First Cup: Friday

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: It seems Isiah Thomas thinks Karl Malone should've used more elbow grease on free-throw shooting. In an interview with NBA TV's "Open Court," the former Detroit Pistons star blamed The Mailman for costing the Utah Jazz opportunities to win some championships. Thomas even called Malone the "weakest link" of those powerhouse Jazz squads. "I thought Utah, going back to that team, I thought they had everything it took to win a championship," Thomas said in a video clip released ahead of the Oct. 8 show. “They had the system, the players, the toughness; they were defensive-minded and everything. I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter they would have beat Chicago.” A Hall of Famer considered one of the all-time greatest power forwards was the weakest link? Really? … Did someone mention Thomas, Malone and something about an elbow?

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s players are already tired of answering questions about how to prevent complacency. Said Shane Battier: “It’s makes you laugh that everyone seems concerned about complacency. There was no complacency out there [Thursday]. Guys were on the floor. Guys were getting elbows. Guys were going really hard, and that’s why this group is special, because we love to compete and play against each other.”

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Compared to past years, when Kevin Garnett’s salty vernacular dominated the training camp wavelength, Celtics practice has lost its NC-17 rating. “It’s different, I would say that,” said Brandon Bass, smiling at the civil contrast in Brad Stevens’ practices. But if this team is going to develop some defensive cohesion, Garnett’s communication skills have to be re-created. That’s where Bass’ emergence as a defensive traffic cop last year comes in. “Brandon Bass helps out a lot on defense, and he’s a great defender, believe it or not,” said the Celtics’ best defender, Avery Bradley. “He helps everybody out. He’s the vet with the bigs, and he’s been talking them through everything. I feel like we can be a great defensive team if we all talk and help each other out.Brandon will continue to talk to everybody and make sure we’re all on the same page.” The role has been a surprising fit for Bass, normally one of the quieter Celtics. But his defensive growth last season appeared to be tied to his vocal cords. “I think so,” Bass said of whether his speaking up actually fueled the way he defended

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: While the new offensive system isn’t yet in the basic principle is inside-out, meaning Nuggets center JaVale McGee will more often than not get touches on the offensive block in position to score. So how’s he doing with his post-up game? So far, it’s an incomplete grade. “He’s doing all right,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “He hasn’t really had a lot of touches. Today was the first day that we really scrimmaged. He didn’t get a lot of touches inside…to be able to judge that.” Ask McGee about scarce touches, and he’d probably say ‘What else is new?’ The Nuggets were on the shortlist of teams that used post-ups the fewest times in the NBA last season. So growing into the role is likely going to take him some time. “I’m just trying to get him to slow down,” Shaw said.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: Thomas Robinson is 6-10, 240 pounds of pure muscle. He possess a man's man body at the barely legal age of 22. The No 5 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft is an intimidating freak of nature. Now isn't the time to be opposing teams facing the Portland Trail Blazers because Robinson, in his owns words, is “pissed off.” “I'm just pissed off,” he told CSNNW.com. We understand why. He was highly touted coming out of the university of Kansas and for whatever reason, he's on his third team in two years after brief stops in Sacramento and Houston. No matter the circumstances, it's safe to say that he hasn't has a fair shake in this league, and he echoes that sentiment. “I feel disrespected,” Robinson went on to say. “A lot of people don't know the ins and outs of this business. That's how it works, man. There's no point in even talking about it. That's the way things work. I'm just ready to play.” In July in five Summer League appearances with Portland in Las Vegas, Robinson averaged 10.4 points, 12.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks 28.6 minutes per game. In one of those games, he pulled down a Trail Blazers' single-game Summer League record 18 rebounds. That upside was enough for the Trail Blazers to exercise the third year of Robinson's rookie deal this week.

  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: After a few scrimmages with the Rockets in practice, Dwight Howard is fitting in nicely, said coach Kevin McHale. After scrimmaging on Thursday, McHale said Howard is doing exactly what is expected. “He has been running and rebounding and posting up,” McHale said. “I just think he is getting comfortable with what we are doing and comfortable with his teammates. Thats all a process.” McHale said that Howard’s presence in the paint is already making an impact. “He demands a lot of space down there in that low post and he creates space for himself and gets his teammates a lot of open shots because of that,” McHale said.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: From the looks of the calendar, Vince Carter is in the twilight of his NBA career. But don’t ask the Dallas Mavericks’ small forward if he’s thought about retiring and hanging up his high-flying sneakers. Although he is in the last year of his contract, Carter, who turns 37 on Jan. 26, doesn’t have a timetable for ending his career. “I don’t want to do that to myself,” Carter said after Thursday morning’s practice. “I don’t want to limit myself. I think doing that you’ll start thinking about [retirement] as the season goes on. I’ll just let the body pretty much dictate how I’m feeling in the end.” Carter acknowledged that his body is telling him that he’s got a few more years left to play. Especially after he averaged a solid 13.4 points -- mostly off the bench -- in just 26 minutes per game last season.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: One of the pleasures of watching Jamal Crawford perform on the court is seeing his ability to shake a defender with his deft crossover dribble to create an open shot. But with Clippers Coach Doc Rivers stressing fewer isolation plays, that will probably lead to Crawford having the ball in his hands less often. So expect to see Crawford come off more screens in Rivers' system and then look for a pass. "As far as creating stuff, there's still a place for that," Crawford said. "But I think it'll be a more catch-and-shoot type of thing." Over his 13-year NBA career, Crawford has had the basketball in his hands "most of the time" before he takes a shot. Now he has to change his mind-set. "It's an adjustment," Crawford said. "But I'll make the best out of it. [Rivers] has some really good stuff that I think will benefit everybody."

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: Following the all-star break, DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors’ starting shooting guard, averaged nearly 37 minutes per game. Rudy Gay, the Raptors’ starting small forward, was at nearly 34. That does not leave a ton of time for the team’s reserve swingmen, even if Gay plays more small-ball power forward than last year. Nonetheless, the battle for those minutes is open, even if the choices are all flawed: Terrence Ross, who was streaky as a rookie; Landry Fields, who is still trying to find his shooting form; and one-dimensional shooting forwards such as Austin Daye and Steve Novak. “We have a lot of people who can step in and take that opportunity,” coach Dwane Casey said on Thursday. “There are going to be minutes there. [Gay and DeRozan] can’t play 48. We’re looking for that second unit.” It will be imperative that Casey can find some workable options. In the minutes they played together, the starting five of Gay, DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas out-scored their opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions last year. The reserves could rarely protect their leads.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Jeremy Lamb played 147 minutes total last year. Kevin Durant surpasses that number before each season is two weeks old. Derek Fisher has eclipsed that minute mark in 14 separate postseasons during his 17-year career. But Lamb's lack of NBA experience won't last long. He's about to get thrown into the fire. Already slated to slide into an important bench role, Lamb is now the team's likely Sixth Man. Russell Westbrook's injury and early season absence should bump Reggie Jackson into the starting point guard role, meaning Lamb will serve as the second-unit's primary scoring option. “(Lamb's play) is going to be a little bit more magnified now that Russ is out,” Durant said. “But he's ready. I know he's ready.” Maybe so. Durant has seen plenty of him behind the scenes. But for those who follow and cover the sport, Lamb remains the big unknown, a 21-year-old question mark on a team with legit title aspirations. In a way, he's been in this position before.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: This week, the venerable and often irascible Spurs coach was back on his old stomping grounds, and back in his element, leading his team through the start of an NBA training camp that at times has taken on the tenor of a family vacation. Players spent one morning navigating a military obstacle course. On another, Popovich guided the team to a favorite lookout point perched atop the sprawling academy complex at the base of the Rocky Mountains. At lunch Thursday, the Spurs watched cadets parade into the dining hall, with players and coaches snapping pictures and capturing video, before sitting down to dine with them as guests of honor. All the while, Popovich has had a smile perma-plastered on his 64-year-old face. “He's really proud of the Air Force Academy,” forward Matt Bonner said. “Being here and experiencing it, we can all see why.” There's little question that Popovich's 17th training camp as an NBA head coach also has been his most special. After a Wednesday night scrimmage at Clune Arena, open to all cadets, Popovich joined a group of them in singing “The U.S. Air Force,” the official song they all learned as freshmen.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Victor Oladipo has achieved two of his childhood dreams in the last week. On Tuesday, he started participating in his first NBA training camp. And the other day, through a stroke of luck, he met one of his childhood idols, former Orlando Magic superstar Tracy McGrady. McGrady offered Oladipo some advice on how to handle the pressures of a rookie season. “It was kind of just an interesting moment, because it was Tracy McGrady,” Oladipo recalled before the Magic started practice today. “I grew up watching him. For him to actually want to give me advice was pretty cool. It’s all just been a blessing really.” Oladipo said his meeting with McGrady occurred by chance. Oladipo saw the seven-time All-Star somewhere in Central Florida and walked up to McGrady to introduce himself. They started to talk. When he was a child, Oladipo looked up to McGrady. “It was one of my first jerseys I’ve ever bought: a Tracy McGrady Orlando Magic jersey in seventh grade,” Oladipo said, smiling. What advice did McGrady give? “Just bascially to work hard,” Oladipo said. “Never stop working hard. Never be satisfied. The sky’s the limit if I do that.”

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers’ news conference to introduce center DeSagana Diop to the Cleveland media in June 2001 was one for the ages. Then-coach John Lucas went around the room giving people high-fives for their steal in the draft at No. 8 overall. Lucas boldly predicted the 7-foot, 300-pounder would be an All-Star in two years. Once the microphone made its way to the Oak Hill Academy product, the bravado continued. Diop said he couldn’t wait to dunk on Shaquille O’Neal, then the best center in the league. It was quite a scene. But those nervy predictions proved to be nothing more than bluster. In four seasons with the Cavs from 2001-02 to 2004-05, he never averaged more than 2.3 points and 3.6 rebounds. “We were having fun (at the news conference),” Diop said on Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Everyone who is drafted, they say they want to be the best.” Diop is back with the Cavs. He has a non-guaranteed, make-good contract. The team has bulked up at center with the uncertainty surrounding Andrew Bynum’s knees. There are scenarios in which Diop could make the team.

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Eleven years ago, Patrick Ewing was on the other side of the state, way over on the coast in Wilmington, Jordan’s hometown, when he was a first-year assistant with the Wizards and when Jordan still couldn’t get basketball out of his system. Now, the Knick legend is here in the picturesque Smoky Mountains, working hard at his new job as associate head coach to Steve Clifford of Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats, and trying to figure out when he’ll get his chance to lead an NBA team. Not that he’s losing any sleep over the fact that he can’t get a sniff of a head coaching job. But for all the long hours of watching tape, coaching practice and working on game plans and in-game strategy, first for Doug Collins and then for the Van Gundy brothers in Houston and Orlando, Ewing has had all of two interviews for a head coaching job. One was in Detroit several years ago, when the Pistons eventually hired Lawrence Frank, and his only other one came with the Bobcats before they made the mistake of hiring former St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap last season. Even this past off-season, when more than a third of the NBA head coaching positions were open, Ewing never got a call about a vacancy, even with his nine seasons of coaching experience. But then he saw Jason Kidd walk out of a Hall of Fame playing career and right into a plum job in Brooklyn, and he knows the math: Kidd is one of nine new head coaches who this season will be leading NBA teams for the very first time.

  • William Yardley of The New York Times: Sergei Belov, a Russian basketball star who led the Soviet national team in its controversial gold medal victory over the United States at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, died on Thursday in Perm, Russia. He was 69. His death was announced by CKSA Moscow, the professional team he had coached. No cause was given. Belov, a guard who stood nearly 6 feet 3 inches and was quick off the dribble, had one of the smoother jump shots seen outside of the United States in his day. Sometimes called the Jerry West of Russia, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992, the first international player to be inducted. When the Soviets met the Americans in the cold war confrontation on Sept. 10, 1972, Belov’s shot did not fail him. With 20 of the Soviets’ 51 points, he led all scorers, often shooting while hanging in the air. He did not score the final, stunning basket that gave the Soviets the gold. That was a layup made by his teammate Aleksandr Belov (no relation), and its legitimacy, coming after a string of strange calls in the last seconds, continues to be questioned.