Mailbag: Will Bird, Pacers regret signing Bynum?
What do you make of the Andrew Bynum signing in Indy? Do you think Larry Bird will regret it? -- James B., South Bend, Ind.
He'll only regret it if Bynum hurts the chemistry of the team, James, and don't expect that to happen. Bynum has played with the most demanding star in the league, Kobe Bryant, and he's won two championships with the Lakers, so he understands the demands he's taken on by signing with the Pacers. Without absolving Bynum of his responsibilities over the last season and a half, his decision to sign with Indiana shows that he wants to be fully engaged with a championship franchise after one and a half lost seasons with Philadelphia and Cleveland.
His new teammates aren't going to let him distract them from their focus. That was the overwhelming signal they sent with their first reaction to his signing. They've made it clear that they don't believe they need Bynum -- but at the same time they'll welcome him if he is willing to contribute.
One of the main reasons I picked the Cavaliers to miss the playoffs before the season was because they appeared to be relying too much on Bynum as a lead player. But this situation is perfect for him in Indiana, where not too much will be asked of him, and yet his minutes will be important. He will be contributing in a meaningful way.
If Bynum is able to provide 15 minutes a night in the conference finals, then the Pacers will be able to put pressure on Miami around the basket at both ends of the floor for 48 minutes. They now have the potential to attack the Heat's glaring weakness for every minute of the game with All-Star size and skills. It is a huge advantage, and yes, the pun was intended.
Which team has a better chance of making some noise in the playoffs: the Grizzlies or Suns? -- Trent, Los Angeles
It will depend on the matchups for the Suns. Phoenix will have trouble with the Thunder and the Spurs, who get back on defense and are versatile defensively out to the three-point line. They'll have a better chance against the Blazers, Clippers or Rockets.
The Grizzlies will be a tougher opponent regardless of the matchup, because their front line of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is so difficult to cover in the paint. They are the more versatile team, with more weapons in the halfcourt and a superior point guard in Mike Conley. But let's see how the Suns' roster looks after they've dangled Emeka Okafor's expiring contract at the trade deadline -- they could have a halfcourt weapon of their own if the talks for Pau Gasol, for example, turn out to make sense.
Do you like the best-of-seven playoff series or wish it was a one-and-done showdown like the Super Bowl? -- Peter, Milwaukee
The best of seven is true to the regular season. But there may be an in-between answer: If the NBA went to a best of five format, there would be less predictability built into its postseason tournament, and every game would carry more urgency.
The one-game format works for the NCAA, because the players are disposable -- they change every year. But the business of the NBA is built on long-term investments that are made by fans in terms of their relationships with players. In general they want to see stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant remaining in contention for as long as possible.
With all of the drama and losses this season, do you see Mike Woodson sticking around for another year in New York? -- Ben G., Brooklyn
Let's see how the second half of the season goes, Ben. But let's put it this way: If the Knicks believe that a change in coaches will help them keep Carmelo Anthony this summer as a free agent, then do you think they'll hesitate to make a move? Whether that helps them with Anthony is another question entirely, because they should be firing and hiring coaches based on a formula for success on the court and in the locker room, as opposed to the purposes of recruiting.
Is small ball the cure for Brooklyn? Do you think the Nets can make the playoffs with Paul Pierce as their starting power forward? -- Thompson M., Columbia, S.C.
Pierce has one of the best post-up games in the NBA, and it looks very much like the Nets are going to make the playoffs in their miserable conference. But they aren't going to play beyond the second round, which was the minimum standard that was faced (and failed) by their team last year -- and surely not worthy of the $189 million investment they've made in this season.
Do you see Hedo Turkoglu or Sasha Vujacic giving the Clippers anything? -- Brad E., Pasadena
Both have NBA Finals experience. Vujacic is a shooter who was on the court in the fourth quarter when the Lakers came back to win Game 7 against the Celtics of Doc Rivers. Turkoglu is a point forward who can make open shots, create mismatches offensively and take pressure off Chris Paul to do all of the playmaking. Both were good gambles whose small contracts will do no harm to the Clippers.
Who will be first to go in Cleveland: Mike Brown, Chris Grant, Kyrie Irving or Dion Waiters? -- Jordan C, Cincinnati
Waiters is the best bet, if his value hasn't been damaged too badly by the Cavaliers' bad play and all of the negative stories coming out of Cleveland. What the Cavs need is to change their chemistry and acquire more players who have experience. They already have some players of integrity, including Luol Deng and Anderson Varejao, yet they remain one of the league's more clueless teams -- and not particularly ashamed of it.
Are my Wolves going to make the playoffs? If they don't, is Kevin Love good as gone? -- Reed L., St. Paul, Minnesota.
Do you think he's going to stay if they do make the playoffs, Reed? Love needs to believe they have a formula that can lead to a run of long-term contention. He also has to show leadership rather than frustration. They look like another team that may have to make a move in order to change the formula, because their abysmal record in close games is no anomaly. They aren't playing together and trusting in one another when the pressure is high. If they don't make a change presumptively, then Love may force it upon them by leaving.
Which player has surprised you most with their performance this season? -- Tom R., Atlanta
I'm going to give you two -- LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. If they had won 41 games this year then that would have shown strong improvement; they look as if they'll have at least that many by the end of the month. Goran Dragic and the injured Eric Bledsoe are high on that list too for what they've done in Phoenix, but the most important improvement is being shown in Portland.
Can the Blazers keep up their strong pace? That's another question entirely.
Kevin Durant says he hates the nickname "Slim Reaper." Any suggestions? -- Matt P., Nebraska
I like the nickname, but what I like even more is Durant's hatred for it. He wants to be a positive force, and everything about him backs that up. Nike ought to do a Darth Vader kind of ad campaign in which they come up with a good nickname that defeats the evil Slim Reaper for control of Durant's soul ... that's my opinion, from someone who has no future in marketing.