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First Cup: Monday

  • Dan LeBatard of The Miami Herald: "The phone rings at 1 a.m. It is Tim James. The connection is tinny and echoing. How are you, Tim? 'It was 125 degrees yesterday,' he says. 'I've never felt anything like that. It was like working inside an oven. It was 121 in the shade.' James is in Iraq, in a suffocating desert 105 miles north of Baghdad, but he isn't making one of those celebrity visits to cheer up the troops. No, he is the troops. The former University of Miami basketball star and former Miami Heat first-round pick enlisted in the Army a year ago, at the age of 31, and now he finds himself in the dusty, dirty center of a war. ... James had to get military clearance to talk for this story. That's how his commanding officer finally found out SPC Tim James used to be an NBA millionaire. Byron is not easily impressed, but he finds the fact that James didn't tell anyone he was an NBA player even more amazing than the fact that he was an NBA player. 'I'm kind of in awe,'' the captain says. James isn't running through the sand avoiding unrelenting machine-gun fire. This isn't Pat Tillman, though it is about the closest thing sports has seen since the late Tillman left the football Arizona Cardinals. James isn't someone who craves a fire fight. He just wants to help. He is on an air base in an area his captain describes as 'dusty, barren and isolated.' His remaining 11 months in Iraq should go by without him ever having to go beyond the airfield's wires. James hasn't heard enemy fire in his month there."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal: "Rudy Gay wants to be an NBA All-Star. That's nothing new. He said the same thing last year. The difference now for the Grizzlies' 6-8 forward could be the strength behind his words. Gay carries, by his estimation, about 15 pounds of added muscle. He'll tell you his level of focus is immeasurable behind a strong showing during USA Basketball's July minicamp. His desire to elevate the Grizzlies is off the charts with training camp less than a month away and three consecutive losing seasons in the rearview mirror. 'I want to be an All-Star. Everything I do now is trying to help me get to that point,' Gay said. 'If I'm at the top of my game and recognized as an All-Star, it'll mean we're winning.' Having won over Griz brass with his offseason work ethic and maturation, Gay aims to carry that momentum into his fourth season. He's spent most of the summer in Memphis building up his body with the help of Griz strength and conditioning coach Jason Biles. Gay will play at more than 240 pounds this season. 'It was something I was determined to do because my size has always been a knock on me,' Gay said. 'I focused on getting bigger and stronger for me to be able to take care of the things I was lacking in. I want to be quick enough to play the wing and strong enough to play in the post.' "

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "David Kahn arrived in Minnesota in May with a reputation among those who have known him for decades as a very smart guy who acts like he knows it, and already he has established himself as a cerebral sort of manager. In only three months on the job, he already has overhauled the roster with successive moves -- more than one aimed strictly at salary-cap maneuvering-- reminiscent of a fantasy football team owner. He has remade the coaching staff and appears on the verge of cleaning house in the front office. He signed head coach Kurt Rambis to a four-year contract earlier this month in a move Kahn called the most important he'll probably ever make as president of basketball operations, and the Wolves will announce an eclectic coaching staff that includes Dave Wohl, Reggie Theus and Bill Laimbeer. But if Kahn returns home with Ricky Rubio signed, it will be the most telling example of his expansive thinking yet."

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "Don't be stunned. It's nothing new. It's one of the most consistent things in the NBA, really. Stephen Jackson wants out, satisfying the tenets of Cohan's Law: If the Warriors can screw something up, they will. Of course, if the Warriors had a different owner, a different team president, a different general manager, a different coach, and a different roster … everything would be great! Until then, this latest Jackson episode is only the latest instance of typical Warriors foppery. What's special: This is a nightmare identifiable to team president Robert Rowell, who befriended Jackson and then personally negotiated an unnecessary three-year extension for the aging player last year. Contrary to the better logic of the rest of the league, owner Chris Cohan and Rowell believed Jackson would be their ambassador and team leader for the long term. Now Jackson is telling them -- via an unrefuted interview with Dime magazine -- that he doesn't want to waste his time on a team as bad as the Warriors. It's not a betrayal so much as it's a wink at the Warriors' flagrant idiocy. He got his money from the dumb, bad team. Time to try to get traded to a good, smart team."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "A spy down at the fieldhouse told me Danny Granger has really worked on his isolation game. One of the first things I asked that person was, 'Does he dribble with his head up now and see the court?' 'Yes he does,' the person said. Look out for Granger -- on the offensive end of the court -- if that's true. You shouldn't be surprised Granger has improved his game in that area because he always commits himself to the gym in the offseason."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "The NBA's last few months ultimately might be remembered as 'The Summer of Twitter.' Though all of North America's major pro sports leagues are utilizing social media, the NBA and its fans have embraced Twitter and Facebook at warp speed - and not always smoothly. Players' tweets, messages of 140 characters or less, have generated news headlines. In June, Minnesota forward Kevin Love broke the news that Kevin McHale wouldn't return as the Timberwolves' coach. Shaquille O'Neal used his feed to congratulate his old teammate and rival Kobe Bryant for winning the NBA title. And, in recent days, Allen Iverson announced that he had received a contract offer from Memphis. ... The NBA's official Twitter feed has roughly 1.25 million followers, while the official feeds for Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NHL have about 1.3 million followers combined. The NBA's official Facebook page has approximately 1.42 million fans, which is nine times more fans than the NFL has on its page and 38 times more fans than Major League Baseball has on its page."

  • Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson, known around the NBA as one of the league's more subdued stars, has suddenly taken the gloves off on his Twitter page. He hasn't mentioned anything about that extension the Hawks offered and whether or not he'll be agreeing to sign on for another
    four years after this one, the final year of a five-year, $70 million deal. But he's sharing plenty of other things with anyone interested in following him. In fact, he's sharing more than I can remember him giving up at anytime before now (and he might be sharing a bit too much for some of our more sheltered members, so be warned). I'm still scratching my head over this one, what with all the work it takes some days to get JJ to open up. Maybe he's shedding that hard shell of his and taking some steps in the direction of being a more vocal and engaged leader, which I'd argue is a blessing in disguise of peculiar Tweets (or whatever I should call them) from a usually reserved man -- he went almost two months, from late June to late August, without a single update. I'm just saying … (scratching my head), something has changed."

  • Vincent M. Mallozzi of The New York Times: "In an effort to fill seats during difficult economic times, many N.B.A. teams are hoping to lure new fans with incentives. Perhaps no other team has enhanced its marketing game the way the Nets have. They are offering ticket buyers free jerseys, complete with the names of their favorite players -- and their favorite opponents. ... In other N.B.A. cities, marketing officials are stretching their imaginations to persuade fans to stretch their entertainment dollars. Miami has a promotion called All You Can Heat, which caters to fans who are interested in buying partial-season ticket plans. ... In Dallas, anyone who buys 'select full-season ticket package' receives a free ticket to the 2010 All-Star Game, which the Mavericks will host. In Philadelphia, the 76ers are running a Back 2 School promotion: four tickets to the home opener, two backpacks, two T-shirts and two hats for $75. The Detroit Pistons are offering three options: the Big Game Plan, 12 marquee games for the price of 9; the Weekend Plan, 12 weekend games for the price of 9; and the Economy Plan, 16 games for a minimum of $225. In Indiana, the Pacers were offering the first 100 fans who buy full- or half-season tickets a chance to meet the first-round draft pick Tyler Hansbrough."