<
>

First Cup: Tuesday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: For a player capable of changing outcomes with one swipe of his gigantic hand, Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard has been virtually non-existent through two games of the Finals. No blocked shots. Two steals. As many turnovers (four) as rebounds. More personal fouls (nine) than field goals (six). Leonard is averaging nine points on 43-percent shooting, and the Spurs can tolerate that. They have more than enough scorers to pick up the slack for anyone, particularly a player whose energy is needed on the defensive end to check the world’s best player, AKA Miami superstar LeBron James. But energy and activity are always the best measures of Leonard’s impact. Forget the game-bending defensive plays that no other Spur can make. Making James work would be good at this point, with the Spurs needing at least one victory in Miami to avoid falling behind 3-1. But he’s shooting 62.5 percent in the 52 minutes he and Leonard have shared the court so far, a huge improvement from last year’s 44.1 percent in 250 minutes.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: It’s a relationship that might be unique to all professional work environments, never mind professional sports. Where else other than the Heat’s locker room do employees criticize middle management publicly, and then middle management not only acquiesces to employee demands, but also does so without hesitation or workplace drama. It happened between the first two games of the NBA Finals in San Antonio, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s smooth managerial acumen might have been the ultimate difference between the Heat tying the series and falling into a 2-0 hole. Responding to calls by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to better utilize the Heat’s bench, Spoelstra worked James Jones and Udonis Haslem into the game on Sunday at AT&T Center. In addition to adding players to the rotation, Spoelstra also inserted his first reserve unit into the game earlier than normal. They were only slight changes from one game to the next, but according to the Heat’s players it made a big difference in the fourth quarter. “I thought Spo did a good job of taking guys out early and not leaving them out there so our bodies wouldn’t get tired,” said Rashard Lewis.

  • Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer: I don't know exactly how much money the Cavaliers offered John Calipari. Nor do I know when the offer was made to the Kentucky basketball coach. But I am relieved that Calipari decided to stay at Kentucky, rather than take over as coach and president of theCavaliers. Maybe it would have worked. The grand plan seems to be that Calipari would have had complete control of the Cavs, and then he'd lure LeBron James home. "Coach Cal" and James have a close relationship. As for the James to Cleveland talk, suppose Miami wins a third title. If James has a streak of three in a row, he matches Chicago's Michael Jordan (who did it twice) and Kobe Bryant. For four titles in a row, you have to go back to the Bill Russell Boston Celtics, who won eight between 1959-66. James is after titles and a legacy. It seems hard to believe he'd pass up a chance to go for a fourth straight title. Remember, his contract with Miami now has three years of player options. In other words, James can make a decision each summer about where he'll play. Obviously, the Cavs must be open to any chance of James returning. But it's ridiculous to hire a coach on the chance that he'd bring James to town.

  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: Phil Jackson holds Derek Fisher in high esteem. Still, coaching the Knicks will be a daunting assignment. They have not won a championship in more than 40 years and, often enough in the last decade and a half, have failed to even make the playoffs. There is also a pressing situation involving Carmelo Anthony, the team’s star, who has said that he intends to opt out of his contract this summer so he can explore free agency. Over the years, Anthony competed numerous times on the court against Fisher. How he would feel about having him guide the Knicks as a rookie coach remains to be seen. In choosing Fisher, Jackson is making his first significant move since he came aboard as president of the Knicks in March. Fisher will have to go through a learning curve in New York, where every mistake tends to be amplified by the huge news media presence. When Jason Kidd became the Nets’ coach a year ago, with a similar lack of experience, he struggled at first to convey assurance about what he was doing, and it led to a considerable amount of unfavorable coverage. Eventually, Kidd seemed to find his way. Whether Fisher endures the same bumpy start remains to be seen, but at least he will have Jackson as a buffer.

  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: You always knew Phil Jackson was going to hire somebody he knew, he has told people that no matter whom he hired, he would be coaching “through” the guy. We will now see if Fisher can go straight from playing to coaching the way Doc Rivers did, and Mark Jackson did, and Jason Kidd did this past season with the Brooklyn Nets. Fisher certainly is not the alltime great player that Kidd was, or the kind of basketball savant he was as a player. Fisher was still a winner. He won with Jackson in L.A. Now they will try to do the same with the Knicks. Nobody has to worry any longer about how much Phil would miss Hollywood, because it turns out he is just bringing it to the Knicks. Kerr didn’t want to come to New York. Derek Fisher, who will be making more money than Erik Spoelstra, sure does. Now the next question for the Knicks became this: Why would Carmelo would want to stay? Wait, you know the answer to that one. He’s supposed to have faith in Phil, too.

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: So, now that Derek Fisher is taking his talents to Manhattan Beach, it’s safe to assume the Thunder is on the lookout for someone to take over that role. A veteran. A leader. A winner. And oh, someone with a cheap price tag. Fisher made $1.3 million this past season. The Thunder might be willing to go above that number for Fisher’s replacement, but a deal in that ballpark likely removes someone like Trevor Ariza from consideration. Ditto for Shawn Marion. Both are free agents, but both made north of $7.5 million this season. Even if one of them was willing to take a paycut, a reduction that’s big enough to work with the Thunder’s salary structure seems unlikely. ... It’s hard to say exactly who Sam Presti and Co. will sign to fill its open roster spot, but chances are good, that player will be a consummate professional, a veteran leader and a proven winner. He will fill what is henceforth known as the Derek Fisher Chair, future coaching gig and fancy pants suits not included.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: They will come out of the NBA draft full of vim and vigour and promise, brilliant raw athletes from whom much is expected and will be demanded. The likes of Andrew Wiggins, for instance, or Jabari Parker or Dante Exum or even Nik Stauskas or Tyler Ennis — and any of the young promising players already in the game — would be wise to heed one piece of advice. Be ready to adapt or be ready to fade away. It’s worked for Miami’s LeBron James and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, the most significant players for their teams in this NBA final, and should serve as cautionary tales for promising young players who may think they have things at least a little bit figured out as teenagers. James, still relatively young at 29, is a different player than when he broke into the league, his game a bit more nuanced, a bit softer around the edges, more effective. High draft picks with great expectations may not be able to match his skill level — no one in the game today can — but they can match his willingness to make adjustments.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Last summer the then-Bobcats made a high-impact signing in center Jefferson, who finished the season third-team All-NBA. The Bobcats finished the regular season 43-39 and qualified for the playoffs under new coach Steve Clifford. Jordan sees his team matching that progress this summer. “I think we can make a big difference,” Jordan said. “We did last year with Big Al and some of the other acquisitions. I don’t anticipate this being any different. I think we’ll try to improve on what we did last year, which I’m very proud of. The guys came out and took the initiative from coach. He was able to bond and get a really good effort. This (offseason) we have a lot of flexibility. I’ve been speaking about that the last three to four years – (how) that flexibility is very important. We’ll utilize every resource to improve the team. I don’t think that will change this summer.” Jordan has said his short-term goal is the Hornets becoming a top-four team in the East, which would give them homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They were the seventh seed last month and were swept in the first round by the Miami Heat.

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: Just 16 days away from the NBA draft, the Suns are poised to piece together a team that could make an impact in 2014-15. Credit the behind-the-scenes relationship between Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek, who were dropped into this tempest together and emerged with a common vision and surprisingly comparable dispositions. "Personality-wise, we're pretty similar, as we are in how we evaluate players," said McDonough, who replaced Lance Blanks as general manager. "I think that's a big advantage for us because we're not fighting much if at all about players. We usually see guys the same way and kind of agree on the best course of action for the team." The two are 17 years apart, but it doesn't feel that way. Hornacek seems younger than 51 and McDonough, despite his youthful face, projects a professionalism and maturity behind his 34 years.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: It hasn't even been a month since the Trail Blazers' season ended. The NBA Finals are only two games old. More than half of the NBA is vacationing across the globe. But a handful of Blazers players already are gearing up for next season. Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe returned to Portland on Monday to participate in offseason conditioning and basketball workouts at the Blazers' practice facility in Tualatin. It was the first in a series of workouts that will stretch off and on through June. ... Six players on the NBA roster — McCollum, Crabbe, Barton, Leonard, Freeland and Thomas Robinson — are expected to play in Las Vegas this summer. It's likely Robinson and Freeland will take part in the volunteer workouts at some point this month.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: DeMarcus Cousins has been making the rounds on the national media circuit, giving the country a chance to see a fun side of the Kings center. Cousins appeared in a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Sunday night following Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Cousins also appeared on ESPN’s SportsNation last week. In both appearances, Cousins shows he can poke fun at himself. ... The appearances seem to be a part of the plan from Cousins’ agents – note the Relativity Sports shirt in the Kimmel clip – to do more to promote and change the perception of Cousins. ... Behind the frown and scowl on the court, Cousins wants fans to like him. It will take some time, but playing basketball while wearing a drum is a start in that the big man with the scowl on the court does like to smile.

  • David Barron of the Houston Chronicle: “The84Draft” opens with a vintage hoops song – Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball,” which was recorded in 1984, and features one of that rarest sights in nature: a photo of the follically challenged former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy during his playing days, dribbling the ball with floppy hair cascading across his forehead. Van Gundy’s appearance, then and now, comes during a segment on Dan Trant, a player from Clark University who was the 228th and last player selected in the draft. Trant didn’t stick in the NBA but had a successful playing career in Ireland. He went on to a career with the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald and was one of several hundred of the firm’s employees who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Other segments focus on Rick Carlisle, who was selected with the 70th pick by the Celtics before going on to a successful coaching career; 10th pick Leon Wood, now an NBA referee; and late-round pick Oscar Schmidt, the Brazilian star who never played in the NBA but led his national team to a gold medal win over the United States at the 1987 Pan American Games. Produced by NBA Entertainment, “The84Draft” is an enjoyable look at a group that changed the NBA on multiple levels, from marketing reach to style of play.