First Cup: Wednesday

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: David Stern will be in Sacramento tonight because he doesn't want to miss this, either. Encores are rarely this rewarding. Embattled franchises tend to relocate, not move a few miles down the freeway. Professional sports is littered with woe-is-me stories about abandoned communities, squandered opportunities and organizations that cease to exist. But remarkably, not this city, and amazingly not this franchise. If not quite a coronation – that occurs only after a championship – Sleep Train Arena tonight will host the biggest celebration since the Sacramento Kings welcomed the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 25, 1985. "I'm calling it a 'Retention Party,' the unofficial 'Welcome Home,' " Stern joked the other day, "and I'll be there when the new arena opens in October 2016, too." No way he misses this. The Kings and the NBA commissioner share too much history. Their roots trace to the dark days of the early 1980s, a time of drug scandals, feeble television contracts, tape-delayed playoff games and underfinanced ownership in Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Cleveland and, notably, Kansas City.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Tim Duncan has played in 1,180 regular season games, a mark beaten by only 39 players. His 211 career playoff games are sixth all-time. Barring injuries, he’ll surpass 50,000 total minutes at some point before the new year. As such, he doesn’t expect any nerves before the season opener. “I’m excited to start another season,” Duncan said after Tuesday’s practice. “But I don’t think there will be any butterflies. It’s one of 82.” The start of another long season offers the opportunity to put further distance between the Spurs’ seven-game loss to Miami in the Finals. It’s one he doesn’t plan on taking, however. “It will never go away, and we’ll never forget it,” Duncan said. “You get that close to a championship, it’s not something you’re going to forget. Some people want to forget, some people don’t. I don’t want to forget it. It’s an experience. We had a great run and we came up a little short. There’s no way to not think about it. But we’re going to start a season and we’re going to try to make another run.”

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Are the Nuggets crazy? They want to do what? How can creating more shots for physically gifted but offensively awkward big men JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried make Denver a better team? That's precisely what point guard Ty Lawson wants to know. It hasn't been easy for Lawson to make sense of how the Nuggets intend to play basketball. "I think it has been a little frustrating for him, to be honest with you," Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said Tuesday, on the eve of the season opener at Sacramento. In the transformation of the Nuggets from the freewheeling approach of former coach George Karl to an offense designed to pound the rock inside, the toughest sell for Shaw has been convincing Lawson this new strategy can work. Take a peek behind the curtains of the first NBA training camp operated by Shaw, and the most fascinating development has been the test of wills in the building of a relationship between this rookie head coach and Lawson, the team's point guard and leading scorer. Change is hard. At times, there has been open disagreement between Shaw and Lawson.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: This season, a losing streak will not have to stretch as long for many observers to tell the Rockets what is wrong. But if the preseason has prepared the Rockets for anything, it is for the examinations to come. ... “Good. We’re ready for it,” James Harden said of the scrutiny and expectations. “Each individual guy got better this summer and is ready to take on that pressure.” Besides, Wednesday night the Rockets can finally go from discussions of how they will do to how they are doing. For now, they believe they’ll still feel like singing.

  • Bob Wojnowski, of The Detroit News: In an exclusive interview with Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski, Gores hit on a range of topics ... Q: You mentioned Dumars. He’s in the final year of his contract, and there hasn’t been public talk of an extension. I have to ask: Is Joe on the hot seat? A: He’s not. Joe and I collaborated on these moves, we talk every other day. He’s done everything we’ve asked, and his basketball organization is really solid. I’m excited where they’re at. I don’t think I could’ve asked for more this summer Q: Then why no contract extension? A: We haven’t talked about it. I really respect this about Joe — his focus is on the Pistons, on winning. He knows we have a job to do this year. The good news is, we’ve done all these move hand in hand. Q: So Joe has not asked for clarity on his situation? A: He has not. We’re doing our jobs. Joe also understands you have to prove it, just like I have to.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: There’s already a point of contention between Garnett and frontcourt mate Brook Lopez. It involves comic book heroes. “We have a love of comic books and Marvel Comics and we kind of debate about that,” Garnett said. “He’s a big Batman guy and I’m a big Wolverine guy. That can clash sometimes.” While Lopez’s love for comic books is well-known and documented, this is a revealing statement from Garnett, 37. Of course, picking The Wolverine makes sense. They share some personality traits: They’re both nasty and aggressive.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: We will know who was chosen with those first-round draft picks and will have seen what kind of trades he made. We will know whether the Celtics are a title contender or have put in for an extended stay at Mediocrity Manor. We will all be smart. Then. But what about now? We should not duck the question. We feel compelled to put at least an opinion on the line as the Celtics’ 2013-14 season opens here this evening. And, given the facts in evidence four months ago and today, there is nothing to suggest that turning the page on the Pierce-Garnett era is anything less than a necessary bit of root canal. Sure, the Celts could have grinned their way through another year and tried to hide the effects of age on their Hall of Famers-to-be, but in this case it was best to face reality when it is standing in your doorway. Is there anyone out there who believes that last year’s Celtics with the addition of Kelly Olynyk would have an honest chance against Miami in a seven-game series? For the Celts to try to sell that notion would have been a worse insult to their following than anything that will happen on the court this season. Yes, this will get ugly at times, but would you really want to put off the inevitable rebuilding by a year or two just to watch Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and friends come up short against younger and more talented opponents? At a certain point, “Get off my lawn, you kids” is simply not an acceptable NBA defensive scheme.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Three days after firing the first coach he ever hired, Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant traveled to Detroit in April to see an old college buddy. A scheduled 90-minute dinner meeting extended more than six hours, but this wasn’t a reunion weekend of nostalgia and reminiscing, this was the beginning of another remarkable journey between close friends. Grant and Mike Brown were best friends and teammates in college, they attended each other’s wedding and they held each other’s children as newborns, all while carving out their own paths across the NBA. Twenty years ago, no one could’ve possibly predicted this. “They’re good guys, talented guys, but to say you could envision all this falling into place the way it has is impossible,” said Hank Egan, who coached both of thems in college and remains close with them today. “I was as shocked as anybody else.” As a new season begins for the Cavs tonight, Grant and Brown are reunited as general manager and coach of the Cavaliers. It has been a fascinating journey to this point, yet in a way, it feels like only the beginning.

  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: The Bobcats have a new coach. Someday, I’m going to write a column that does not include that sentence. They made a mistake with Mike Dunlap, who lasted only last season. Steve Clifford is an NBA insider, a dues payer who doesn’t think he knows all there is to know and proved it the way he filled out his staff. There will be nights when the Bobcats struggle to consistently hit a jump shot or grab a rebound. But they’ll hustle, they’ll play defense, they’ll give up the ball and they’ll entertain. The most recent over-under number in Las Vegas for Bobcats’ victories was 26. Maybe the lower-level deity is using me for sport. But I don’t think lower-level deities are like that. They win 33.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Coach Randy Wittman doesn’t believe that woeful history will have any effect on what happens this season. “You got to play 41 and 41,” Wittman said, mentioning the home-road splits. “Last year is last year. Two years ago is two years ago. New team, new group, new focus, new ideas of where we want to be. That, to me, it doesn’t matter. To them, I don’t think it does.” Al Harrington is entering his 16th NBA season and has played on good teams that thrived in enemy territory and bad teams that wilted after sleeping on hotel pillows. The difference in those teams, he said, was mostly in mental approach.

  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: How many games will the Sixers win? Originally thought it might be 20, but no longer. The Sixers’ numerous deficient on-court areas, as well as their subpar starting lineup and poor bench, make it look more like 15 wins. Despite how bad the Celtics and Suns appear, a 15-67 mark should be the league’s worst record and give the Sixers a 25 percent chance to win the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes, though only one team with the worst record has landed the top pick since 1990.

  • Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: When Tim Leiweke spent a day and then some determining whether he wanted Masai Ujiri to run the Raptors, the two men ended up agreeing on a plan. The team had to be blown up to eventually proceed forward. The belief Bryan Colangelo had — that the Raptors were only a piece or two away from NBA contention - was dismissed by both men. So here we are, with the forever irrelevant Raptors are about to begin their 19th season, and most of the team Leiweke and Ujiri wanted to blow up will be on the floor Wednesday night, lining up against what used to be the Boston Celtics. Five months after Ujiri took his dream job — it worked for John Farrell — what he’s been able to surmise is he’s got a whole lot of houses for sale, not that many viewings, and almost no buyers. The vision the new general manager has for the team, the one he sold to Leiweke, has yet to materialize in any meaningful way. Leiweke knows about the plan. The rest of us are left to guess

  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: But after the Jazz allowed a cast of veteran players including Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams leave this summer in favor of developing a group talented young players, team officials are balancing optimism and realism as they embark on a rebuilding year. "Realistically, with the decisions that we made, with the flexibility we decided to keep and parlay into next year … there are teams that are championship contenders right now that are going to be more short-term, there are teams that are playoff contenders like we were last year, and then you have teams like us that decided to press the reset button. The wins that we’re looking at are just going to be further away from us than maybe a championship contender." Even Jazz CEO Greg Miller, who called a Jazz losing streak "probably the most anxiety inducing thing I experience."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: When Neil Olshey allows himself to imagine the possibilities, when he lets himself look ahead at opening night and the looming NBA season, he doesn’t contemplate Damian Lillard’s All-Star possibilities or LaMarcus Aldridge’s improved leadership. He doesn’t think about Mo Williams’ potential as a sixth man. Or Robin Lopez’s prospective impact on defense. No, what Olshey most looks forward to with this edition of the Trail Blazers, what he likes most about his reinvigorated team, is the tantalizing idea of the unknown. “I like the uncertainty, the mystery,” the Blazers general manager said. ... This idea of uncertainty, of mystery, perfectly sums up this 2013-14 season. There’s little doubt the upgraded Blazers are positioned to be better than last season, when they finished 33-49 and landed in the NBA draft lottery. But how much better can they be?

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns’ prospects for a winning season rarely have been this bleak, but that has not stopped the team’s fans from showing increased interest. The Suns have sold at least 1,000 more full season-ticket equivalents than last season’s final total and doubled sales in US Airways Center floor seating as part of an overall success rate with premium seating. After selling about 8,500 full season-ticket equivalents (partial-season tickets are combined) last season, the Suns are closing in on 10,000 for this season. That would put the Suns on par with the 2008-09 season, when the club was coming off four consecutive playoff appearances. This team is coming off three consecutive non-playoff years for the first time since 1985-88, but its retention rate has risen by 12 percent. Tonight’s season opener is about 1,000 ticket sales shy of a sellout. If tonight’s crowd is short of capacity, that would mark the second time in the past three seasons the team has not sold out its home opener.