First Cup: Monday

  • Shira Springer of The Boston Globe: "A Globe review found that, during the last seven months, Antoine Walker has been pursued by multiple financial institutions for unpaid debts totaling more than $4 million. Court documents filed in Illinois and Florida reveal Walker was named a defendant in three recent debt-related civil cases, in addition to the ongoing check-kiting case. His former agent is also after him, citing a heap of unpaid fees. Several National Basketball Association sources, among them friends and former teammates of Walker's, said the 33-year-old player may well have squandered much of his $110 million-plus in career earnings. Without a team or contract as the new NBA season begins Tuesday, they've heard that Walker is casting about for cash to pay off his debts and is looking to catch on with a team, perhaps even overseas. 'I know Antoine has enjoyed himself,' said a former teammate. 'He had a good time, as all professionals who are in that situation should. But there's tough lessons you learn about the responsibilities that come with being a professional athlete that makes a lot of money. Sometimes this is one of the consequences to that.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Modesty might prevent admitting that it has taken years for the stat crew members at Toyota Center -- most often Tony Stick, Tracy Clayton, Ken Nicholas and Mann -- to hone their art to the point that not only were they the only NBA crew the league did not correct last season, they inspire raves from noted statistics aficionado and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Morey considers their work so vital that he is sending his veterans back to Hidalgo to work with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. It won't be the only trip of the season. The NBA flew the Rockets crew to Las Vegas to work the 2007 All-Star Game and annually flies it to other All-Star festivities, with the local crew handling the game. 'They're in the front lines for us in terms of helping evaluating what we're doing on the floor,' Morey said. 'They were the only stat crew in the NBA last year that didn't have a mistake. They track everything that happens from an event perspective. They get it right, and they get it right the first time, and that allows us to get to the coaches early evaluations. That feedback right away often becomes the most valuable.' "

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "Stats, and the analysis of them, do have a place in pro sports but there is a tendency -- as this corner sees it, at least -- to give them far, far too much weight. Basketball, in particular, is a game of nuance, of chemistry between the players on the court, of one guy rising to the occasion one night and another the next. It's all well and good to study stats but it's a game that requires more study of people than numbers. The Raptors may indeed finish lower than sixth in the Eastern Conference -- although it's a stretch to suggest they're a worse team than Miami or even Philadelphia, in the opinion of many -- but to suggest that will occur after studying stats requires a grand leap of faith."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Q: Twenty-year-olds are all around us, being responsible adults, being a responsible parent, husband or wife, employee and citizen, as millions of 20-year-olds have before. Michael Beasley was not dragged kicking and screaming into the NBA. He chose to become an NBA player. He said something like 'I don't want to play in college anymore. I want to be an NBA star.' One would assume (I'm sure the Heat did) that he would also take on the responsibilities of being a big-time NBA star, along with all the perks. Unfortunately, he didn't. It's about time everyone started expecting more from Michael than just 'kid stuff.' Otherwise, he may never grow up. -- Wayne. ... A: Points all well made, especially that this is the life that Michael chose. Yet don't overstate these latest pictures on TMZ. All of us, even the most responsible and pious, have our moments where a cell-phone camera can find us at our weakest moments. I'd say give him a pass on this one. But, yes, expectations are more than reasonable by those spending hundreds of dollars to watch him play. Also, many in Michael's age bracket never would have been afforded the opportunity to receive the type of treatment Michael received this summer in Houston."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "Not sure if this is a true dilemma in the mind of Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, but starting Tyrus Thomas in Thursday's season opener against San Antonio is the right call. The reason is simple: Starting matters to Thomas and the Bulls need their fourth-year forward to continue moving forward. There are times when a little implied disrespect can coax a better performance from an athlete, but not in this case. The Bulls played well late last season when Thomas became the full-time starter at power forward. He feels he has earned the right to remain in the lineup, and he's right. Even if it turns out that Thomas and Joakim Noah are not the Bulls' best inside combination, no conclusions can be drawn this early in the season when both players supposedly had a strong summer of workouts. Thomas should get a chance to prove himself on the court, and if changes are needed later, so be it."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "When Lionel Hollins daydreams about how the retooled Grizzlies will function on offense, he closes his eyes and sees a basketball purist's delight. The Grizzlies' head coach pictures the ball shifting from hand to hand, mimicking a pinball machine with strong offensive threats O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson serving as the flippers. It doesn't matter who ultimately scores, as long as the attempt was made easy by sharing. When Hollins opens his eyes Wednesday for the Grizzlies' regular-season opener in FedExForum, he'll see a Memphis Grizzlies team that critics give little chance of functioning as an effective offensive machine. Yet Mayo, Gay, Randolph and Iverson -- all go-to guys who demand the ball -- vow that one basketball is plenty to go around. Hollins knows he's working with a talented bunch. Now he needs patience and sacrifice from the group. 'When people say things like that -- that we can't play together -- it's just motivation to prove them wrong,' Randolph said. 'We can share the ball. We've proven we can in the preseason. Guys are willing to make sacrifices because guys want to win. We know we've got to look for each other, take good shots and try to create easy shots for each other. That's just playing basketball, so it won't be a problem for me.' "

  • Karen Crouse of The New York Times: "Brandon Jennings, whom the Bucks picked 10th over all in the June draft, blazed a new trail to the N.B.A. He became the first high school athlete to bypass college to play one year of professional basketball overseas before entering the draft. He averaged 5.5 points, 2.3 assists and 17 minutes in 27 games with Lottomatica Virtus Roma, an experience he described as "humbling” after his star turn on the high school stage. Since then, more air has been let out of his ego. Jennings, 20, may be a second-year pro, but as an N.B.A. rookie he faces a steep learning curve. In his start against the Pistons, he played like a college underclassman among men. At 6 feet 1 inch and 169 pounds, Jennings was knocked off his game by the Pistons' starting point guard, Rodney Stuckey, who is 4 inches taller and nearly 40 pounds heavier, and bullied by Stuckey's backup, Will Bynum. He missed 7 of 9 shots and finished with three turnovers and five fouls in 27 minutes. It was the Bucks' final exhibition game before their season opener Friday at Philadelphia, and Jennings, a point guard who is competing against the seventh-year veteran Luke Ridnour for a starting spot, did not help his cause. 'This was not a great night for Brandon,' Bucks Coach Scott Skiles said, adding, 'But that's why you play these games, so he can get a further understanding of what it takes to excel at this level.' "

  • Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News: "Few players in the NBA are as good at Twittering as Charlie Villanueva or, better yet, have the following Villanueva has through the social networking site. 'Twitter is all fun and games,' said Villanueva, screen name CV31, who has become one of the more high-profile NBA players to tweet. 'It's just a way to stay connected with the fans. The fans deserve that.' The connection between Villanueva and NBA fans worldwide certainly is there. He had 60,629 followers as of Friday and has posted 2,129 tweets. 'It's something I enjoy to do,' said Villanueva, 25. His celebrity status, interestingly, can be traced to one legendary tweet. Go back to last March, when Villanueva still was a member of the Bucks. Using his mobile telephone, he tweeted from the locker room at halftime of a game against the Celtics. Villanueva wrote: 'In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We're playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.' Little did he know those few sentences would make him a media topic for weeks on end. 'People who didn't know who Charlie Villanueva was, they do now,' he said."

  • Mike Jones of The Washington Times: "Gilbert Arenas Part I was the tale of an unlikely hero: a second-round pick turned three-time All-Star. But the installment ended both abruptly and disastrously with the star lying on the basketball court, his left knee blown out and in need of surgery. Arenas Part II was supposed to be the triumphant return but, as do most sequels, proved disappointing. The guard endured two more surgeries and two more failed comebacks. The Washington Wizards are waiting to see how the third chapter of Arenas' story plays out, but judging by early indications, there's cause for optimism."

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "There are still questions from reporters in almost every city and still speculation about what will happen before the February trade deadline, but with the season set to begin this week, the Jazz's dominant storyline of Carlos Boozer 's discontent largely has disappeared. For that, general manager Kevin O'Connor is grateful, praising the way Boozer has handled himself so far. 'He's been an absolute, total pro -- absolute, total pro,' O'Connor said Sunday. 'He's done everything that coach has asked him to do. Just been an absolute, total professional. He's made the All-Star team two of the last three years," O'Connor said. "That's some of the things that you focus on. Not the negatives, the positives that he brings. He's a veteran that's in the prime of his basketball career and somebody that came back in shape. He's healthy and he's been an absolute, total professional, working on the things he has said himself he wants to work on to become more of a complete player. We're thrilled.' "

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "Now that the tedium of pre-season hoops is over, the focus turns to Wednesday's home opener and the return of Shaq Daddy. O'Neal lit up the Raptors in the desert last season and then lit a fuse with Chris Bosh by invoking the name of a drag queen. 'I heard what Chris Bosh said, and that's strong words coming from the RuPaul of big men,' the Big Aristotle opined following his 45-point outburst, a total that helped his then-Phoenix Suns romp to a 133-111 win on Feb. 27. 'I'm going to do the same thing (in their next meeting) I did before -- make him quit. Make 'em quit and complain. It's what I do.' The next time arrives Wednesday when the Raptors christen their 15th season in the NBA. According to various ticket brokers in the area, this home opener has created quite the buzz. Not only will fans get to see Shaq in his new Cavaliers jersey, but they also will get to watch LeBron James, the NBA's reigning MVP in what could arguably be his final season in Cleveland."

  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: "Every time I write about the Charlotte Bobcats I get e-mail from readers who claim that nobody cares about the NBA. This column is about the Bobcats. So if you're a sworn enemy of professional basketball, tell whoever helps you log onto to your e-mail account to warm up the computer. Curiously, only the Bobcats elicit this response. When I write about the Carolina Panthers, I don't hear that nobody cares. When I write about college football or basketball, I don't hear that nobody cares. When I write about NASCAR or prep sports, well, I don't hear from anybody. But there is a loud cadre of readers who hate all things NBA. Some go so far as to categorize the players as 'thugs.' I don't know how you define 'thug.' I do know that basketball players and offensive linemen are the most articulate of the athletes with whom I deal. The linemen, you see, are not media favorites. So while their teammates answer questions about key plays, perhaps the big men read novels and non-fiction. Basketball players, meanwhile, travel extensively, often from a young age. Every time you go somewhere you have the opportunity to learn something. Most of the NBA players I talk to do."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "There are indeed nine Cavs who were not picked in the first round on the roster. Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Leon Powe, Darnell Jackson and Danny Green were picked in the second round. Jamario Moon, Jawad Williams and Coby Karl were not drafted. This roster isn't set in stone, but it will be probably the one that opens the season Tuesday against the Celtics. The NBA is a little like the NFL, where late-round draft picks and undrafted players often end up as key role players for long stretches. There's several reasons for this, but there's two main tenets. One is the salary cap and the second is the team's legacy. Because of the salary cap and the structure of the modern game, most teams have one or two highly-paid stars and then the rest of the roster is filled with mid-level players and recent draft picks. The best teams, the ones with the most recent legacy of success, usually have multiple All-Stars making large salaries, but have not been able to draft highly and therefore have to do a little more searching for their role players than the draft. The Cavs are a good example. They have two former No. 1 overall draft picks who, not surprisingly, make the most money. Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James will earn a combined $35.7 million this season. The other 13 players, some of whom are paid very well, will earn around $45 million combined."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Raptors had their Carter Era. The Nets had theirs. None were truly fulfilling. Orlando is Vince's biggest chance, probably his last chance at this stage. He hasn't ever played with this much talent, and certainly with nothing resembling Howard in the middle. An eight-time all-star, Carter realizes his legacy is at stake. He's never gone past the second round of the playoffs. He knows what people are thinking. Same thing that they thought about Dominique Wilkins and currently think about his cousin, Tracy McGrady. 'If I don't get a championship, they'll say, 'Well, he could score,' ' Carter said. 'So I definitely want things to work out here.' Carter followed the Magic growing up in Daytona Beach and returns to Central Florida after the club reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995. He says the "only pressure I've really felt was pleasing my teammates. That's it. I'm being honest. 'I know I'm here to help the team get over the hump. But it's not something that scares me. I'm used to having pressure on my shoulders.' Sounds like a coach already."