazz telecasts after his 2011 resignation.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: As chafing as the sight remains for Celtics fans, Ray Allen has found a way back to the Eastern Conference finals. All but forgotten for many is the imprint left in Boston by LeBron James’ newest wingman. And it’s sad for some to think it has to be that way. Carol Johnson, the outgoing superintendent of Boston Public Schools, paused when asked recently about the conflict between Allen’s good deeds in the community and his unpopular career decision. “I have to be careful with this,” Johnson said, understanding the local dynamics at play. But there is a list of Boston middle schools with students who may be forever indebted to the Miami guard. At a cost of roughly $30,000 per school, Allen funded media labs in the Sarah Greenwood, Timilty and Tobin middle schools via his Ray of Hope Foundation. The Celtics funded similar labs in the Edison, Kilmer, Jackson/Mann, Dearborn and Hernandez middle schools, and have plans through the Shamrock Foundation to fund a sixth this summer. But Allen, who also funded two computer labs in Hartford, chose a particularly viable, focused way to enhance education — via computer/Internet literacy.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: With so much to offer the game but with little opportunity to implement his strong philosophies, Rick Barry can only shake his head at those who have passed him up. He is a trail blazer, having served as a color commentator during his illustrious playing career, but that groundbreaking stint may have cost him in the long run. The Hall of Famer has pointed opinions, never bites his tongue, and offers sometimes harsh criticism of today’s players. Barry, 69, lives in Denver and hosts a nationally syndicated radio show. He is brimming with ideas but is resigned to the fact that he won’t have the proper forum to express them. There are those who believe Barry’s perceived arrogance turned off NBA executives to the point where hiring him as a coach was inconceivable. He understands that, but his opinions and approach won’t change. He is unhappy with what he believes is the league’s current system of recycling coaches while other former players are left behind.