First Cup: Friday

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: After joining the league in 1992, Silver has been the league's senior vice president and COO, NBA chief of staff, senior vice president of NBA Entertainment and special assistant to the commissioner before becoming commissioner in waiting. "I told him I was going to keep him here until he got it right," Stern joked in an interview several weeks ago. "And I think he finally got it right, so I can get out of here." This weekend, Silver presides over the league's All-Star Game, the NBA's marquee midseason event and Silver's first major undertaking since taking over for Stern on Feb. 1. No longer is Silver Stern's wing man; the stick is in his hands. Silver's main concern moving forward admittedly is to build upon the foundation he has inherited. "Because I'm not coming from the outside, I've been here for 22 years and been the chief operating officer for several years, it's not as if I'm not part of whatever is in place now," said Silver.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Kyrie Irving is going to New Orleans with a healthy appetite. "I’m going hungry, man,” he said. The Cavaliers point guard will have a busy weekend in Louisiana. He’s defending his 2013 title in the Three Point Shootout on Saturday at the Smoothie King Center (formerly New Orleans Arena). On Sunday, he will be a starting guard for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game. “I’m the reigning champ (in the long-distance shootout),” Irving said. “I’ve practiced about five times at shootaround. I felt pretty good. I’ll probably find a gym and get some shots up.” The favorites to win the contest might be Golden State point guard Stephen Curry or Timberwolves forward/center Kevin Love. But don’t count out Irving. The 6-foot-3, 193-pound Irving hopes to become the second Cavs’ player to win back-to-back crowns. Mark Price accomplished the feat in 1993 and 1994.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Durant is a heavy favorite to win what is LeBron’s: the season’s MVP trophy. That the Thunder have the best record in the NBA entering the all-star break also entitles Durant to think he might be taking LeBron’s championship belt, too. He hasn’t, though. Not yet. The fact Durant is the “it” guy this season has triggered something in LeBron, something that feels like competitive defiance. His respect for Durant is admirable, and speaks of their off-court friendship. But Durant still must earn the baton that James surely had to, the baton that in James’ hand is a King’s scepter tightly gripped. ... The Heat and Thunder play Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City and it will be couched as Armageddon, a James-Durant summit, but it won’t be that. Those things happen only in June, when championships are in play. Until Durant begins to wins some of those, he gets to be on the same court with LeBron, but not in the same conversation. Until Durant gets his defining rings, he might stand with LeBron at the very top of the NBA, but he won’t be in the same league.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: As his shot abandoned him during the opening weeks of his 17th NBA season, Tim Duncan did what he’s done so often before: Put his head down, done the work and trusted the process. ... His efforts appears to have paid off. While so many of his teammates are just trying to get healthy for the stretch run, Duncan is only getting stronger. His vintage performance in Boston on Wednesday, with 23 of his 25 points coming in the second half, continued a string of 19 straight games in double-figures. Duncan is averaging 17.9 points, 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in that span — virtually identical to the numbers he put up last season to earn first-team All-NBA honors, and a massive improvement over a poor start in which he shot 37.5 percent over the first 10 games. Duncan was a shell of himself at that point. Given his age and mileage, it was fair to wonder if that seemingly bottomless well of excellence had finally fun dry. Turns out he just needed a little time to warm up, kind of like an old but reliable car on a cold morning.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Remember Lamar Odom? The regrettable decision to acquire him cost the Mavericks a conditional first-round draft pick — the condition being that it is protected through the first 20 picks each season until 2017. In other words, as long as the Mavericks’ selection is among the first 20 picks in the draft, they get to keep it. If it’s 21st or later, it goes to Oklahoma City, which ended up with the pick after it was funneled through Houston. As of today, the Mavericks’ draft position would be 23rd, which means the Thunder would get the pick automatically. This is what is known as paying a steep price for their success in the final two weeks before the All-Star break. The higher the Mavericks get in the Western Conference, as well as the further they move ahead of also-rans in the East, the more likely it is they will lose their first-round pick.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: For his part Lowry appears to have taken the whole all-star snub thing in stride. He has plans to be on a beach somewhere and maybe that’s for the best. Asked point blank if Lowry needed the rest more than DeRozan, Casey agreed. “A little bit more than DeMar and hopefully he gets it over this break,” Casey said. The heavy lifting may have been done already as the Raptors schedule lets up a little in the second half, but Casey knows the home stretch is going to be a grind. The Brooklyn Nets are showing no signs of going away and holding them off may be the difference between home court in the first round or starting on the road. In a perfect world, both DeRozan and Lowry would be getting the all-star experience they have earned. But in terms of bettering Toronto’s chances through the second half, this couldn’t have worked out much better.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: The trade deadline arrives on Feb. 20, a day after the Phoenix game and a day before the Celtics make their annual visit to the Lakers. Danny Ainge is more open to a deal than most general managers in the NBA right now, though his paramount goal is to stay under the luxury-tax threshold. For that reason, don’t expect a major name to don green anytime soon, though a few names may indeed leave. According to a rival general manager, Ainge’s perceived mission is to hold onto his nuclear stockpile of first-round draft picks — nine, possibly 10, in the next five years — and take back as little salary as possible. Anyone from Brandon Bass to Kris Humphries, or maybe both, may not make it to Los Angeles next week. The Celtics’ situation is that fluid. And in the meantime, Ainge’s team yearns to somehow get better. “I don’t watch TV. It’s been like that my last eight years as a Celtic. There’s only two guys who have been in rumors,” Rajon Rondo said in apparent reference to Bass and Jeff Green. “It’s just part of the game. We have a pretty young team, but we don’t talk about the trades.”

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: At first glance, the Timberwolves’ team photos from their first two seasons long ago look like any other typical ones that adorn arena walls or media-guide pages, except for the fade haircuts and short shorts that reveal their historical time and place. But look more closely and start circling some of those young, smiling faces and you’ll discover an NBA expansion team that doubled as an incubator for future coaches. Six of those smiling faces — four players and two young assistant coaches — went on to become NBA head coaches, and four others coach or coached as league or college assistants. One of the former players, Scott Brooks, coaches Oklahoma City and will direct the West in Sunday’s All-Star Game. Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was one of them, a 27-year-old former Harvard assistant who landed his first NBA job on original Wolves coach Bill Musselman’s staff after he regularly drove 150 miles from Boston to Albany, N.Y. to observe Musselman’s meticulous CBA practices. In the 25 years since he was part of the inaugural Wolves team, Thibodeau won a 2008 NBA title while coordinating the Boston Celtics’ defense, then won 62 games and Coach of the Year honors in his rookie season as an NBA head coach and led the East in the 2012 All-Star Game. “You look at those photos,” he said recently, “and it’s pretty unbelievable.”