First Cup: Friday

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: On Thursday Gregg Popovich moved "these athletes" around himself. Maybe the only coach who could get away with benching his starters in Game 4 is the only one who could start someone in Game 5 who hadn't started all year. On other teams, Matt Bonner would have signaled chaos. On this team, where Popovich tried 30 different starting lineups during the season, this was common stuff. Still, it was startling to see Bonner trot out as The Adjustment. The lineup of Bonner, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Duncan played 27 minutes together during the regular season. And here they were walking out together for the pivotal Game 5 of a conference finals? Bonner was never meant to be the game-changer. If he threw in a 3-pointer and got the crowd going, fine. But his job was to be what Popovich needed to counter Serge Ibaka, which was to have a stretch 4 on the floor for the entire 48 minutes. Still, this was more than strategy. This is what the Spurs have been for years, and this gets back to their smartest, as well as their oldest. Duncan and Ginobili. They've both been through a lot of playoff series together. And this one, with five blowouts in five games, all won easily by the home team, is unusual. "It's the craziest series I've ever been involved in," Duncan said.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The terror ended Thursday night for the Spurs. Turns out Sergezilla can be slain. Gregg Popovich emerged from his laboratory, coached up his ballplayers and drew Serge Ibaka away from the basket. Which made Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals just like Games 1 and 2. A San Antonio rout, this one 117-89 at AT&T Center. For the Thunder, Ibaka out of the paint isn’t as bleak as Ibaka out of the picture, but it’s not far from it. ... Scott Brooks noticed. He called it “catch-and-drive” instead of “catch-and-hold.” And thus the Spurs proved they could beat Ibaka, against whom they had lost seven straight games and 12 of 14. Now Brooks must counter Pop’s moves – play a small lineup more? – and the Thunder has to regain the attitude it showed in Oklahoma City. And keep it if and when the series comes back to San Antonio for a Game 7, when the Thunder will need Sergezilla in all his terror to win this series.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: Leave your jaw on the floor. It's all true. The Clippers. Two billion bucks. No NBA championships. Two billion bucks. No appearances in the conference finals. Two billion bucks. No league most valuable players, no Staples statues, and no real national love until their owner became the most disliked man in America. Two billion bucks. We all know how Donald Sterling feels about blacks. Now we'll find out if he has a higher opinion of green. ... If one can get past the price tag and out-of-town ownership, this sale does offer plenty of room for hope. Maybe Ballmer would hire the sort of smart front office that can take advantage of the Lakers' dysfunctional family ownership. Maybe by treating the Clippers like the most expensive prize they have become, Ballmer can help them find the lasting popularity that Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin deserve. If nothing else, maybe Ballmer can finally give Clippers fans a stable courtside presence. If this sale goes through, there are two midcourt seats that may have just opened up. The Clippers might not be worth $2 billion, but the imminent, permanent exile of Donald and Shelly Sterling would be priceless.

  • Mike Matvey of the New York Daily News: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — known for his explosive comments — burned up the airwaves Thursday with his response to anyone who’d question why he’d vote for disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling to keep the team. “F--- ’em. I don’t care if nobody shows up to games. If I think the ethical thing to do is to vote against 29 other guys, I will,” Cuban said on SiriusXM Radio after it was reported that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer won the bidding war with a $2 billion offer. Before NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling on April 30, Cuban raised the issue of the precedent that could be set by forcing Sterling to leave.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Jeff Van Gundy can be the ultimate advocate for coaches, but he made a good point on Wednesday. He said that rather than be on a hot seat, Frank Vogel should be given a contract extension and a raise for leading a team so obviously flawed and fragile as far as he has. There has not been a rush to praise Vogel in the months since the All-Star break, but with all we have learned about the Pacers, Van Gundy makes a good point. He helped make this team look like a legitimate contender. He made it look better than it is. But there is a general rule about public perception of coaches. Until a coach wins a championship, to the public, they lose games and players win them. ... Just as Vogel or Scott Brooks get blamed in the conference finals – has anyone mentioned Brooks after the games the Thunder won? – McHale takes the heat when his team goes out in the first round. To paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business they’ve chosen.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Stephen Curry still sounds like a man in a quandary. Two weeks after Steve Kerr was hired to replace Curry's beloved head coach Mark Jackson, the Warriors' point guard spoke openly Thursday about his emotions regarding the coaching swap and the direction of the franchise. ... Curry and Kerr have already had three or four phone conversations, chatting about the current mentality of the Warriors' locker room and broad visions for the future. But Curry wants to have a face-to-face meeting with Kerr, something that is expected soon after the Western Conference finals conclude and the new coach's commitment to Turner Sports is complete. Curry has canvased most of his teammates to get their feelings on the transition. Though he said, "There's no sugarcoating it. It was a weird, expedited situation that we didn't see coming," the face of the franchise also believes the players will all be professional enough to get past the firing of Jackson and adjust to Kerr. Curry didn't back off his past statements about wanting to be a Warrior for life, but he didn't quite reconfirm them, either.

  • Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press: Milt Newton says the Timberwolves intend to keep Kevin Love. But if that becomes untenable, the team's general manager said Thursday, "You best believe that we will be a better team." ... Newton said the team's relationship with Love is unchanged but that the Wolves will "do what's best for the organization" regarding the standout forward. ... Rumors of Love's desire to leave Minnesota have been swirling since February, when veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey tweeted that Love was "forcing a premature exit" -- which Saunders quickly denied. But with the approaching draft -- a fertile time for trades -- the rumors have been stoked. "Our relationship is the same it has been during the season," Newton said. "It's just so interesting that during the draft all of these rumors and everything comes up. It's just part of the business. We just deal with it accordingly."

  • Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com: But free agency is a dangerous thing. Yes, Aldridge will be able to earn more money for a longer period of time if he stays with the Trail Blazers. And he seems very happy here right now. Certainly, though, a lot can happen between now and next July. It's not a given that Portland will be able to repeat this season's success next year. For sure, just one fairly serious injury to a starter would threaten any chance of even a 50-win season. And then there would be questions about whether this team has topped out with its current roster makeup. That's when the lure of a return to his home in Dallas -- or to major-media centers that would afford him the opportunity for more endorsements and outside-earning potential, or a chance for a championship run -- would threaten the Trail Blazers' efforts to re-sign him. With a draft coming up featuring some very attractive prospects and Aldridge at his most tradeable, there's no question that if the Trail Blazers aren't thinking about potential Aldridge deals, they should be. And the fans of this franchise must be mature enough to accept that. It's not personal. It's business.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Later, when I spoke to Lasry and Edens one-on-one, I asked them if Hammond and Morway would definitively be part of the organization next season. Lasry said, “I have a ton of respect for John and David. I think they know their stuff. I would tell you I don’t think that we (he and Edens) know our stuff (about basketball dealings). They are very good and have a phenomenal track record, so that’s no issue for us.” So they will then be a part of the Bucks next season? “I think so,” Lasry said. “Absolutely.” I broached the same questions a short time later to Edens and, while he praised the Bucks’ basketball operations employees, he stopped short of saying Hammond and Co. would be retained for next season.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: While the Cavaliers spent Thursday with Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue and prepared to host fellow Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry today, the early candidate pool can be divided into two clear categories: rookie coaches and veterans looking for one more job. Adrian Griffin, 39, and the 37-year-old Lue were the first two candidates to interview. Neither has been a head coach before and both enjoyed anonymous-yet-lengthy careers in the NBA before coaching. But this upcoming Cavs season could be daunting for a first-time coach. The Cavs already fired a general manager and coach once because the team failed to meet expectations. They were expected to contend for the playoffs last season after winning the No. 1 pick in a terrible draft last spring and upgrading the roster through free agency. ... Now it only seems expectations will be the same, if not higher, for this season now that they’ve yet again won the No. 1 pick in a loaded draft. Ownership, however, will have to exhibit patience if the team chooses an assistant with no previous head coaching experience.

  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: The Charlotte Hornets got lucky in the NBA lottery when they received the ninth pick in next month’s draft. Maybe they’ll get lucky again June 26. Maybe a player that could be outstanding – Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State or Julius Randle of Kentucky – trickles down. It’s unlikely, but every NBA and NFL draft offers a surprise. Evidence is the guy who annually sits alone in the green room because his peers have been selected, signed, found housing in their new town and bought a luxury car. If a potential star doesn’t trickle down, I have a candidate. He’ll bore you but he’ll offer the Hornets a quality they lack. He is Nik Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 guard from Michigan with the prettiest shot in college basketball. At 20, he’s old for a college player entering the draft. But I like him anyway. UCLA guard Zach LaVine also is intriguing. When a selection is made with the ninth pick, however, Charlotte might no longer have it. A team called Wednesday asking the Hornets if they’re willing to part with their picks. They are.