First Cup: Thursday

  • Bob Sansevere of the Pioneer Press: Even though Kevin Love would have been a restricted free agent and not likely to leave next season, the Wolves had to send a message to Love, his teammates and fans that they were committed to keeping him as a core member of the team. The message would have been even stronger if the Wolves had given Love the fifth year he wanted instead of an opt-out after three seasons. The Wolves were more worried about down-the-road deals with Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams than locking up Love for half a decade. If Love stays the full four seasons and re-signs with the Wolves, it's no big deal. But if he doesn't, this deal will haunt them because once Love leaves it's difficult to imagine Rubio and Williams wanting to stick around.

  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune: With Adelman in place, Kevin Love was willing to sign a contract extension on Wednesday tying the Hollywood-loving West Coaster to at least three more winters in our friendly Siberia. Without the presence of Adelman, I don't believe Love would have signed a deal that, for him, was a compromise. Of course, without Adelman, the Wolves might have continued to play so poorly that they would have been forced to trade Love in another attempt to rebuild. Only with the team and Love himself showing improvement did this contract make sense. As it is, the deal feels more like cohabitation than marriage. Love did not land the five-year maximum contract he sought. He settled for a four-year deal with the ability to opt out after three years if he doesn't like the direction of the franchise. Three years from now, Adelman and Rubio will be at the end of their current deals, as well. In other words, Kahn has three years to build around the three most important people in the organization, and to persuade them to stay longer. For all of the Wolves' improvement and promise, Kahn's work is only beginning. Hiring Adelman gives him a chance to succeed. Only a series of intelligent personnel moves will give Kahn and Adelman a chance to win big.

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: The good times are gone. Empty seats weep silently. And after all these wonderful years of service, Steve Nash suddenly has become a liability. The Suns must trade him soon, before he can turn a flawed, talent-deprived team into something mediocre. No one wanted it to end this way. But after three successive home losses to Cleveland, New Jersey and Toronto, it's time to face the soberingtruth. Marquee free agents won't be coming to Phoenix any time soon. The only way to spawn another contending team is through luck of the draft. And the only foreseeable reward for this awful season in progress is a place inside the NBA lottery, where the right number of ping pong balls could lead the Suns to their next franchise player. Maybe this situation would feel different if Nash wanted to end his career in Phoenix. But there's no evidence he'll accept the direction and pay cut coming from the new regime. And judging by the declining attendance at US Airways Center, where a famous buzz has been replaced by a sense of mourning, there is no proof that sentimentality is still selling on Planet Orange. ... This is a tough swallow. But the Suns must protect their bottom-feeder status at all costs. It's the only way out of the woods in the near future. In the NFL, the Colts just endured a horrific season. But once they land Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick, it will have been worth the despair and then some. And if Indianapolis can say goodbye to Peyton Manning, we surely can do the same with Nash. Again.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: At least the Dallas Mavericks won't have to worry about any more pregame ceremonies. For the second time in as many pregame ceremonies, the Mavericks were unable to get their emotions in check and play a decent basketball game. Back on opening day, the Mavs raised their NBA championship banner into the American Airlines Center rafters, then went out and got blown out by the Miami Heat, 105-94. On Wednesday, the Mavericks received their very pretty and utterly expensive championship rings in another pregame ceremony, then went out and got blown out by the Minnesota Timberwolves, 105-90. "Are there any more?" coach Rick Carlisle asked of the ceremonies. Fortunately for the Mavericks, there aren't any. And there won't be any next season, either, if the Mavericks keep playing like they did Wednesday. From late in the second period when the Timberwolves quickly trimmed a 10-point deficit to two at the half, the Mavs were totally disengaged. They seemed to be a step slower and lacking in energy the remainder of the night. Or maybe they just wanted to get home and take a good look at their championship ring. Either way, this was a clunker of a game for the Mavs, who are 11-8 and 1-1 on this four-game homestand.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers and Clippers say they don't have a rivalry. But they sure do act like it. The Lakers' 96-91 victory Wednesday over the Clippers ended with one image that surely defines the heightened animosity. After Clippers forward Blake Griffin fouled Lakers forward Pau Gasol with 1.1 seconds left, Clippers guard Chris Paul attempted to swipe the ball from Gasol's hands while the two jawed at each other. Kobe Bryant also stepped in, jawing continuously at the Clippers guard, as Gasol walked to the free-throw line. Gasol then put his hand on top of Paul's hand, which prompted the Clippers guard to shove Gasol's hand away and tap him on his head. "I got a son of my own," Paul said. "I don't know if Pau got kids, but don't touch the top of my head like I'm one of your kids. I don't know what his intentions were and it doesn't matter. I don't know if he's got kids but I'm not one of them." Gasol appeared amused that Paul took offense to his antic. "I'm sorry he felt that way," Gasol said. "I do that all the time with my teammates. It's okay. If I touch your shoulder or back, there's nothing mean about it. It is what it is." And what that is exactly? From a neutral perspective, Gasol acted pretty immature in reaction to Paul and Bryant continuously trash-talking. "Chris is chippy," Bryant said. "I'm extremely chippy and that DNA spreads to the rest of the team. That's how it is."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: All indications from sources close to Dwight Howard are that, while his list of preferred teams also included the Mavericks, he’d love to wind up in a star center like Los Angeles or New York, which would leave out bucolic Boston. But his repeated reverence for the Celtics [team stats] fairly begged the question. And even though we don’t believe this is a team of his dreams, we do know that the Celts will have a great deal of money to throw at a free agent or two in the next offseason. And if Howard is still available — if the Magic don’t blink and move him before the March deadline — C’s president Danny Ainge will undoubtedly put in a call to Team Dwight. The question is whether he’ll answer. “Always. Always,” Howard told the Herald. “I’d always listen to a team like that. “My thing is I want to win. It’s not something like I’m doing this for money. I win. I want to do it my way.” There may be two problems for the Celtics in that last paragraph. Howard may question whether the club can win with him, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, a collection of minimum salary veterans and a few children. And his “way” likely means a bigger stage.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Lewis said Grunfeld and Wittman set the tone for a new era during the hour-long meeting before shootaround, as they told the players that they were going to be held more accountable, that minutes weren’t going to given but earned and production — not reputation — would be rewarded. Wittman also told the players that he was upset that he was in the position, reminding them that the came to Washington to help Saunders, not replace him. For one night the message rang loud and clear. Grunfeld said he dismissed Saunders because the team needed a new voice, but after recording his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Blatche argued that Grunfeld was half-right. “I don’t know, man. I can’t honestly say we needed a new voice. We just needed somebody to actually check us like Wittman did,” Blatche said. “That’s what we needed. He put everybody on front street and tell them about themselves and told them what it’s going to take to win and everybody went out and did exactly what he said.”

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: But for a franchise that focuses more on how goals are attained rather than simply attaining them, there has to be at least a small measure of concern setting in — because, offensively, the Thunder has been sloppy. For the better part of these first 18 games, Oklahoma City has struggled with sharing the basketball consistently and finding balanced scoring. Most alarming, however, has been the team's inability to take care of the ball. Oklahoma City had 21 turnovers Wednesday, overshadowing the second wire-to-wire win of the season. But the Thunder was just too talented to not overcome those miscues against a Hornets team that dropped its ninth straight game and fell to a Western Conference-worst 3-15. Still, the turnovers have been an issue all season and it figures to be only a matter of time before they really come back to bite the Thunder at a bad time.

  • Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald: If anything has come from the first month of the NBA season it’s that Thibodeau ought to win coach of the year again. The man is possessed by the need to coach and obsessed with the need to teach. Even without the requisite practice time and games squeezed together like soggy pancakes, not to mention several serious injuries and a different lineup every game, Thibodeau has the Bulls playing terrific basketball. He demands it from every player in every game, and he’s not afraid to embarrass any player who doesn’t show up with a determined effort and serious concentration. “As soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you’re gonna get knocked on your (butt),” Thibodeau said. “Getting ready to play is a big part of this league and we weren’t ready to play. It starts with me. I have to get them ready to play.” It will be easier for Thibodeau on Friday against Milwaukee than it was Wednesday coming off a 16-3 start, but it just doesn’t mean much. It won’t until the Bulls play postseason minutes against the Miami Heat and then Thibodeau won’t have any trouble getting his players’ attention. Until then, it will be only a question of which team can get healthy before the games really count. Yeah, like it or not, the real games are three months away.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Danilo Gallinari, 23, is having a breakout season on both ends of the court. So the Nuggets locked him up Wednesday for the next four seasons. Gallinari's acceptance of a $42 million-plus contract extension shows that the Denver front office believes what coach George Karl has said, that Gallo could be an NBA all-star someday. "It was easy to say yes to this contract," said Gallinari, who was averaging 17.4 points and 5.2 rebounds entering Wednesday's game at Sacramento. "We have a lot of very good young guys, very unselfish players, and I'm looking forward to playing with this team this year and with a lot of the guys in the next few years." Kosta Koufos, a backup 7-footer, also accepted a contract extension — three years, $9 million, with the third year a team option. Koufos, 22, is now averaging only 11.3 minutes after Wednesday night's 122-93 win at Sacramento. But he has played a big role in some games, including a victory at New Orleans in which his energy and blocked shots led to a fourth-quarter surge. Gallinari's and Koufos' contract extensions signify Denver's desire to build around a young nucleus. Last month, the Nuggets locked up starters Nene (five years, up to $67 million) and Arron Afflalo (five years, up to $43 million).

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Despite extensive negotiations that lasted right up until Wednesday night's deadline, the Hornets could not reach an extension agreement with guard Eric Gordon, league sources said. Gordon will become a restricted free agent on July 1 and the Hornets can match any offer. The Hornets had to get a deal completed by 11 p.m., central time. Hornets General Manager Dell Demps did not accompanied the team to Oklahoma City so he could negotiate with Gordon's agent, Rob Pelinka.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers guard George Hill and center Roy Hibbert will have to wait until the summer to get their next contracts and find out where they'll be playing next season. The deadline for contract extensions passed Wednesday night with neither player agreeing to a new deal. They will be restricted free agents, meaning the Pacers can match any offer made to them, this summer. "We'll just wait until this summer and see what we can do," Pacers President Larry Bird said. It's not surprising that Hibbert didn't agree to an extension. He and agent David Falk said last week that they would prefer to wait until this summer to work on a new contract. Hill's status, on the other hand, is somewhat surprising. ... Hill and the Pacers appeared to be on their way to agreeing to an extension Tuesday when talks broke down, with the sides about $1.5 million apart in yearly salary. "I thought it was going to happen after hearing they wanted to keep me here," Hill said. "I think everything my side did was reasonable. You never know how that is going to go. It's a business and both sides came to the conclusion that we didn't meet up where we wanted to meet. We just have to see what happens." Hill could turn out to be a one-year rental if a team makes an offer the Pacers feel is too high to match.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: The 9 p.m. Wednesday deadline for the Trail Blazers and Nicolas Batum to agree on a contract extension came and went without a deal, raising questions about the small forward's future with the organization and rankling his agent. After weeks of negotiations that included talks throughout the day Wednesday, the Blazers and Batum's agent, Bouna Ndiaye, could not find middle ground, guaranteeing that Batum will become a free agent after this season. And Ndiaye says Batum will explore every available opportunity on the market. "They say they love him but they didn't offer him something fair, so that's it," Ndiaye said. "We tried and there's no deal. On July 1 we're going to look at the market first before we come back to the Blazers. That's for sure." Wednesday's development does not necessarily signal an end to Batum's tenure with the Blazers, even if Ndiaye lands an offer from another team, but it does create uncertainty. Assuming the Blazers tender Batum a qualifying offer after the season -- a virtual lock -- he will become a restricted free agent on July 1. At that point, the Blazers would have the right to match any offer from another team.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Andrea Bargnani, two games into his return from a two week absence with a strained left calf, came up lame in the first overtime. Bargnani limped off the court noticably favouring the same left calf that sidelined him. He sat down and immediately put his head in his hands. When he tried to get up during a timeout, he put no weight on the leg at all. It was the kind of injury that took a lot of the enjoyment off the Raps double-overtime 111-106 win. Strange really didn’t begin to decribe it.

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: You don't want to make too much of one loss, but this was a bad one, because the Sixers have played a soft schedule and they need to build up as good a record as they can against the bad teams to get some kind of cushion for those tougher games. Again, the Sixers were going to lose to a bad team eventually, because every NBA team has one of those games every now and then. The key for this team is to not let the disappointment against the Nets carry over into tomorrow's game against the Charlotte Bobcats (3-16) at the Wells Fargo Center. On Saturday, the Sixers play the Detroit Pistons (4-15). After doing such a good job of taking care of business for the first 18 games, now would not be a good time for the Sixers to stumble against a string of teams they should definitely beat. Not with the Orlando Magic coming to town on Monday, as the Sixers start a stretch that includes games against the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. This six-pack against some the league's elites has loomed on the horizon as the time we begin to find out what this team truly is about and what it might be capable of.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: Few NBA rookies are doing more offensively with less minutes than Kyrie Irving. That will soon change, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. The 19-year-old point guard, averaging just 27.7 minutes per game, is going to see his playing time increase in the coming games. Eventually, Irving could be playing in the 30- to 33-minute range. Scott offered the assessment Wednesday, a day after Irving played just five fourth-quarter minutes in a 92-85 loss to the Miami Heat. The point guard contributed seven points and two assists in that stretch and helped the Cavaliers cut the deficit to three points with nine seconds remaining. "I should have played him a little more," Scott admitted. "I thought the second unit was playing well and I kind of rolled with them a little bit more than I usually would. Right now, he's at the point where he should be in the 29- to 31-minute range. "Last night was one of those things where I got lost in watching our second unit play as well as they were playing on both ends of the floor." Irving entered play Wednesday ranked ninth in scoring (17.4 points) among all guards, but 48th in playing time. Four rookie guards -- Ricky Rubio (32.6), Iman Shumpert (32.0), Brandon Knight (31.8) and MarShon Brooks (29.8) -- are averaging more time on the court.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets on Wednesday let pass the deadline to pick up another season on the contracts of their four lottery picks from the 2009 NBA draft — Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Terrence Williams and Jordan Hill — to save enough cap space next summer to acquire a maximum-contract player. Each will become a free agent after the season. Guard Courtney Lee will become a restricted free agent after he and the team could not come to an agreement on a contract extension by the deadline. “My only thought is to continue to play well and help this team as much as possible by doing the things I do,” Lee said. “That will increase value. Hopefully, someone will see that, whether here or other teams in the league.” Of the players taken in the lottery in 2009, only the four Rockets players and the Orlando’s Earl Clark are unsigned for next season. The decisions on the rookie contracts were not unexpected. Of the four, only Jordan Hill is receiving playing time. Hill was “a little” surprised. “I have to just move on from there,” Hill said. “It’s all about business."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: For much of the season, Tony Parker has been waiting for coach Gregg Popovich to lose it. Game in and game out, win or lose, good play or poor, Mount Popovich would not erupt. Not like it used to in its magma-spewing heyday. “As he gets older and drinks more wine, he gets more patient,” Parker said. Wednesday night, with a lead against Atlanta growing tenuous and the Spurs sleepwalking out of the halftime locker room, Popovich’s patience finally wore out, and Parker finally got his explosion. A quick timeout 60 seconds into the third quarter, followed by a mass substitution that brought three starters to the bench, sent a clear message in what became an easy-does-it 105-83 win at the AT&T Center

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Kirk Hinrich made his season debut and looked surprisingly smooth at times (some nice catch-and-shoots) , a bit ragged at others (simply losing the ball for a turnover). “I was very encouraged by Kirk’s performance tonight,” Drew said. “I thought he would come back winded. He played with a nice rhythm and his shot looked good.” ... If tonight is an indication, and you never can tell sometimes with Drew, Hinrich will get most of his minutes at point guard. That would mean Jannero Pargo slides to the end of the rotation while Willie Green stays put. ... It was another “Tracy McGrady, Playmaker” night. You can see that his mind is way ahead of his body.

  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press: If the young guys can get better at two plays a game -- turning turnovers into assists, or fouls into good defense -- the net result will be an improved team. It will take a lot more time, but it can happen. Sometimes bad NBA teams almost beat good teams. We can't make too much of it. But this felt like a little more than that. It felt like youthful talent asserting itself. There were moments of genuine excitement in the Palace, moments when even the empty seats seemed to be cheering. Pistons fans have to hope their young guys heard it, were inspired by it, and desperately want to hear it again and again and again.

  • Chris Nielsen of the New York Post: A slimmer and rejuvenated Eddy Curry tried to keep his bitterness to a minimum as he anticipates tomorrow’s first showdown against the Knicks, but he admitted there are people he is not fond of in the organization. Curry, who had a terrible stint under Mike D’Antoni and may go down as one of the biggest busts in Knicks history, signed with the Heat after the lockout ended. “It feels good to be wanted,” the 7-foot center said. “As far as self-worth, I always feel like I’m worth a lot. I have high expectations for myself, even when other people don’t. I’m pretty much fueled from the inside and that’s all that really matters.” Curry and D’Antoni never saw eye to eye. “I’m completely numb to the situation,” Curry said. “I got friends over there and I got people I don’t like so much over there. But that’s between me and them, and we’ll just keep it professional.”

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Remember when Antoine Walker was described as a “volume shooter?’’ It was a validating way of saying, “He puts up a lot of bad shots, but he’s talented enough that some of them go in.’’ Kemba Walker is in the early stages of “volume shooter syndrome.’’ ... Right now Walker isn’t a point guard. I get some grief when I write that, and that’s fine, but some of you don’t get that Walker is much more a scorer in a vacuum than a facilitator. That doesn’t make him a bad person or a bad player. As Silas is prone to saying, NBA players tend to define what they are, rather than coaches. If Walker continues down this path, he’s a combo guard off the bench. He’s not a lead guard. Nothing wrong with that, and we’re a long way from a final judgment. But when Silas said two games ago that it was Walker’s responsibility to think others get theirs first/Walker gets his second, this isn’t working at all. Change is coming and Silas is patient. Kemba should go with the flow and learn.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Griz will try to bounce back with a win after having their seven-game win streak snapped Tuesday at Portland. Meanwhile, the Griz and Clippers will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the American Basketball Association's founding during the NBA Hardwood Classics series. The Griz will wear commemorative uniforms of the Memphis Tams and the Clippers will sport Los Angeles Stars attire. Memphis will also don Tams uniforms Feb. 12 when the Utah Jazz visit FedExForum. As part of the season-long celebration, the Griz and Clippers will be one of nine teams along with Charlotte, Denver, Indiana, Miami, Minnesota, New Jersey and San Antonio to recognize the ABA anniversary by wearing commemorative uniforms.