First Cup: Thursday

  • Bruce Brothers of the Pioneer Press: Flip Saunders indicated that signing Pekovic provides Wolves coach Rick Adelman with a major piece for a team that acquired forwards Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer plus center Ronny Turiaf, re-signed guard Chase Budinger and signed draft picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. "We were able, really, to address what we wanted to do," Saunders said. "But we've still got a lot of work to do." Saunders has been busy since taking over running the Timberwolves on May 3 but said his foremost job was securing Pekovic. "He's one of our big, key pieces," Saunders said of the 6-foot-11 Pekovic. "We came in in the offseason, and we labeled him our No. 1 priority." … Pekovic, forward Kevin Love and guard Ricky Rubio give the Wolves the tools to reach the playoffs and more after a nine-year absence, Saunders said.

  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: It’s been a busy offseason for Rockets guard James Harden, who took the step up to NBA All-Star in his first season in Houston. There was recording a new commercial for Foot Locker, a trip to the Philippines as part of the NBA’s global basketball program, a stop with the Nike Drew League in Los Angeles and a surprise appearance in a summer game at Fonde. Harden also managed to find a few days to practice with his newest teammate, Dwight Howard, and get more time in the weight room. After all that? “I am ready to get back to work,” Harden said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I am really excited about what is coming up for our team.” … Harden said that heading into this season’s camp — set to kick off in late September — he is even more comfortable in his role with the Rockets. “Last year was great because it was a whole new experience,” he said. “I had a whole new role — a leadership role.” Playing on a team that is trying to become championship-caliber is something that came naturally for Harden, who reached the NBA Finals in his last year with the Thunder.

  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Lakers owners/executives Jim and Jeanie Buss have different views on the exit of Dwight Howard. "He was never really a Laker," Jim said to Ric Bucher of The Hollywood Reporter. "He was just passing through." "It's disappointing that Dwight isn't here," Jeanie said. "I feel like we failed him." Howard, who was a free agent this off-season, signed a long-term deal with the Houston Rockets. The Lakers' longtime owner had been Dr. Jerry Buss, who died in February from cancer-related complications. His ownership was passed on to two of his six children, with Jim in charge of basketball operations and Jeanie in charge of business. "My brother ultimately makes the [basketball] decisions,” said Jeanie. “I defer and will continue to defer because that’s what my dad believed would be successful." She would like to be more involved with the Lakers' basketball decisions, but that's not the role within the organization. … Jeanie recently said she believes her father might have been able to convince Howard to stay.

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Trust can be earned, trust can be built, and trust can also become a quick necessity when the back door is locked and you have to go out the front together or not at all. Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are going to pull this off as a team or it isn't going to happen for the new administration and staff. That's the reality of what the partnership announced Wednesday means, and nobody was sugarcoating the degree of difficulty involved. "We all know the pain of rebuilding is real. We've all experienced it," Brown said. "It's dangerous and . . . a bit scary at times." In finding his partner for the tightrope walk of trust across this gorge, the least-surprising thing is that Hinkie raided a San Antonio organization for which he has a respect that one league source familiar with the GM referred to as "man love." The organization built by R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich has been an innovator in terms of team facilities, player development, and draft and free-agent strategies. The last time the Spurs didn't win at least 50 games in a full season was 1996-97, and along the way they have won four NBA titles and would have won a fifth but for an uncharacteristic last-minute collapse in Game 6 against the Heat in June. "If someone on my [Houston] staff came to me with an idea of something that maybe we should try or do differently, I'd tell them to go find out if San Antonio did it," Hinkie said. "If the answer was no, then they should go back and rethink what they had."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: In May, Kevin Durant wore a Seattle SuperSonics cap to a Thunder shootaround in Memphis. Over the weekend, Durant played a streetball game back in Seattle and turned all melancholy. “I love and miss Seattle…damn” he tweeted. To which I say, I hear you, KD. I love it myself, and I've only been a few times to the bluest skies you've ever seen. Durant's remembrance of things past is no cause for alarm in Oklahoma City, Durant's five-year NBA home. For one thing, who cares if Durant likes Seattle? Seattle doesn't have a franchise. If Durant hasn't gotten over his first love, he can buy a summer home. For another thing, who wouldn't like Seattle? Great city. Beautiful weather. Gorgeous scenery. Ivar's seafood, Pike Place Market. Seattle is one of my favorite cities. I'm not going to bust Durant if he feels the same. Of course, who knows how Durant really feels? Nothing against the gentle giant, but he's got a little politician in him. He likes to tell people what they want to hear. … Does Durant love Seattle? I don't know. Does Durant love Oklahoma City? I don't know. But so far, he's loved the basketball experience, which is more important than hills the greenest green.

  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: At the start of last season, the smart money was on the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division. Yeah, and smart money once thought “Ishtar” was going to be a hit. So the Knicks disproved all the smart money thinking, ran away from Boston and outdistanced the Nets by five games. Brooklyn’s upgrades will create a greater challenge, but the Knicks remain reigning division champs. And so they are the hunted. “It is what it is. We were able to win our division based on people telling us we were fourth or fifth in the East and we are able to jump from the seventh to the second seed,” coach Mike Woodson said at yesterday’s Garden of Dreams Foundation event for kids at the team’s Greenburgh training facility. “Anything is possible. But I think our players are hungry just like every team. We’ve just got to make sure that we handle our home court and ... we’ve got to figure out the road. That’s how you win your division, just like last season.”

  • Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: When Tristan Thompson came to the Cavaliers at the end of last season and said he wanted to make the switch from shooting primarily with his left hand to primarily with his right, no one really bothered to investigate whether anyone else had ever accomplished such a feat in the NBA. Because the answer is that no one can remember it happening. Ever. Harvey Pollack is the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers and has been with the NBA since its inception in 1946. He was the game statistician for Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, and he saw the frequently free-throw challenged player shoot those shots with his right hand, left hand and under-handed simply to find something that worked. But someone switching shooting everything from free throws to jumpers with the opposite hand? “If anyone ever did this, I’m not aware of it,” said the 91-year-old Pollack in an email reply. Thompson, for his part, claims it’s no big deal. He’s always thrown a baseball and a football right-handed. He just also always happened to golf and eat left-handed. And shoot a basketball left-handed.

  • Tony Jones and Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Player agent Justin Zanik is expected to join the Utah Jazz front office as an assistant general manager, sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune. Hiring Zanik would represent the latest of a flurry of moves general manager Dennis Lindsey has made since joining the organization last summer. The hire was first reported by ESPN.com. Zanik, whose clients included Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka, worked for ASM Sports, the agency that represents Jazz guard Alec Burks. Zanik is considered a statistics and salary cap expert, areas the Jazz have looked to bolster under Lindsey. Zanik’s position would be a new one; they did not previously have an assistant GM. Lindsey declined to comment.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Brandon Roy will still be the most recent Trail Blazer to wear No.7 in a regular season game. Newly signed free agent Mo Williams earlier this month created somewhat of a stir when he chose No. 7, the number that Roy wore for his five seasons in Portland. But on Wednesday Williams got his preferred jersey number: 25, which was previously taken by the also recently signed Earl Watson. A team source said there is nothing more to the jersey number change than Watson being a nice guy and giving Williams the number he wanted all along. Watson has not chosen his new number, but he told the team it won't be No.7. Roy, one of the most popular Blazers in recent years after winning the 2006-2007 Rookie of the Year and earning All-Star honors three times, left the Blazers in 2011 after his degenerative knees led the team to waive him under the NBA's Amnesty clause, which gave them salary cap relief.

  • Buddy Collins of the Orlando Sentinel: Former Lake Howell and UF basketball standout Nick Calathes made it official Wednesday, signing an NBA contract with the Memphis Grizzlies that has been in the works for weeks. Calathes indicated his deal with the Western Conference runners-up guarantees one season. Memphis holds a team option to stretch the contract to a second season, which would bring the value to a reported $2 million. That suggests the 6-foot-6 point guard actually took a pay cut after four lucrative pro seasons in Europe to play at the game's highest level.

  • Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star: George Hill doesn’t have any regrets when he looks back on how he handled his decision to skip the U.S. National Team’s minicamp last month. The Indiana Pacers guard accepted an invitation to attend but changed his mind at the last moment because of a conflict with his youth camp in San Antonio, where he played for the Spurs before being traded to his hometown Pacers two years ago. “I am not going to sacrifice that for something that doesn’t mean as much to me as kids mean to me,” Hill said after distributing toys to students at Riverside Elementary School on the west side as part of the Pacers’ Summer Christmas program Wednesday. “The kids mean the world to me. If I have to make a decision to cancel some things, I will do it as a man.” Hill downplayed suggestions that other considerations — such as being a long shot to make the team for next summer’s World Cup in Spain — played a role in his decision. He also declined to specify why he didn’t tell USABasketball officials he planned to miss the camp. He was on the camp roster until being a no-show on opening day on July 21.

  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: As hinted at Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons announced today the unveiling of a special uniform that will be worn during 10 games — including six Sunday home games — throughout the 2013-14 regular season. The navy blue and red uniforms feature “Motor City” across the front and mark the club’s first alternative look since the 2005-06 NBA season, according to a news release. The uniforms are the first of their kind, designed to celebrate the pride and character of metro Detroit while paying homage to the region’s automotive roots, the release added. … The team will wear the uniforms Nov. 3 against Boston, Nov. 17 at the Lakers, Nov. 29 against the Lakers, Dec. 1 against Philadelphia, Dec. 8 vs. Miami, Dec. 15 against Portland, Jan. 5 vs. Memphis, Jan. 26 at Dallas, March 9 at Boston, and April 13 against Toronto.