First Cup: Friday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: There was the 2006 Finals MVP, a nine-time All-Star, arguably the second-best two-guard of his generation. There was the defender whom Spurs coach Gregg Popovich chose to check him: The slow-footed seven-footer Tiago Splitter. There was something very wrong with this even if, of late, there has been something not quite right about Dwyane Wade. “I was glad I had the ball in my hand, because I was going to go right at him,” the Heat guard said, smiling after Thursday’s victory, 109-93, to tie the series at 2. “I got a foul on him early. And Pop changed it after that.” Even so, that small snippet symbolized the extent to which the fear of Wade has subsided, as his right knee ailed him, as he failed to exceed 20 points in all but two playoff games, as observers began to accept what once qualified as meager offensive output as the best he could do. In Game 4, this is what he did: He brought the fear back. … “He went back into his bag tonight,” said LeBron James, who wasn’t bad either, scoring 33, keeping his promises to run off rebounds, get into his moves quicker and find his outside form. “He was Flash tonight.” Yes, Flash. That’s the name Shaquille O’Neal gave Wade. … So can Wade do it again? “I guess there’s only one way to find out,” he said. “See you Sunday.” When, odds are, he won’t see much of Tiago Splitter.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: In addition to squandering homecourt advantage back to Miami, the Spurs got reinforcement for what they already know: The absolutely, positively cannot turn the ball over against the Heat. They did it 19 times leading to 23 points as the Heat improved to 43-3 this season when forcing at least 16 miscues. About the only silver lining was the condition of Tony Parker, who wore down but otherwise reported no deteriorating in his strained right hamstring. “When we lose, that’s the deal right there,” said Tim Duncan, who led the Spurs with 20 points. “They turned up their intensity, as we knew they would, and they got a lot of hands on balls. Obviously their effort was there.” … Wade hadn’t played like he did on Thursday in months. Indeed, his teammates went even further back than that, with James saying Wade looked like “2006 Flash” — a reference to his MVP form in the 2006 Finals — after shredding the Spurs for one of the most dominant all-around performances in championship series history (see below). That’s a bit unfair to everything he’s done since then, playing in seven All-Star games, serving as an elite wingman to James in last year’s title run and, more recently scoring 20 points or more in 13 straight games from mid-February to mid-March. But after the struggles he’s endured since then, with a bruised knee rendering him a shell of himself, it was a welcome sight for the Heat.

  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: So then the conversation changed, the way a game can change, the way he could always change one with a pass or a smart play. He and Schwartz had informed the Knicks on that Saturday that he was going to retire. They learned Grant Hill was set to announce his own retirement at the same time. It was agreed that Kidd would issue his own statement on Monday. “Atone point Jeff said something like, ‘OK, so what are you going to do now that you’re not a player anymore?’ ” Kidd says. “Then he said, ‘Listen, I know you can golf your way around the world two or three times. But when you get tired of that, and you will, then you’re going to ask me what you should do next. Why don’t we think about what’s next right now?’ ” Kidd chuckles again as he tells you the next part of the story, before things happened as fast as they did with the Nets. “I thought to myself, “All right, let's take a look at your resume, Jason,’ ” he says. “You have no financial background. You have basketball, that’s what you have, for your whole life.’ So next was going to be basketball. Jeff started to put out some feelers. Obviously one of his first calls was to Billy. And then things started to move up warp speed after that.” Before long Jason Kidd, one of the two most important players in the history of the franchise — Julius Erving was first — was pitching himself to his old team. Excited about the prospect of starting all over again as a coach, starting all over again with the Nets. “I got the feeling once I was in the room that both sides were excited,” he says.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Now that the NBA’s prime coaching pool is shrinking by the day as Doc Rivers contemplates his Celtics future, Danny Ainge has no choice but to consider a backup plan if his coach of the last nine seasons leaves. Two league sources with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed yesterday that if Rivers does indeed leave, former Clippers coach Vinnie Del Negro will receive serious consideration as his replacement. Clippers management, known to be interested in Rivers now that his reluctance has become public, was denied permission to talk to him earlier this week, according to one of the sources. Celtics management has now denied two teams permission — the Clippers and Nets. Memphis is also said to be interested, though Grizzlies management has not approached Ainge. But Rivers’ prolonged deliberation has forced Ainge to at least consider alternatives. The Celtics president of basketball operations is an admirer of the Springfield-born Del Negro and his up-tempo philosophy, even if Del Negro reportedly didn’t mesh with his biggest star, Chris Paul. “As a stopgap for that situation, sure,” said one source. “Vinnie would be the perfect person for what they need. All of the all-star coaches, or whatever you want to call them, are going, and knowing how Danny feels about him, (Del Negro) would be a good fit.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Upon being fired last week, Nuggets coach George Karl told team president Josh Kroenke, "I think I should tell you, I think it's very stupid." The controversial firing of the reigning NBA coach of the year has led to much debate in Denver. On Thursday afternoon, Karl sat down with The Denver Post and discussed an array of topics, including his firing, his future (possibly landing with the Memphis Grizzlies or the Los Angeles Clippers) and the future of the Nuggets, a team he believes could have won 55 games next season, even with Danilo Gallinari out for much of the season due to knee surgery. "I'm not going to stand here and justify my (playoff) record," Karl said, but he believed the franchise was on an upward tick, "and to blow that away, it leaves you helpless, speechless, powerless, sad, a lot of words."

  • Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: The mission for the Indiana Pacers’ front office this summer mirrors what it was a year ago: Keep the core players together. Last July, the team paid a combined $98 million to keep a pair of starters, Roy Hibbert and George Hill, in Indiana uniforms. The focus this time? Do the same with David West. Donnie Walsh, the team’s president, and Kevin Pritchard, the general manager, expressed their desire to re-sign West, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, in a Thursday morning news conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Simply put by the Pacers’ brass: West is priority No. 1. “We want him back as much as you can want anyone back,” Walsh said. “We think he’s one of the anchors of this team.” The interest is mutual. West was clear with his feelings following Indiana’s Game 7 Eastern Conference finals loss to the Miami Heat earlier this month. “I’m not (expletive) dumb,” he said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. This is my team. These are my guys.”

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves conducted another round of predraft workouts on Thursday and then new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders quickly slipped out of Target Center to catch a flight to see Indiana guard Victor Oladipo on Friday. Saunders flew to Las Vegas two weeks ago to watch Russian guard Sergey Karasev in a pro-day workout. On Thursday, he headed to the Washington, D.C. area to see a player the Wolves would have to move from their ninth pick into the top five — or maybe even top two — to get a chance to draft. The Wolves have limited assets to swing such a deal, namely third-year forward Derrick Williams, second-year guard Alexey Shved and the ninth and/or 26th picks in the draft. They also likely will trade one of two veteran guards —Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea —by draft night. The Wolves’ biggest need is a traditionally sized shooting guard and Saunders has stated more than once that he wants — and expects — to get with that ninth pick a player who can help his team next season.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars was asked about the upcoming summer as his team will have at least $20 million in cap space to help construct the roster. He emphasized with a weak free-agent class, the path back to relevancy will likely come via the trade market. Likely partners are those teams facing onerous luxury tax bills next year. The potential is there to get a good, young veteran from one of those teams. So is he itching to start pitching deals? On the contrary; the talks have already begun. “It’s already started,” Dumars said at the introductory news conference for new coach Maurice Cheeks. “The phone calls for that have already started. The calls have already started because those teams are already facing it.”

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: It has been nearly 40 years since a true shooting guard was the top overall pick in the NBA Draft. If the Cavaliers elect to end that streak and select Ben McLemore first overall in two weeks, hopefully it works out better than the last time it happened. The Atlanta Hawks made David Thompson the top pick of the 1975 draft, but he never played for them. Thompson was also the top pick of the ABA Draft that year and elected to play in the ABA before the two leagues merged. The list of players to go No. 1 overall is littered with point guards and big men. McLemore is well aware of that, since he used some down time after the season to research the last time a shooting guard was the top pick. “I realized I can make history,” McLemore said. “Coming from nothing and just having the opportunity to get the No. 1 spot, I’m going to work for it. It’s definitely neck and neck.” The other “neck” McLemore was referring to was Nerlens Noel, but the Cavs have seemed cool on Noel since winning the draft lottery last month.

  • Brandon Parker of The Washington Post: Indeed, fans are already buzzing about the prospect of either Bennett or Porter being selected third overall by the Wizards in the NBA draft on June 27. While Porter will work out with the Wizards on Friday, Bennett made his case during the last two days in Washington, meeting with the Wizards for interviews and measurements. Because of surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, the 6-foot-8 forward was unable to work out in front of the team. Since his May operation, Bennett, who is no longer in a cast, has been rehabbing in New York with an eye on returning to full strength by the first week of August. “I met with Dr. [David] Altchek yesterday and he said I can do light shooting, can dribble, but no contact or dunking or anything crazy like that,” Bennett said. “He said everything is going fine.” … On Thursday, Bennett said his wingspan measured in around 7 feet 1 and his standing reach was 8-9, numbers that continue to intrigue all of the teams with top five picks. After meeting with Phoenix last week, Bennett is expected to visit with Orlando this weekend, followed by Cleveland and Charlotte in the coming weeks. Whether he meets with any teams outside of the top five is up to his agent, Bennett said.

  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Phil Jackson doesn't want to lie to himself, he's done coaching. "Sometimes I feel I can still get out there and do it but the reality is I'm kidding myself," Jackson said at a "Live Talks Los Angeles" event at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Wednesday. Jackson said he returned for one final year with the team in 2010-11 as a favor to the late Dr. Jerry Buss (and his support staff). "When I was done I knew I was done -- physically it was over," he said. "Even though after I got a knee replacement and a prostatectomy in the last year and a half." Jackson was diagnosed with prostate cancer midway through his final season, but has since recovered. "It's those long flights and three o'clock nights -- getting up after five hours of sleep and going back to work, those are the things that wear you out," continued the Hall-of-Fame coach. Jackson was greeted by an enthusiastic audience at the Alex Theatre, chanting the now familiar, "We want Phil."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: It’s been a presidential kind of day for Mark Cuban. And it’s not over yet. He had a hush-hush bite to eat with President Obama that went public when White House reporters spotted the Mavericks’ owner leaving the White House. “He invited me to have lunch and talk basketball,” Cuban said. “How could I say no? It was a lot of fun. He definitely shared his thoughts on what the Mavs should do this summer. “Even crazier is that now I’m in Chicago for the Clinton global initiative conference and tonight I’m going to watch the game with President Clinton!” Probably not at one of the great sports bars in Chicago on Hubbard Street, but at a more secure venue. Cuban, by the way, did not divulge whether President Obama is a big Dwight Howard fan or not. Cuban, according to our political experts, is a significant donor to the Democratic Party.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The Bucks and several other teams are undoubtedly doing their homework on Jordan Farmar. Farmar, the former first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, spent this season playing for Anadolu Efes in the Turkish League. He signed a three-year, $15 million contract last July with Efes, but can op out after every season. “He wants to come back to the NBA, for sure,” said Tony Dutt, Farmar’s agent who also happens to be a friend of Bucks general manager John Hammond. “He’s still young and he could help some teams.” Farmar, 25, played four seasons for the Lakers while earning two championship rings before signing with the New Jersey Nets. After two seasons with the Nets, he latched on with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2011.