First Cup: Wednesday

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It truly is a case where you can actually throw out the previous games between the teams. The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs will meet in the NBA Finals, but don't expect it to resemble anything like their two games during the regular season. In fact, Thursday's series-opener is really the first time both teams will play one another at full strength. "It's crazy that it worked out this way that we are both in the Finals," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. What's even crazier is how their regular-season series played out. The teams were supposed to meet in a star-studded, nationally-televised game in late November. That changed when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided "rest" was more important than an early-season win. With the team in Orlando the previous night, he sent home All-Stars Tim Duncan, Manu Giniboli and Tony Parker. The Heat were left to play a makeshift version of the Spurs. The rematch in San Antonio was no different, with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra sitting Wade and LeBron James because of nagging "injuries." The Heat won both games, but there is nothing either team can take from the regular season.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Stephen Jackson flew commercial to Miami on Tuesday. He should have been on the Spurs' charter. He should have been joking with Tim Duncan and listening to Gregg Popovich. He should have been preparing for his second Finals and hoping he would get a few minutes trying to defend LeBron James; the Spurs might have been better for that, too. Instead, Jackson sat in 3A, on United flight 1158, from Houston to Miami. Any regrets, he was asked? “Nope,” he said. “Got my money.” He smiled broadly, as if to convince himself. Jackson says he didn't come to Miami to watch the Finals. He said he hasn't watched any of the Spurs' games this spring. He's here to have fun, and he's been having a lot since the Spurs released him. Jackson has been sharing his luxurious life online, from a trip to Jamaica to the occasional pedicure. The posts have also come about the time the Spurs have been playing games. So maybe there's something about the juxtaposition, especially for a man whose most powerful trait also happens to be his most destructive one. Pride. Tuesday brought this out. Then, Jackson talked about Popovich. A year ago Jackson announced, in so many words, Popovich was the only coach who could handle him. Tuesday he said he refused this season to play Popovich's “mind games.” … Tuesday he revealed who he was talking about: Danny Green and Manu Ginobili. Jackson insists Popovich wanted him to admit Green and Ginobili were better. More than likely, Popovich simply told Jackson they were better. That's why they were playing instead of him. Pride wouldn't let Jackson accept that, and he admitted as much Tuesday. After showing the initial flash of anger when talking about Popovich, he later said Popovich knows him well, and that the release “was best for me so I wouldn't go crazy.” Or, as Jackson said Tuesday, again smiling, “I wouldn't want me on the team, either.”

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: So, Gregg Popovich. How has Ime Udoka handled his assignments as a member of your San Antonio coaching staff? "He sucks," Popovich says with a chuckle, "and you can quote me." It's a display of affection from a veteran, Hall of Fame-boundcoach toward a first-year assistant coach for a Spurs team that begins quest for their fifth NBA championship since 1999 tonight against Miami/Indiana. It's also a glimpse at the playful side of the man whom television viewers see mostly as a reluctant and somewhat grumpy interview subject during games. " 'Pop' is actually hilarious," Udoka says. "Having played for him, I knew that. Everybody sees him in the interviews and thinks he's gruff or doesn't have a personality. Behind closed doors, it's totally different. He has a dry sense of humor. He's very funny." Udoka slipped into an advantageous position when Popovich hired him as a member of his coaching staff last summer. "Other than finishing this thing off by getting a ring," the former Jefferson High and Portland State standout said, "you couldn't ask for more from the first year of coaching."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: George Hill is the starter at the position for the Pacers. They took off when he replaced Darren Collison at the end of the regular season in 2012 and have showed their faith in him by signing him to a long-term deal. But the Pacers need a true point guard on the roster. They thought D.J. Augustin would be that player as a former starter for the Charlotte Bobcats. Augustin showed spurts at times, but he struggled with his shot and had a difficult time adapting to playing fewer minutes. Hill is at his best when he is in attack mode, but that affects his ability to run the offense at times. Having a true point guard on the roster would allow Hill to get more minutes at shooting guard, where he’s able to play freely.

  • Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: It appears the frigid Mark Cuban-Jason Kidd relationship has warmed somewhat in the aftermath of Kidd’s Monday announcement that he is retiring after 19 NBA seasons. During a call-in appearance on 105.3 The Fan’s Gavin & Chris “GBag Nation” show Tuesday evening, Kidd said Cuban sent him an email, congratulating him on his career and retirement. “Yeah, Cube reached out and sent me a nice note,” Kidd said. “Cube is one of if not the best owner in sports and we were lucky to be with him when we won that championship.” It remains to be seen whether their relationship is entirely patched, but the fact that Cuban and Kidd exchanged emails is newsworthy. Cuban was upset that free-agent Kidd last summer verbally agreed to a three-year contract to remain in Dallas, then changed his mind and signed with the Knicks. An admittedly angry Cuban said last summer that he was sure he would get over Kidd’s about-face at some point, but “as of now, I wouldn’t put J. Kidd’s number in the rafters.” … When asked whether Cuban dropped any hints about possibly retiring his jersey, Kidd said he thought about jokingly broaching the subject with Cuban. “Since that was one of the first times we’ve talked,” Kidd said with a laugh, “I didn’t want to push it.”

  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: Some players are drafted and they pass through. Others dig in. They become so integral to a team and a town that you can’t envision them anywhere else. Stephen Curry sounds like one of them. I ask him Tuesday if he can see himself playing for a team other than Golden State. “I can’t,” he says. Curry talks about the four-year $44 million extension he signed seven months ago that kicks in next season. He’ll be 29 when the contract expires. “I know that not many players play their whole career for one team in one city,” says Curry. “I don’t see a better place to play.” The Warriors beat eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio on the road and won two of the playoff series’ first four games. They would lose in six. But they were discovered. Curry was discovered. The Warriors were young and fast and daring, and their first-round victory against favored Denver proved it. Curry says the team can accomplish more, and he wants to be there to lead it.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors will not retain head athletic trainer Chad Bergman , according to multiple source. Bergman’s contract expired at the end of the season. But after two seasons as the team’s head trainer, Bergman — who replaced long-time trainer Tom Abdenour — will be replaced. Golden State, which missed 156 games due to injury, has yet to name a new head athletic trainer.

  • Adrian Dater of The Denver Post: I don't cover the Nuggets, and I don't pretend to know a whole heck of a lot about the NBA anymore. At one time, though, there were few people on the planet who knew more about the game than yours truly. But I do know this: The Nuggets made the right call in letting Masai Ujiri go, rather than matching the Toronto Raptors' ridiculous, reported five-year, $15 million contract to make him their new general manager. Masai was a good GM, but no savior. Anybody who can read the results from the first round of the NBA playoffs the past two years would know that. Since when did Ujiri become a brilliant strategist anyway? Was it when he failed late in the season to go out and get a guy who could shoot the basketball in the playoffs? Was it when he gave a multi-year contract to JaVale McGee, whom his own coach couldn't trust to put on the court in key playoff situations? The fact that the Nuggets haven't gotten out of the first round of the playoffs the past two years is one of the more underachieving NBA stories in that time. Yet, Ujiri gets rewarded with a five-year contract as a result by another team.

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: On potentially changing the Raptors’ name? Tim Leiweke: “We’re definitely going to take a look at it. It doesn’t mean we’re committed to it. It means it’s a good conversation. I saw those generic uniforms today in the paper. … That won’t be the uniform, by the way. I can assure you of that. I think we need to have this conversation.”

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Celtics branding ascended to a new level on May 22 when James Pallotta, the Celtics minority partner who is also president of the Italian soccer club AS Roma, presented Pope Francis with a Celtics jersey on the steps of St. Peter’s. The white home jersey, adorned with No. 1, also had The Pope lettered across the back. Pallotta’s only hope now is that the first Argentina-born Pope won’t need a scorecard to follow his team next season. With a decision pending on the last year of Paul Pierce’s contract, Kevin Garnett debating retirement, and Doc Rivers going through the same process, the Celtics could be in a very different place by next fall. As such, Celtics ownership has banded behind a familiar slogan — In Danny We Trust. Celtics managing partners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca held true to that philosophy during a recent interview. Q: With all of the changes that could take place by the end of the month, is a new Celtics era about to begin? GROUSBECK: I think there’s a core in this team with a number of players under 30 who can play good basketball. So, I wouldn’t say we’re going into an entirely new era. Maybe there will be some changes in the roster, but those will have to wait until the end of June or early July. PAGLIUCA: (Rajon) Rondo, (Jared) Sullinger, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, that’s who we’re talking about.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: The Pistons coaching search looks to be rounding third and finally, heading home, in all likelihood this week. Although it could drag on, there's an unspoken sentiment around the NBA commissioner David Stern isn't a fan of coaching hires taking place during the NBA Finals, taking away from the league's biggest stage. Along with a lot of NBA scouts going to the Adidas Eurocamp next week, one would think the Pistons would choose to roll with either Nate McMillan or Maurice Cheeks, former coaches and players who the Pistons believe will bring some stability to the position. In all likelihood, a playoff spot will be a stated expectation from owner Tom Gores, who'll expect to see results in year three of his stewardship of the franchise.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Since saying that he is looking for "the right coach" and that the search may take some time, Hinkie has seemed to stay that course. The likes of Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix), Mike Malone (Sacramento), Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Mike Brown (Cleveland) and Larry Drew (Milwaukee) have all filled coaching vacancies, trimming the list of candidates for the Sixers, it would seem. Or maybe Hinkie has had someone else in mind since the beginning of his stint here. Maybe Indiana associate head coach Brian Shaw was on speed dial after the Pacers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday. Or perhaps Lionel Hollins, who appears to be on his way out in Memphis, would coach another team, despite his recent words that he wanted only to oversee the Grizzlies. … Will Hinkie put the franchise in the lap of Collins' associate head coach, Michael Curry? Could the remaining staff of Curry, Aaron McKie, Jeff Capel and Monte Shubik stay? There certainly could be reasons as to why it would make sense. This organization doesn't appear to be going anywhere in the near future, especially not this upcoming season. … Still, if Hinkie does decide to go with Curry, it could be a smart business decision. Curry has only 1 year left on his contract. If Curry goes through what appears will be a dismal season, then the coaching search starts all over again.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: The Charlotte Bobcats are bringing in Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing for an interview on Wednesday for their lead assistant position, someone close to the situation informed CSNNW.com. According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, says “It's Ewing's job for the taking.” When reached by phone, Ewing confirmed he was meeting with head coach Steve Clifford in Charlotte. “Charlotte is a great city and I'm open-minded,” Ewing told CSNNW.com. “I have worked with Steve for many years in Houston and Orlando and I consider him to be a friend. We'll see what they are looking for and see if it'll be a good fit.” The Sacramento Kings have also reached out to Ewing to gauge his willingness to join its staff, the big man revealed. Though, no meeting between himself and head coach Mike Malone has been scheduled as of now.

  • Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post: For two years Alex Len has lived with teammate John Auslander, a forward who is one of Len’s best friends. Last year, Auslander dealt with the same partial stress fracture, the specificity of which Len says is relatively uncommon among basketball players. Len ponders this oddity for a moment, wondering about the coincidence. Yet Len doesn’t appear much burdened by fate or circumstance. He sees the problem and acts, like with the 38 marbles Charvat just dumped onto a white towel. Len must return them to a plastic container using only his left foot. He struggles initially, curling his second toe around the glass and bending the marble into the open space. Several fall. One rolls off the towel. But soon Len hits his stride, completing the task twice before grabbing the black crutches and calling it quits. Len has been in control all day, each second of the nearly three-hour workout scripted for maximum efficiency and oversight. But there’s something on his mind, an unanswered question he asked Charvat about the next step: June 27, when Len hears his name called at the NBA draft. “You think I’ll be able to walk on the stage?”