First Cup: Monday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The coaching staff has stressed ball movement throughout training camp, and the Thunder's 52 assists on 76 field goals in the first two preseason games suggests the players are listening. It's clear that without Westbrook the Thunder will try to rely on a more balanced attack to preserve some semblance of its high-scoring attack. It's up to Durant to lead the way. … Durant averaged a career-high 4.6 assists last season and, for the first time in his career, finished with more assists than turnovers. Brooks thinks we'll see another jump in Durant's playmaking this season. “I never predetermine anything,” Durant said. “I just kind of play how the defense plays me. I never come into a game looking to score this many points or get this many assists. I'm just going out there and playing and trusting in the offense and my teammates and myself. Whatever happens after that then it happens.” There is one condition. “I've got to be aggressive,” Durant said. “It's not always aggressive to score but aggressive to make the right play. If I do that we'll be fine.”

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: Oh, so this is how it’s going to be. Derrick Rose sits out a preseason game because of soreness in his surgically repaired left knee, and the knuckleheads crawl out of the woodwork. A slog through message boards and comments sections under newspaper stories makes you regret not owning a pair of waders. … If you care about Rose and the Bulls, you’re going to need faith. You’ll have to hope that the team is telling the truth and that the tenderness in his left knee is the result of playing at game speed for the first time in 17 months. If it’s more than that, this season is going to be longer than last season. And if Rose has done damage to himself, I’m not sure what the haters are going to do with themselves. Hate the guy who they thought should have played last season on a knee they insisted was perfectly healed? Good luck with that bit of intellectual contortion.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Chris Kaman crushed one of his fingers while tobogganing down a slippery concrete track. Yes. Kaman. Toboggan. Great Wall. His sled, essentially a wheeled cart with a brake, was rammed from behind by teammate Shawne Williams. Kaman instinctively put out his hand as he saw Williams careening toward him and, well, ouch. Visitors to the Mutianyu portion of the wall take a gondola or cable car to the top of a hill where the wall is located. They return the same way or toboggan down. “I didn't hit the brake the whole time. Guys on the edge were yelling ‘Slow down' and I just kept going,” Kaman said. “All of a sudden I catch up to this guy close to the bottom, so now I have to brake. Shawne Williams comes behind me without hitting his brake at all and just smashed right into me.” He said he was going only about 3 mph and Williams was going 20-25 mph at impact. “My hand smashed right between the two sleds. I didn't feel the end of my finger for, like, an hour,” Kaman said, exhibiting a bandaged, swollen middle finger. “It's starting to throb a little right now.” Will he play Tuesday against Golden State in an exhibition here? “Yeah, I'll be fine,” Kaman said, and in fact he did practice here Monday.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Three years into this massive rebuilding project, the Cavaliers’ overhaul is nearly complete. There’s only one problem: They’ve yet to truly address the one position that forced this roster gutting in the first place. The Cavs have spent three years looking for a reputable small forward and a viable replacement for LeBron James. Jamario Moon was always considered an interim at the position, but Omri Casspi was a bust and Alonzo Gee has likely maximized his talent and still isn’t a starting-caliber small forward on a contending team. They preferred Dion Waiters to Harrison Barnes in last year’s draft and skipped Otto Porter in favor of Anthony Bennett in this year’s draft, leaving Earl Clark as the latest temporary fix. Only one year of his deal is guaranteed, although the Cavs hold a team option for next season. The small forward position throughout the league has become an explosive, scoring-driven collection of stars. … Mike Brown isn’t close to naming a starter at the position yet, but Clark is expected to win the job, at least for one season. Whatever happens next summer, when James can again become a free agent, remains to be seen. For now, everyone is essentially playing for their next contract. Miles is a free agent after the season and the team holds options next season on both Clark and Gee. “We don’t need a fourth or fifth guy that’s going to take six, seven, eight dribbles and hold onto the ball and try to create all the time,” Brown said. “We need a guy that’s going to be a facilitator and make quick decisions.”

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: At this point in his career, LeBron James is playing the game of basketball against himself more than he’s actually competing against opponents. During training camp and the preseason, he has laid out a few of his goals for 2013-14. Among them, he wants to take the most efficient shots possible within the flow of the Heat’s offense while also focusing his efforts inside the box. Given those objectives, could James shoot more than 60 percent from the field for an entire regular season? “I don’t really set out goals as far as what I want to shoot from the field,” James said. “I know I want to take good shots and I know I want to be in attack and if that results in [60 percent] then it will be great, but I want to get the best shot for myself and for our team every possession.” But for a large block of games last season, it almost seemed like 60 percent was the goal. … So, could James shoot 60 percent for an entire season? James didn’t really want to entertain the idea Sunday, an off day for the Heat before road preseason games this week in Washington and Brooklyn. But his teammates didn’t mind the conversation starter. … James’ health is something to consider. The Heat would rather James jack up shots from the outside all season and be healthy for the playoffs than bang inside in order to grind out meaningless regular-season victories in February and March. But there’s an obvious relation between James’ shooting percentage and the Heat’s win column. Last season, when James shot more than 60 percent, the Heat went 24-2.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: It appears barring any unexpected or unannounced setbacks, the team might be full strength for the first time during this exhibition season, perhaps as early as Thursday night in Tulsa, Okla., when the Pelicans face the Oklahoma City Thunder, or by next Saturday when the team travels to Lexington, Ky., to face the Washington Wizards. So now, the fun will begin. With guards Tyreke Evans (sprained left ankle) and Eric Gordon (conditioning) likely to be back on the practice floor in the coming days, Monty Williams will be able to gauge just what he can expect from a collective group that seems to be as talented as he has ever had in New Orleans. We got a taste of just how deep the Pelicans could be during Sunday afternoon's 105-73 exhibition victory here against the Atlanta Hawks when Williams decided to juggle his starting lineup, then continued tinkering throughout the game.

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: For now, John Lucas III is captain of the ship. With rookie Trey Burke sidelined for an estimated 3-6 weeks after fracturing his right index finger, Lucas is easily the most accomplished point guard left standing in the Jazz’s training camp. Until Burke returns — and even if the Jazz eventually sign a free agent to bolster the position — Lucas will likely play an expanded role. Burke was injured in the first quarter of Utah’s 106-74 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena. Afterward, Lucas talked bravely of accepting more responsibility from coach Tyrone Corbin. "I’m just going to play," he said. "I’m going to come in and hold it down. My whole thing is to come in and play right away. Whatever Ty wants out of me, that’s what I’m going to do, no matter what.”

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic PG Jameer Nelson is beginning his 10th season with the club, matching Nick Anderson as the longest-tenured player in franchise history (assuming Nelson stays healthy). Asked about the possibility of the Magic retiring his No. 14 one day, Nelson pondered the notion. "It's a little too early for that," he said. "I'm in the moment. I'm here to help the young guys along, trying to show them the ropes. I can't worry about what might happen after basketball. I hope I have a lot more years left here and then we'll see." The Magic, celebrating their 25th anniversary as a franchise, have yet to retire a player's number or jersey. They have officially retired the No. 6 to honor the sixth man — the fans. The Magic's greatest players had short tenures, such as Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady, who each played four seasons with the club. Penny Hardaway's six-year stay ended acrimoniously (as did those of Shaq and T-Mac). Dwight Howard played eight seasons with the Magic and became their all-time leading scorer. But his exit was contentious, likely derailing any jersey retirement ceremony.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Evan Fournier said he values the experience and it's already helped him heading into his second NBA season. He knows he is still largely an unknown quantity. "I'm from Europe," Fournier said. "Obviously, nobody knows what I was doing over there. So I can understand how people were kind of nervous about me. But I always felt like I was going to be an NBA player." He's not sure yet what his role will be under new coach Brian Shaw. He can play the point, but it's expected he'll be used more at the shooting guard or small forward position, coming off the bench. How much time Fournier will get on a game-to-game basis is to be determined. "I'm just doing what the coaches want me to do," said Fournier, whose 30 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers a week ago was the first 30-minute game of his career. "I like to handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. But I have to get better at organization and leadership. I'm still learning."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Jeff Hornacek noted that Marcin Gortat’s free agency value will be higher if the Suns win. Gortat is finishing a five-year contract that was worth $34 million because Dallas signed him to an offer sheet that Orlando matched in 2009. Gortat trade talk will not go away for Phoenix as February approaches, especially if the team lives down to predictions to be the worst team in the Western Conference. Even if Gortat is not part of the Suns’ future, they could hang onto him and use his $7.7 million expiring salary slot for cap space in July free agency rather than taking back salary in a trade. Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough has expressed a hope that Gortat, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic could be part of the next great Suns team. “This is wonderful,” Gortat said. “I would love to be a part of this team. I would do everything necessary to be a part of this team. I’m definitely open and committed to this team. I love this city and this organization. They gave me so much and took my game to another level. I’ll do anything I can to help the organization. We’re moving in the right direction with a talented group.”

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: The popular belief is that general manager Sam Hinkie hired Brett Brown because both are fond of analytics. This offense, however, isn't analytically driven. "It might be an analytical thing, but for me it has nothing to do with analytics," Brown said. "It's the way I think the game should be played in a lot of cases based on what teams you have, but for this team especially. Analytics might say it's the right way to play, but for me and my coaching staff, when you identify our players and you identify most importantly the stage of our development and the build that we're trying to implement, I think it works." The players are certainly proponents. "The style has to fit us now, right? We've been running so much," said Evan Turner.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Andre Drummond continues to impress. While most of the area was enraptured with the Michigan football team and the Tigers on Saturday night, the Pistons were moving to 2-1 on the exhibition season with a 99-88 victory at Brooklyn. Drummond led the Pistons with 15 points, six rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot — a performance that had New York-area writers buzzing about the potential of the second-year center from UConn. He is averaging 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds in just under 24 minutes per game. He had three steals against the Nets and started the week with three blocked shots against Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday night. He is dunking his way to 67% shooting from the field. “Andre Drummond, in the third quarter, was running on the floor and getting those lobs,” coach Maurice Cheeks told reporters after the Nets game. “He had one or two post moves, but it wasn’t something we ran for him. Just the way he plays is amazing to watch.”

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: As a team-building exercise during their week-long stay at Duke University during training camp, the Nets spent an evening taking in an advance screening of “Captain Phillips,” the new film starring Tom Hanks. “The movie was good,” said Fred Galloway, the Nets’ assistant director of team security. If anyone should know, it would be Galloway. Before joining the Nets before last season, Galloway spent six years working as an investigator on an FBI counter terrorism team, after working in the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division. His team’s coverage territory included the Horn of Africa — and was the one called on to complete a mission to bring Hanks’ antagonist in the movie, pirate Abduwali Muse, back to the United States after the Navy SEALs had rescued Phillips from captivity.