First Cup: Wednesday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: As Cornbread Maxwell noted after Boston destroyed the Lakers in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals, basketball isn’t backgammon. You don’t get extra credit for margin of victory. But the Spurs might have grounds to petition the NBA for a policy change after Game 3 of the Finals, in which they set a series record with 16 3-pointers en route to the third-largest rout in NBA championship history. At a certain point, it was almost comical. LeBron James, harassed by Kawhi Leonard into another legacy-staining disappearance. Danny Green and Gary Neal, playing better than they ever dreamed while slumming it overseas. And the best part – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the cornerstones of San Antonio’s championship success, sitting on the bench and enjoying the show as, for once, others did the heavy lifting. “You don’t expect it to go the way it did,” Duncan said. “But (I’m) loving our home court after getting blown out (in Game 2) to have that kind of…energy in the building, and to feed off that and our team to respond the right way. Hopefully we can respond even better to this win.” … History bodes well for the Spurs after Tuesday’s victory: Winners of Game 3 are 12-1 in the Finals since the 2-3-2 format was implemented in 1985, and 30-5 overall. Tuesday also marked Miami’s first loss while trailing or tied in the playoffs over the past two seasons, snapping a streak of 11 straight victories.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Where have you gone, LeBron James, and when are you coming back? Where is the offensive dominance that makes defenders and rims quake? Where is the greatest player in the NBA and one of its most prolific scorers when the Heat needs him the most, which is right now? When will the league’s Most Valuable Player start being that on his own team again? Forget “remember the Alamo.” Heat fans today are trying to remember the LeBron James who makes the highlight reels not for a pass or a rebound or a block – but for a dunk-festooned game of 35 or 40 points. Only James could accomplish something last done in the NBA Finals by Celtics goateed great Bill Russell in flower-power 1969 and still leave the impression that he is underperforming, that he has somehow been a disappointment. Welcome to LeBron’s world. For him, sometimes even great isn’t good enough, so you know THIS isn’t. For him, sometimes when the brain tries to tell you he is doing enough, the gut knows better: He must do more.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: For every botched possession, for every missed rotation, the Spurs made them pay Tuesday, championship-tested, fueled by the 2-3-2 format that could have them in position to close this out on their floor on Sunday night. "They played with more force,more focus," Spoelstra said. Odds are, the Heat will look far different in Thursday's Game 4, because that's who they are, who they have been. Odds are every Chris Bosh blocked shot won't turn into aDanny Green 3-pointer. But it's a game that's getting somewhat old and getting somewhat dangerous. "The only thing that matters," Spoelstra said, "is we're down 2-1 and we did not bring anywhere near our best game tonight. I did not recognize the team that was out there." Yes, there have not been consecutive losses since Jan. 8 and Jan. 10. We get that. But even that might not be enough. … Now the question is whether the Heat can make it back to South Florida with a season still in progress. We've learned by now to never doubt LeBron. But what he is facing this series is something far more maniacal than what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has thrown at him in recent postseasons, more than the Pacers' Frank Vogel conjured in the previous round.

  • Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer: Jason Levien needs to shore up his public diplomacy: I have little doubt that Levien ran this move by players, minority owners, and others around the organization and knew a coaching change would not cause a revolt. But the Grizzlies are at once private enterprise and public trust, and the community needs a fuller and more personal explanation than the brief, antiseptic press release the team put out Monday night. Levien needs to explain this decision, in direct but polite terms. For better or worse — and I think it's some of both — this is a “speak to the Rotary Club, hobnob at the college football game, banter on the radio shows” kind of market. Incumbent general manager Chris Wallace, in addition to being a quality basketball man, had mastered this public role, one reason I always thought the new regime would have been wise to incorporate him more fully in the decision-making process and try to keep him around. Levien is a bright man undertaking a big job, but he needs work in this area. … This is about the future: This coaching change won't alter the Grizzlies' projection for next season in the minds of most who follow the NBA closely. Coaches matter, but rosters matter much more. What fans need to understand is that the Grizzlies were heading into a period of transition even without a coaching change. How the new ownership and front office manages this transition — not just this offseason but in the next couple as well — will determine their ultimate success or failure.

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Sports agents should be afraid, very afraid. If reports are true and NBA superstar Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is about to the sign with Roc Nation Sports, a new playa has entered the field of sports representation, and he might be the best hustler of them all. … Apparently, Roc Nation didn't have to show its mettle before a legitimate superstar decided to climb on board. Durant is an NBA megastar. Besides LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, perhaps no NBA player has a higher global profile than the charismatic Durant. This could be a game-changer for Roc Nation Sports. Think about it. … The threat that Roc Nation Sports presents to the sports representation hierarchy is why I believe the NFL Players Association has accused Jay-Z, who is not yet licensed to be an agent, of acting in the role of a runner in the recruitment of Smith. NBA agents should be just as leery. After the 2013-14 season, superstar players such as James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade and John Wall will be in some sort of renegotiation position. Those players will be paying attention to what Roc Nation does to raise Durant's profile and fatten his bank account. If they like what they see, a lot of agents could have more than 99 problems as they watch clients jump ship for Jay-Z.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: While so much uncertainty dribbling around the Celtics these days — uh, heard any good Doc Rivers rumors lately? — the club is fully expecting to be improved in at least one position next season. Not only will they be better at point guard when Rajon Rondo returns from ACL surgery, but Danny Ainge believes this version of Rondo, when healthy, will be a notch above the one voted an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. The Celtics president of basketball operations knows that Rondo was paying attention when he was out, seeing how the team did better at first when not relying so heavily on one ballhandler and then noting how much he was missed during the postseason. “I think Rondo is a smart guy, and he got to see the strengths and weaknesses of our team and the players,” said Ainge. “I think he actually started to see it even before he was out, but when you’re out, you can see things in your team and your teammates that maybe you didn’t see before. You see players that are capable of doing some things that maybe you weren’t sure they could do. I think that’s always helpful. Doc and I have both talked to Rajon about what he can do to get better and what he needs to do. And Rondo’s a smart kid on his own. He doesn’t listen to everything you say, but he’s got his own ideas of what he can do to get better, as well. He’s very observant, very street-smart and very basketball-smart, too.”

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Haven’t heard precisely why from anyone on the record but a planned free agent camp in Toronto this coming weekend has been cancelled. It wasn’t all that big a deal, a lot of projects in to see if the HOTH could find some summer league fodder – and perhaps some diamond in the rough – but it would have been the first chance for Dwane (Casey)and his staff to do any coaching under Masai’s general managership and now that’s not going to happen. It had been scheduled for weeks and I would think maybe Masai looked at the roster that’d been assembled, saw where he was in his own evaluation process and figured it wasn’t worth the hassle, or the cost, to get it done. And with the waves of uncertainty still washing over the franchise, I can see that making sense. Masai and Dwane still have to sit down and have some more heart-to-heart discussions (and that’s what Masai said would happen the day he was introduced), the coaching staff remains very much in limbo with less than three weeks until the contracts of all the assistants run out, and the front office and scouting staff still has to be assembled. One thing has to happen this week, I’d say. While I fully expect Dwane to stick around and that’s pretty much what Masai said that day in Toronto, I think some public pronouncement about the head coach and his staff is in order. There was just enough uncertainty out of that original news conference that no clear message was delivered; now that everyone’s in and settled, it’s time to clear everything up.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The NBA wants to stop teams from tampering with soon-to-be free agents. Three franchises were nailed Monday, including the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets for making it known that Dwight Howard and Chris Paul were on their offseason wish list. But several Bulls players wished the league luck trying to stop it. Taj Gibson said that Miami Heat star LeBron Jamestried to recruit him last offseason before Gibson and the Bulls agreed on an extension. Nazr Mohammed said recruiting is “happening everywhere with the players.’’ That’s what the NBA fears. The league can punish teams if it’s coming from the front office, but if it’s the players recruiting each other, good luck. “I know [the league office] doesn’t like to hear this, but ultimately it’s good for the league,’’ Mohammed said. “You got guys that like each other, want to play with each other. Why not? The collective-bargaining agreement is going to settle some of it, but guys are going to take huge paycuts to play with their friends.’’ Further evidence that Derrick Rose needs to start recruiting if he wants help.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: Dear Maurice Cheeks: Welcome to Detroit. Kind of. You've been in the NBA long enough to know the Detroit Pistons don't really play in Detroit. Not even in the same county as Detroit. Heck of a limo ride from the airport to the arena, isn't it? On the bright side, the team charter is housed in Pontiac, so there's that. Then, there's the job as Pistons head coach, which you accepted Monday. You get the same core time that Lawrence Frank got before you, three years with a team option for a fourth, neither of which he quite made. That's how it's been done around here for a while. The Pistons treat coaches the way their coaches should treat housing decisions: They rent, don't buy. You walk into a pretty good mess here but you also know there's some potential, if your bosses can talk some good players into taking all this money they have to spend. … The only way to sell it is to start winning. Except after years of losing culture, that isn't easy to do. I know it's a process, you know it's a process. But on the Pistons coaching plan, the process gets rewired every two years. Here's hoping you get more time. Best of luck, coach. It won't be easy. But nothing worth doing is, right?

  • Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com: When I heard that Maurice Cheeks had landed another job as a head coach in the NBA, my instant reaction, quite honestly, was: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" Followed by, "HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" Yes, really. This time it was the Detroit Pistons who were casual or naive enough in their job search to hire the man whom I consider, hands down, to be the worst coach in Trail Blazer history and probably one of the worst I've ever seen in the NBA. And while it's possible that no quality coach would accept that Detroit job, the Pistons could have done so much better. What's wrong with Cheeks, you say? Well, I've covered the NBA since the days when Jack Ramsay was roaming the Blazer sidelines in paisley pants. And I don't think since that time I've seen a coach as poorly informed, as casual about his duties and as lazy as Cheeks. NBA head coach? He should have been charged with identity theft. … There's a chance this franchise is on the upswing. Maybe Cheeks, in his tenure as an assistant at Oklahoma City, has learned some lessons. We shall see. So good luck, Detroit. I'll be watching. And trying to keep from giggling.

  • Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Since Mark Cuban bought the Mavs no one in the NBA has leaned on the league for a better product, from the fan experience to the refs to now - no flopping. Refs in the NBA have sucked for years, they still do, because it's an impossible job and the only good ref is the one you don't notice. It's odd - when the Mavs won the NBA title in 2011, the refs were incredible. Probably just a coincidence. Now Cuban is working on the widespread epidemic of NBA flopping by granting $100K to SMU to solve this massive crisis. Only there is no solution, even the best player Cuban agrees this is a fruitless exercise. "I think we're trying; you're never going to get rid of it but you have to limit it," Dirk Nowitzki told a small group of reporters on Monday at a Dallas YMCA. "I think it's also part of sports. In any sports, it's a part. It's part of winning. Some people are smart; some people do a little extra thing to sell a call. To me, that's part of sports. You don't want to be obvious; the really, really bad ones you'd love to get rid of those. But if someone does get shoved or hit a little bit, just to sell it to the referees gives the call, I don't have a problem with that. That's part of the game. But the really obvious when there is nothing happening, and he doesn't get hit and he falls down, we do need to eliminate those." Even with the NBA issuing stiffer fines against the floppers, nothing has really stopped guys who are getting grazed turning the ensuing reaction into a cannon shot to the face. Because, as Dirk says, it's part of sports.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Kentucky center Nerlens Noel will visit the Cavaliers on June 20, a source confirmed to The Plain Dealer on Tuesday. The date has been rumored in various media outlets, but the Cavs do not announce their pre-draft interview schedule and would not confirm the appointment. The Cavs have the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on June 27, and Noel has been rumored to be the likely No. 1 choice, although he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in February. Reportedly he also broke the growth plate in the same knee in high school. … Should Noel not be the No. 1 pick, other options could be Kansas' Ben McLemore, Georgetown's Otto Porter Jr., UNLV's Anthony Bennett or Indiana's Victor Oladipo. The Cavs, who have stated they intend to make the playoffs next season, also could look at trading the pick to bring in a veteran or to move down in the draft.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: David Falk, the agent for Georgetown’s Otto Porter, confirmed to the Observer by text message Tuesday that Porter will only work out for the top three teams in the draft. That means the Bobcats at No. 4 won’t get a visit from Porter. It also suggests the Washington Wizards, with the third pick, are the floor for where Porter will land in the June 27 NBA draft. The Wizards have a strong need for a small forward, and Porter’s ties to the Washington area, via Georgetown, make him a logical selection for the Wizards. If Porter is off the board before the Bobcats pick, then they will have access to at least two of four other top prospects: Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, Ben McLemore of Kansas, Anthony Bennett of Nevada-Las Vegas and Victor Oladipo of Indiana.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Pittsburgh center Steven Adams posted the above video of his trip to Oklahoma City on June 2 after his physical exam with the Thunder and the day before his workout with the team. Adams planned to share a video of the Thunder’s world-class facility and any OKC players he might come across. However, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook advised Adams not to do so. Adams complied and now knows the protective ways of the Thunder. While many organizations are more than happy to share workout information, no such luck with the Thunder, which will always be clandestine in its approach under general manager Sam Presti.