First Cup: Wednesday

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Kevin Durant is in New York this week headlining at least two events, receiving the type of attention befitting a reigning MVP. But the NBA’s scoring champ won’t be playing for Team USA at the Garden — including Wednesday’s contest against the Dominican Republic — after surprisingly withdrawing from the squad earlier this month. Sitting at a panel Tuesday at Baruch College to promote basketball videogame NBA 2K15 — which features him on the cover — Durant reiterated that his decision to leave Team USA was based on rest and staying fresh for the upcoming NBA season. Durant attended the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, only to pull out before the exhibitions leading up to the FIBA World Cup in Spain next month. He announced his decision less than a week after Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage, but was not asked by the moderator Tuesday whether that played a role in his withdrawal. Without Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, Team USA won’t have the NBA’s top four scorers from last season. Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin also withdrew before training camp. “It was definitely tough. But I think for myself it was best to step back and rest up,” Durant said.

  • Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: Brandon Jennings’ Twitter bio says that he is “in the lab.” And today, the Detroit Pistons’ point guard emerged from the lab with this conclusion: Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan. Jennings explained his case in a series of tweets which started this morning, continued this afternoon and garnered a lot of buzz on the social media network. “Micheal Jordan had more ‘Help’ winning his rings then Kobe. #debate #yallfightingthat” he began. Kobe had Shaquille O’Neal, Jennings pointed out. But Jordan, he had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong. What is he trying to say, someone asked. “Kobe really the greatest ever” Jennings tweeted. “Look at the facts” he tweeted. “Kobe is The Goat” he tweeted. Jennings’ argument centered on the “help” that Jordan received while winning his six championship rings, the same help that Bryant, in his eyes, didn’t get. “Mike got a lot of help!!!!” he tweeted. “MJ never won without Pippen.” he tweeted. “Kobe won 2 rings without another great on his team.” he tweeted. Jordan won six championships. Bryant has won five. “It’s only one player compared to MJ, and that’s Kobe. Now Kobe change the mindset of a lot of players today!!! #Fact #SitUpinClass” Jennings tweeted. He has won zero championships. Back to the lab.

  • Adam Wexler of CSN Houston: Team USA boasts just two players who won gold medals with Team USA in the 2012 Olympics, the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and the Rockets' James Harden. Davis has just two years of NBA experience, while Harden will be entering his sixth NBA season next year in Houston. Harden'salso coming off a season that landed him a spot on the all-NBA first team, the only player with Team USA to earn such honors. His scoring potential is obvious, having averaged a shade under 26 points per game in his Rockets career and having finished fifth in the NBA in points per game both seasons. But it's his leadership and maturity that are huge assets to the group, according to U.S. Men's National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "James has been as good a leader as we’ve had for this team. He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he’s obviously very, very talented," Krzyzewski said. "With this group, especially after Kevin (Durant) left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He’s really one of our key guys. There is no question about it."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Sam Presti talks glowingly about Reggie Jackson and says the magic words that signal no bull. Terms like “DNA” and “fits the profile of a Thunder player” and “competitive will.” Keeping Jackson is a Thunder priority. But it won’t be easy. It’s not easy for anyone these days. Of the players picked in the first round of the 2011 draft, only Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving so far has signed a contract extension. The Cavs tied up Irving for five years and $90 million, beginning in 2015-16. And it’s not like that draft hasn’t produced some talent: Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris twins. Jackson. Lots of guys who matter to their teams. Lots of guys who would be gold for their franchises to keep another five years. Yet only Irving has signed. Last year, only five players from the 2010 draft signed contract extensions: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Favors and Larry Sanders.

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: The Heat is serious about adding another shooting guard and a big man if it can find two good ones willing to take the veteran’s minimum. After recently working out Jordan Hamilton (who signed with Toronto) and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Heat also has inquired about Leandro Barbosa and Jordan Crawford, who both hold appeal to Miami. Among power rotation players, the Heat has shown interest in Emeka Okafor and has considered Ekpe Udoh. Preliminary inquiries were made on Andray Blatche and Jason Maxiell. Agent David Falk said he talked to the Heat about Elton Brand but that Brand is unlikely to end up here. Dwyane Wade said on social media that he has spent the past few days working out with Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem and Josh McRoberts at Indiana University, which is coached by Tom Crean, Wade's friend and former coach at Marquette.

  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Warriors guard Nemanja Nedovic, who suffered a foot injury earlier this month while playing for Serbia’s national team, will miss the FIBA World Cup, according to his agent. “After last medical check, there is no doubt,” agent Misko Raznatovic tweeted Wednesday. “Nemanja Nedovic, unfortunately, will miss World Cup in Spain. He needs to travel to Usa, on Sat.” The Warriors said Friday that Nedovic was suffering from right foot inflammation as they looked to make a further review of the guard’s condition. Serbia coach Aleksandar Dordevic told reporters on the same day that the injury was a “delicate” one.

  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: The Cleveland Cavaliers have finalized their coaching staff for the 2014-15 season. First-year head coach David Blatt will be joined by associate head coach Tyronn Lue, who was lured away from the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this off-season, and assistants Jim Boylan, Bret Brielmaier, Larry Drew and James Posey. ... The team also announced Phil Handy, who joined the Cavs in 2013 after a two-year stint with the Lakers, will continue to serve as Director of Player Development with Vitaly Potapenko staying as the team's Assistant Director of Player Development.

  • Dave Zarum of Sportsnet.ca: Matt Bonner is in Toronto this week speaking to players at Nike’s Americas Team Camp, which features 60 of the best high school-level players in this hemisphere. Not long after he delivered a welcoming address to the campers, I caught up with Bonner to talk about his biggest non-basketball passion, sandwiches comedy. SN: Off the court, you’ve made some forays into the world of comedy, which got me thinking: From Coach Popovich on down, it seems a lot of guys on the Spurs are legitimately funny. Is that just a coincidence or does comedy play a role on the San Antonio Spurs? Bonner: "I think when you talk about our team and our players, you ask the question, “Is he a Spur?” When you go ahead and define what a ‘Spur’ is, most people would say hard-working, puts the team first, high character—everything you associate with the Spurs brand. But really, another characteristic of being a Spur is having a sense of humour. It’s a long season with a lot of ups and downs. Having a sense of humour is a good way to deal with stress and relieve tension and keep our team on an even keel. And just because you have a sense of humour off the court doesn’t mean you don’t have a killer instinct on it."

  • Vaughn Johnson of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has attempted to make contact with Rihanna and Kim Kardashian on Twitter, but to no avail. On Tuesday night, however, Embiid was finally successful in having a celebrity reach out to him. No, this wasn’t a beautiful woman. In fact, this wasn’t even a woman. It was WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik. The Iron Sheik is known for being very outspoken on Twitter and will waste little time in making you humble, but the former WWE Champion humbly asked Embiid an interesting question: "hello @JoelEmbiid you have the kush bubba?" Oh, Sheiky Baby. Please don’t ever change. And Embid, for the sake of every Sixers fan in Philadelphia, please do not take him up on his offer.