First Cup: Monday

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Jonathan Bender, who turns 29 next month, worked out for the Knicks last summer but didn't feel he was physically ready to make a commitment. But after extensive training with Charles Austin, a former Olympic gold medalist in the high jump who once trained Allan Houston, Bender contacted Walsh and said he was ready for a comeback. 'When I (left) the NBA, the plan was to rest my knees and start over,' Bender said. 'I was going to rest for at least a year and go straight into rehab and try it again at some point. I couldn't live to be 38, 39 years old saying I at least didn't try again.' According to Walsh, Bender met the Knicks in New Orleans and returned to New York with the team. He went through his first practice on Sunday but it's unlikely that Bender will be on the active roster for tomorrow's game in Charlotte. How much he plays and how effective he'll be remains to be seen. In seven seasons with the Pacers, Bender played fewer than 47 games five times. His best season was in 2001-02 when he set career highs for games played (78), points (7.4) and rebounds (3.1)."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Because of that recent history, there has been much speculation that the Bulls' recent slide -- 10 losses in 12 games, including a host of blowouts -- will result in another pre-Christmas Scrooge-type firing, this time for Vinny Del Negro. But the coaching change two years ago didn't have the desired effect. The Bulls were 9-16 when Skiles was let go and finished well out of the playoff picture with a 33-49 record. A coaching change in the middle of a season rarely results in a dramatic turnaround -- and sometimes can exacerbate a bad situation. Keeping Del Negro on the job would be the Bulls' best chance of turning things around this season. Besides, whom could the Bulls hire right now? It's doubtful any of the top unemployed coaching candidates -- Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson or Byron Scott -- would be willing to take over now. Even if they were, there's not enough practice time during the season to implement a new system. The reports that the Bulls are interested in former New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank are pure folly. A coach who lost his first 17 games this season before being fired is the Bulls' savior? Please."

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: "Mike Dunleavy said a trade involving center Marcus Camby -- or anyone else -- was not something heenvisioned happening soon. 'I don't see us probably making a deal imminently in any way, but you never know when a call could come in,' he said, declining to specifically address trade rumors involving Camby. Asked if he would be reluctant to trade Camby, who ranks among the league leaders in rebounding and blocked shots, Dunleavy said, 'When you have a stock that's going up, you don't want to sell it. When it's going down, nobody wants to buy it. The only deals that get done are when teams somehow come to some equitable deal that makes sense to make people better for whatever the reason might be.' Do the Clippers have a surplus of talent at Camby's position? 'Not the last time I checked,' Dunleavy said."

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "The Heat responded much better in the locker room than it did in the loss, although guard Dwyane Wade had little to say to the team after his team-high 25 points came in vain. 'I didn't say a word. I let the guys talk. Sometimes, as a leader, you have to listen,' Wade said of a postgame powwow led by veterans Jermaine O'Neal and Udonis Haslem. 'I won't say what any guy said. Just know that there was communication back and forth.'' Haslem insisted that there was no finger-pointing or animosity, although there was plenty of blame to share for the disappointing play at home. Instead, Haslem's message was on all-inclusive accountability. Sunday was for soul-searching. 'It's not just about one person or two people,' Haslem said. 'It's on all of us. We definitely have to dig deep and find out what type of team we are. We need to get that chip back on our shoulder we had earlier.' "

  • Mike Jones of The Washington Times: "Gilbert Arenas' knee has been fine. He has displayed an ability to accelerate and blow past opponents. And he hasn't shown a physical drop-off in back-to-back games. But in the first month of the season, Arenas admittedly struggled to find a balance between going on the attack and setting up his teammates in Saunders' system, which is much different from the Princeton offense the guard ran for six years under former coach Eddie Jordan. Arenas also is often guilty of forcing ill-advised passes. So the missed layup and missed free throws (and a 13-for-24 showing from the line in the last five games) only compound Arenas' frustrations and further rattle his confidence. 'The things that I thought would be hard aren't hard,' Arenas said after Saturday's loss. 'The hard part is the little things. Free throws. Sometimes it's careless dribbling, sometimes it's at the top of the key. Little dumb things that are irritating me as a player. I don't know.' ... Arenas and the Wizards headed to Los Angeles on Sunday to kick off a four-game road trip, and the guard said although challenging, the time away may be helpful. 'I think the West Coast is going to be good for me,' Arenas said. 'Get away from the pressure of this building, the pressure of the fans. Just let me breathe a little bit.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "If Tracy McGrady is to play, it only makes sense to let him be McGrady. Rick Adelman has long been about putting players in position to do what they do best. He never was wedded to a system, including the Sacramento style, as people assumed. He believed in the style that fit his teams best. With McGrady, that means running him through high pick-and-rolls. It means giving him the ball and letting him go to work. If he was not ready to make the Rockets better doing that than what they have been doing, it was understandable that Adelman wanted to wait until McGrady could do those things at that level again, especially when he could see McGrady making progress in that direction. If Trevor Ariza is to be out, however, that might be the opening to make the change. Adelman did not want to bring McGrady back for four games in five nights. But if the doctors and trainers believe his knee can handle it, maybe that will be a good way to make the adjustments come quickly."

  • Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News: "The story after Saturday's victory over Golden State was the return of Richard Hamilton. But it's one of the mainstays this season, Rodney Stuckey, who's been a headliner lately. While winning their last five games, the Pistons are seeing Stuckey at his best -- he's averaging 25 points in the winning streak and dominating at both ends of the court. 'Looking at our team I'm not sure if there were many players that had a better week than (Rodney) Stuckey did,' said coach John Kuester, who has been trumpeting Stuckey's talent and potential from the start of training camp. Said veteran point guard Chucky Atkins: 'Rodney Stuckey is a guy who's hard to stop, the way he's attacking the basket and continuing to put pressure on the defense. We need that. He's a guy that defenses are going to have to deal with from now on, throughout the rest of the season.' "

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Does Shawn Marion have anything left? The answer clearly is an unqualified 'yes.' The Mavericks are asking him to do different things. He's no longer going to be the 20-point, 12-rebound guy he was in Phoenix. Even Marion knows that. 'It's the same for everybody – if you aren't shooting the ball, you aren't scoring,' he said. 'It's not even about that now. It's about winning. Personal achievements aren't as important. If you win, all the other stuff comes with it.' Rick Carlisle hit on a cogent point while explaining why Marion has been a boost for the Mavericks. Saturday's 15-point, 15-rebound night will not be the norm for Marion this season. But he's still got the ability to do it. 'There will be nights where it will happen,' Carlisle said. 'But on average, our team is structured differently. He's a very adaptable player. We're asking him to do some things that he probably hasn't been asked to do by the other teams he's been with. He's been very willing to just roll with whatever we send his way, because he wants to win.' "

  • John Shipley of the Pioneer Press: "If you had been watching a Detroit Pistons game sometime in the mid-1980s, and someone told you someday there would be a women's professional basketball league and Bill Laimbeer would coach one of the teams to three titles, you'd likely scoff. 'Why?' Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. Why? Because Bill Laimbeer was the biggest and nastiest of Detroit's Bad Boys, who won two NBA titles with a brutal brand of basketball that hasn't been seen since. Laimbeer, equal parts thug and victim, was the team's biggest villain. That's why. Six-foot-11 and 260 pounds, he elbowed, he flopped, and generally did anything he could to get under your skin. Women's basketball coach? Ha! But it turns out those traits are what make Laimbeer a successful coach -- not so much the physical act of his, uh, act, but the complete dedication to winning. It's why Rambis hired him as an assistant. 'You like guys that are willing to make those sacrifices,' he said. 'That commitment to the team game is very impressive.' "

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant might never be the defender that LeBron is, but he has shown signs of being a dominant player, too. He can hit from outside. He can get to the rim. He can find open teammates. There aren’t too many guys in the NBA who can do what Durant already does. That will make him a hot commodity in a couple years. The Thunder will have to work to keep him. It will have to beat back other suitors from big-market cities. It will have to open wide its pocketbook. The challenge will be similar when signing Green and Westbrook. Signing these young stars doesn’t become a foregone conclusion if LeBron is still wearing a Cavalier jersey after this season. But for Oklahoma City, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a guy like him in a small market like Cleveland. At best, it gives the Thunder a blueprint. At worst, it gives the home team hope."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Agent Bill Duffy negotiated Rondo’s recent contract extension, but he might have gained an even better deal had he enlisted Garnett, who continues to shower the point guard with praise. 'The man’s worked on his game a lot,' Garnett said. 'I try to pull him to the side and tell him little small things about getting better and wanting to embrace that and actually believe in that. I think he’s embraced the whole notion of getting better. Actually you can see it, not just with his mentality but with his physical presence. He’s on the weights; he’s taking care of his body. You know, he hears the whispers. He hears the hollers, the critics about his game. And he chases that. That fuels him. He has a lot of confidence in himself right now.' "

  • Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: "Jonny Flynn initially thought of the offense as a freelance system that would cater to his skills with the ball. He was wrong. The triangle offense is based on reads and rhythm, spacing and cutting. The players, beyond the center, are interchangeable. Guards play in the post, forwards on the wing. The goal is always to take the path of least resistance -- unless you are a rookie learning it. 'It’s the hardest transition in any sport I’ve ever played,' Flynn said recently. The offense can seem to be mystical and mythical. To some, it is easily digestible. Others claim it is too lethargic for the fast and frenetic N.B.A. Despite the triangle’s success -- 10 of the last 19 N.B.A. champions showcased the offense -- few possess the time, trust or diligence to install it. Their reasons are plentiful, and skeptics are quick to point out that Coach Phil Jackson captured all 10 of those titles with Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant at his disposal. (For three of them, he had Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.)"