We've seen several injuries over the last week, with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Kobe Bryant going down. Which injury situation, including the injuries to Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and the recovering Pau Gasol, will affect the postseason the most?
-- Graham D., Charlotte, N.C.
It's a good question, Graham, because injuries have made up the most important story this season. The Heat's huge lead in the East is based on a combination of Miami's health and the bad luck of rivals who have all dealt with a major loss -- Chicago (Rose), Indiana (Danny Granger), Boston (Rajon Rondo), New York (Amar'e Stoudemire) and Atlanta (Lou Williams).
Other injuries suffered by Dallas (Dirk Nowitzki), Minnesota (Kevin Love), Philadelphia (Andrew Bynum) and Washington (John Wall) have affected the playoff races in both conferences.
It's easy to see how all of these problems have influenced the regular season. As to your question, Graham, I'm going to begin by predicting that no one in the East -- healthy or not -- is capable of beating Miami in the opening three rounds. As long as the Heat retain their own good health, it isn't going to make any difference whether Rose or Granger or Rondo or Stoudemire or Williams is available.
[GOLLIVER: Can Heat set record for NBA's longest winning streak?]
The injury to Bryant could be the last word on the Lakers, because he has been the constant force that rallied them back into playoff contention. If he's diminished in any way, then his team might be sunk. But how far would the Lakers go even if Bryant was healthy? They haven't been a unified team for four quarters all year.
That's why the injury to Parker may prove to be the most important of all those that you've mentioned, because it's the only one that affects a team with a realistic chance of reaching the Finals. In recent years, the Spurs have been set back often by a late-season injury to one of their three stars. Parker isn't going to need surgery, and, in fact, the Spurs are hoping he'll be back in play faster than expected (he was expected to miss four weeks after injuring his ankle on March 1). But it's been six years since they last made the NBA Finals. They need to have everyone playing together at a high level in order to break through, and it can't be taken for granted that Parker and his teammates will be back to peaking efficiency in the short time before the playoffs. They're going to have to prove it.
Disagree when you state the Carmelo Anthony trade did not hamstring the Knicks. Remember, to sign Tyson Chandler, they amnestied Chauncey Billups and now have no way out of Amare Stoudemire's nightmare contract. Two years in they have no series wins, are the oldest team in the NBA and have no way to meaningfully improve the team. Is that really a success?
-- Randy, Dallas
I hear you, Randy. I can see why you say the Knicks are hamstrung. But I don't think the trade is at fault. By way of that trade they were able to land Anthony, who is 28, and Chandler, who is 30. Each is among the best in the league at his position. Both were Olympic gold medalists last summer. They had two slots for high-paid superstars, and they filled them with two stars at their peak. The only other star who might have been available at that time was Deron Williams, who has had a frustrating time with the Nets.
The Knicks are hamstrung because their third star, Stoudemire, hasn't been healthy for an extended time since the 2011 playoffs. They'll be unable to trade him next season, when he's making $21.7 million, and the new collective bargaining agreement makes it almost impossible for them to add more talent via trade or free agency. When Stoudemire isn't playing, it's as if the Knicks are trying to compete with a $60 million payroll.
They're old, but that's because they recently added Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Pablo Prigioni in a valid attempt to win now. None of those acquisitions was part of the February 2011 trade. The two players who resulted from that deal -- Anthony and Chandler -- are among the youngest and most productive players in New York.
[Chandler to miss a week with neck injury]
I'm intrigued to find out how suspensions relate to a team's salary cap. If a player (earning a sizable salary) is suspended for an extended duration (see Ron Artest following the brawl in Detroit), given that he is not paid for the duration of the suspension, does his unpaid salary still contribute to the salary cap of his team? If it doesn't, can his team sign some other player for that duration?
-- Dayo Otegbeye, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
When a player is suspended, Dayo, 50 percent of the salary not paid to the player is taken off the cap. It can help lessen a team's luxury tax commitments, but it can't be used to provide the team with extra cap space in order to sign a free agent.
I just finish reading your story on Sebastian Telfair. It was a good article, but there were some items left out. When Portland drafted him, Telfair came with a huge ego. Anytime anyone said anything about his game, Telfair would just respond that he's "a New York playground legend" and there's nothing anyone could tell him. In Portland, he expected everything to be handed to him on a sliver platter. It didn't help Telfair that people were feeding his ego way back in high school. Telfair will never say this, but deep down inside, he knows that he should have played a year or two in college to learn about himself and the game. Anyway, good story. Please keep up the good work.
-- Edwin Lindley, Portland, Ore.
Thanks, Edwin. I actually think Telfair was owning up to the kinds of things you mentioned. He acknowledged "personal failures" and making a lot of mistakes, including his 2007 arrest for gun possession when he was with the Celtics. Of that arrest he said: "I learned a lot from it, but I could have done without it. I didn't get much out of that, other than playing for a lot less money than I should have ..." I took that to mean that his mistake didn't have a constructive impact on his life. Sometimes you hear people say they're glad they made a mistake because it helps change their ways; Telfair was saying that error did far more harm than good for him.
I have to say that I was surprised to find him so forthcoming and self-critical. I put that together with the positive reviews I've heard from Raptors coach Dwane Casey as well as Alvin Gentry, who was Telfair's coach in Phoenix the previous two seasons, and what I hear is the story of a player who was famous too early, and who is now focused on earning his success.
Telfair was an exceptional and advanced high schooler and has been and remains a solid if unspectacular pro after a decade in the league, but the simple reality is that all the next LeBron James and next Allen Iverson buzz that once surrounded him on a daily basis has proven to be inaccurate and overblown as he was never that good. The gun incident and general hubris and immaturity helped nothing in the grand scheme of things, but those details do not compose the essence of why he never became the NBA star many naively predicted.
Based on his career so far, Don, there is no doubt you are correct that he was rated too highly coming out of high school. His only hope is that he can follow the example of Billups, a No. 3 pick at point guard who spent his first five years wandering the league. By the time Billups was 26, however, he was beginning a streak of five seasons with 50 or more wins, including two NBA Finals and one championship. Telfair is going to be 28 next season and he still hasn't earned a starting position or appeared in the playoffs.
Do you see the Orlando game as a turning point for Dwight Howard? He's averaging 17.4 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in March.-- Nathan Ted, Los Angeles
There's no predicting it, Nathan. On this one I defer entirely to Howard. He is capable of putting together a stretch of dominant basketball. But will he? I have no idea.