First Cup: Monday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: On the eve of the Miami Heat’s preseason schedule, the back-to-back defending champions received a message from someone who knows a little about staying on top. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the ultimate champ, attended Heat practice Sunday, spoke briefly about the difficulty of sustained excellence and, more importantly, energized the team on the day between training camp and the start of an eight-game preseason schedule. The Heat plays the Atlanta Hawks at AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday night. “Not many people can relate to our guys in terms of championships, so we felt he would be a great voice for them to hear,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His message was awesome. The guys ate it all up.” Mayweather was in town Saturday for the Miami Hurricanes football game, and Spoelstra reached out with an offer to attend practice. Few outsiders are allowed to watch Heat practice, according to Dwyane Wade, but Mayweather is a little different. He’s 45-0 over a 17-year career. “From one champion to another, he just talked about being proud of us and how we handled ourselves,” Wade said. LeBron James, who is friends with Mayweather, put Spoelstra and the boxer in touch.

  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Mike Woodson has yet to officially name his starting lineup, but the Knicks’ coach allowed Sunday that “it’s looking good” in practice with Andrea Bargnani alongside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler up front. “I like the makeup of Andrea and Melo on the floor at the same time with Tyson,” Woodson said after the Knicks’ noncontact practice in Greenburgh. “In the scrimmage we worked that combination. It wasn’t bad. Again it’s got to be done in the game, in real-game situations and see how it looks. If it’s good, we can feed off of that. Until we get to that point, I don't know.” That combination also suggests that the Knicks will deviate from the three-guard set — with two point guards — they employed for much of last season. Iman Shumpert, who started much of last season at small forward, could be the starting shooting guard alongside Raymond Felton, moving Pablo Prigioni to the bench.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Of all the ways to describe his new free agent guard, the best Cavs coach Mike Brown could come up with in describing Jarrett Jack is “crusty.” He meant it, of course, in that grizzled, tough veteran sort of way — not the smelly, stale form that is only cured with a bar of soap and some hot water. “He’s kind of crusty. There’s not a lot glamorous when you look at him,” Brown said. “He’s not trying to look good or look beautiful out there. He just wants to win and get the job done.” Jack is eloquent, thoughtful and well spoken. He has squeezed out every ounce of talent available and has earned $25 million over eight years (from now six different teams). The four-year, $25 million deal he signed over the summer is the most lucrative of his career and comes as he prepares to turn 30 two days before the start of the season. This is around the time players typically begin to decline, but Jack provides exactly what this young backcourt needs and the Cavaliers are confident he’ll maintain his level of production in part because of his proven durability throughout his career. He averaged 12.9 points and 5.6 assists last season despite starting just four games for the Warriors. When asked if he would be disappointed if the Cavs failed to make the playoffs, Jack scoffed at the idea of just making the playoffs being the biggest goal of the season. Why bother, he reasoned, if players are happy just to show up and lose in the first round?

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Thirteen teams made coaching changes in the offseason. George Karl, along with Lionel Hollins, who guided the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals, are unemployed, a testament to the volatile nature of the relationship between coaches and the new generation of club management. “I was amazed at how quickly I accepted what happened,” Karl said, “because I had 8½ great years and last year was probably my most fun coaching any basketball team I’ve ever been associated with. I don’t have a lot of bitterness other than I don’t understand. But not understanding — when you are working in a world of millions, millions, and millions of dollars, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand. There’s a lot of contracts we give players that I don’t understand. There’s a lot of trades that I don’t understand. There are a lot of decisions I don’t understand. I can’t deny there’s an anger and frustration. But there’s much more celebration in my heart than anything else.”

  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Playing exclusively as the Pelicans' backup point guard, Austin Rivers took major strides in proving he'll be capable of directing the team when starter Jrue Holiday is either off the court or ineffective. In 31 minutes against the Rockets, Rivers scored 21 points and dished out a team-high five assists. He also had just one turnover and was solid defensively. "I just think he is right where he should be," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "We've heard about Austin since he was in the seventh or eight grade and everybody wants him to be LeBron (James), but he is right where he should be. He works his tail off. He's probably one of the most competitive guys in the league. He's hungry. He does some things you like from a young guy. He works hard. He's coachable. He's not afraid. To me, you can't ask for more than that. He's going to have ups and downs because he is 20. But he competed and that's what I wanted." Rivers, who'll get another opportunity to build on his performance when the Pelicans play at the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, said he was encouraged by his performance.

  • Chris Haynes of CNNW.com: Rookie CJ McCollum addressed the media prior to the Portland Trail Blazers' annual Fan Fest scrimmage Sunday night, a day removed from fracturing the fifth metatarsal bone his left foot. …. Most medical outlets say a recovery process for such an injury could range from eight to 10 weeks. When McCollum broke his left foot during his senior year at Lehigh University, the same foot that's broke now, he said he cried, due to how much pain he felt. This one wasn't as severe. … General manager Neil Olshey says whichever path McCollum takes, he would expect him to be back in action by January. His teammate, Damian Lillard, who McCollum has drawn comparisons to, being that they're both lottery picks from small colleges, has something else in common with McCollum. Lillard fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot in December of 2010, shelving him for the remainder of his junior season at Weber State. He says he sat out more than was necessary – about six months to be exact – in order to make sure he entered his senior season healthy as can be. When Lillard first heard about McCollum's injury, it made him sick.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Tonight’s exhibition opener against Toronto at the Garden will be Jared Sullinger’s first game since Jan. 30. The process of recovering from back surgery has admittedly been slow and debilitating for the Celtics forward. He gained an estimated 15 pounds, and has spent training camp attempting to trim down his 270-plus frame. There’s no time like now for a fresh baptism. “Everything feels great, but I have to get in better shape,” Sullinger said after yesterday’s practice. “Being six, seven months off and then coming in and trying to play with these guys who have been working out all summer and played the entire NBA season last year, I’m just a tier under. “I feel good. Every day I get in better shape. I can tell every day throughout practice that I’m starting to survive a little more. You just have to keep working.” It helps that coach Brad Stevens doesn’t plan to run any of his players into the floorboards in the preseason opener. “He doesn’t have any limitations,” Stevens said of Sullinger. “The first game I won’t look to play guys extended, extended minutes.”

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: It might seem counter-intuitive that Masai Ujiri, last seen assembling the break-neck Denver Nuggets, would be open to Casey’s grinding philosophy. However, Ujiri is more of a basketball pragmatist than an ideologue; he recalled with a laugh how some reporters thought he would fire coach George Karl upon taking over in Denver in 2010. That does not mean Casey has endless rope to play with. Ujiri would be best served by making a decision on direction for the Raptors sooner rather than later, and Casey has already been a part of one rebuilding effort in Toronto. That he is in the final year of his contract is mostly irrelevant — even if he had three years left on his deal, he would still essentially be auditioning for a new boss. This, though, feels like an honest opportunity for Casey to be himself, with the cross-purposes and dysfunction of last year replaced by some clarity. If Casey cannot show his defensive touch — the Raptors fell from 14th to 22nd in defensive rating last year — it is unlikely he will last long.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Even the longest-tenured NBA coaches evaluate themselves each offseason and attempt to improve. In that sense, Jacque Vaughn, 38, is no exception from the rest of the coaching fraternity. Still, he faces a different situation than most of his counterparts. He inherited a team at the outset of a massive rebuilding project. The franchise intends to allocate playing time to the youngest, most inexperienced members on its roster. Vaughn faces almost no pressure to win now, but at the same time, he and his staff have a mandate to accelerate the youngsters' growth. The task is more complicated than it seems. The youngsters need to improve even as they suffer through loss after loss, and Vaughn must find a way to keep their confidence high. Last season, as the team sputtered to a league-worst 20-62 record, Magic executives and veteran players marveled at Vaughn's ability to remain positive and promote a sunny atmosphere. "He's always the same," veteran point guard Jameer Nelson said. "He gets on guys, but he's always the same no matter if we win or lose. He played in the league for a long time, so he knows you can't get too high or too low." Vaughn said he insists on receiving constructive criticism from his assistant coaches and his players, but perhaps no one has more freedom to speak frankly to him than Gordon Chiesa.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: With so much at stake for the Dallas Mavericks this season, they’re not about to play an unhealthy Jose Calderon in a preseason game. Coach Rick Carlisle said it’s doubtful Calderon will play when the Mavs open preseason play against the New Orleans Pelicans at 7:30 tonight at American Airlines Center. Calderon has been limited since he started suffering with a sore left hamstring in Wednesday’s practice. The Mavs believe the injury occurred because Calderon has had a busy summer and just finished playing for his native Spain in the Euro Basket League about two weeks ago. “We’ve got to make sure that he’s going at the right pace here,” Carlisle said after Sunday’s practice. “We’ve got to understand that he’s been playing all summer — he was playing up until two weeks ago — wherever they were all over the world. There’s some grind to that. There’s some fatigue.” With Devin Harris, rookie Shane Larkin and Calderon all nursing injuries, rookie Gal Mekel will likely play at lot on Monday night at point guard.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Maurice Cheeks has given Billups, 37, the option of sitting out certain drills. There are two schools of thought at work: the young players need the reps and Cheeks wants Billups to be available all season. The veteran has seen it all, and after struggling with injuries for two seasons, health is a main goal. “For me, we have a young team and a lot of these guys need to be taught so much of these things,” Billups said. “I don’t need to be taught a lot of these things. This is my 17th year now. I’m a go enough to keep myself in top shape and in good shape and just be ready to go when the season starts. I’m not going to kill myself in the process of … running sprints, going crazy. I know what to do.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: This JaVale McGee doesn't resemble that McGee. And for Nuggets first-year coach Brian Shaw, who wants to play inside-out on offense, it's a good sign. For an organization that desperately wants its faith, and investment, in McGee to be validated, it's a good sign. McGee is eager to show he is much more than a player who had become largely expendable by last season's playoffs. "That's exactly what I'm trying to show," McGee said. "What people didn't believe I could do is possible." McGee is not alone. A host of players on the Nuggets roster have a chip on their shoulder, for one reason or another, eager to show the new coaching staff they can fit whatever role they are asked to fill. For McGee, it's proving he's deserving of starting, and getting major minutes. For point guard Ty Lawson, it's proving he can expand his offensive game, run an efficient half-court offense and oh, yeah, be a better leader. For newcomer Nate Robinson, it's playing well enough to find a home in the NBA, having been with four teams since the 2010-11 season. All say they are ready to show they can be more versatile, more productive, more adaptable than they feel they've been given credit for entering