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Vinny Del Negro among coaches under pressure in playoffs

Is any coach under more pressure entering the playoffs than Vinny Del Negro? The Clippers have played flat of late and with Chris Paul set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, expectations are higher than ever. -- Dale, Los Angeles

You're right about Del Negro, Dale -- he's been under pressure for the last two years. But if he winds up being fired on the basis of not reaching the conference finals, that won't be fair.

The Clippers won't be favored in a second-round series against the Spurs or Thunder. If they have a specific coach in mind to build a different kind of identity around Chris Paul, then that's one thing; but a franchise that has never gone past the second round and has only recently been galvanized by Paul has no business believing it should suddenly beat the Spurs, who have been contending for 14 straight years, or the Thunder, who last year reached the Finals and boast the NBA's second-best player along with the league's best young rotation.

Del Negro won't be the only coach facing pressure in the playoffs. Consider:

Larry Drew: He's done excellent work to keep Atlanta in the playoffs following the departure of Joe Johnson, the season-ending injury to Lou Williams and the impending free agency of Josh Smith, who was expecting to be moved at the deadline. But Drew is finishing the last year of his contract under new GM Danny Ferry.

Mike D'Antoni: The Lakers already fired one coach prematurely. Expectations (mine included) have been too high for this heavily injured team.

P.J. Carlesimo and Jim Boylan: Both are interim coaches with no assurance of returning. A strong first-round showing by the Nets and Bucks, respectively, are crucial to their futures.

Lionel Hollins: He's in the final year of his deal and his team has performed well following a series of controversial midseason trades. Good luck to the Grizzlies in finding a better coach than Hollins, who has steadily improved the defense while providing the franchise with a winning identity.

It's clear Andrew Bynum has no attachment to Philly, with recent reports suggesting he won't be giving the Sixers a hometown discount this summer. Who else could join the Sixers in pursuit of his services? -- Adrian W., Allentown, Pa.

Bynum could be an option for several teams, Adrian, depending on how the market develops for him and others (especially Dwight Howard) -- Houston and Dallas could show interest in Bynum, along with Phoenix. All of those teams would have to be focused on a short-term deal.

I still think the Sixers need to strongly consider re-signing Bynum, and not only because they gave up so much (Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a first-round pick). What is the better option? If they renounce Bynum and their other free agents, then they'll have around $11 million in cap space. They probably aren't going to be able to use that money to replace Bynum with a future star. In the meantime other franchises may be willing to gamble on a short-term deal with Bynum in hope that he'll recover to become a star. It will be frustrating for Philly fans to see the team re-invest in Bynum, but maintaining control over their own free agents will give the Sixers the most options.

They're not close to the Heat's streak, but the Knicks are the hottest team in the NBA right now. How important will that momentum be for Carmelo and Co. in the playoffs? You were one of the few who predicted the Knicks could march to the Eastern Conference finals. Do you still think they're capable of a run like that? -- Corey Pall, New York City

Thanks for remembering that, Corey! The Knicks could get there because the race for second place in the Eastern Conference is wide open. They're likely to be on the safe side of the bracket opposite Miami, along with the Pacers and Celtics, and all three of those teams will believe they should reach the conference finals. Right now I'd make Indiana the favorite, based on their defense, size, playoff-ready style and the strong recent play of Roy Hibbert. But the race for second in the East is too close to call, and Anthony may prove to be the best player among the contenders who could face Miami in the third round.

In your Sixth Man, you discussed the possibility of the league ruling on coaches resting players. Do you envision a rule giving coaches autonomy to rest players whenever they see fit? How would that prevent what happened with the Heat in San Antonio? -- Julian C., Norfolk, Va.

I'm guessing they'll put in a rule that prevents coaches from putting their best players on a plane before the game unless proof of injury is provided. Coaches will probably be "encouraged" in some way to provide notice and reason if a player is held out of a game. But the bottom line here is that the league needs to defer to the opinions of the coaches. They have the best interests of the team at heart, and if they think a player -- and especially a star -- needs the rest, then the player ought to be rested.

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