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Mailbag: Collins media frenzy, Westbrook's return, more

Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Jason Collins became the NBA's first openly gay player to play in a game on Sunday against the Lakers.

How long will Jason Collins playing in the NBA be news? Will his games continue to cause a media frenzy?
-- Pete R., San Diego

It will be news within each city he visits, Pete. When he visits Portland on Wednesday, it will be a story there. If he is injured or waived or when he retires, then there will be more to say.

At the same time, the healthy part of Collins' becoming the first openly gay man to play in an NBA game is that too much isn't being made of it. The media coverage has been showing respect for the occasion, but I don't have the sense that the public in general is reacting as if this is a controversial happening or major breaking news. There appears to be a built-in understanding and acceptance to this story, which is good.

There are two reasons the story didn't become a bigger deal this week. The first is that Collins already made the biggest news by coming out last year: To see him playing now is sort of like the parade that takes place after the big victory has already happened. For Collins to be playing for the Nets is the epilogue to his story.

MAHONEY: Collins' value won't be found in statistics

The other reason for the low-key response is because he's breaking new ground in the NBA, which is the most progressive of North America's four major leagues. When NBA players have used homophobic language in recent years, they have been instantly embarrassed, remorseful and fined. There is a different sensibility to the NBA than to pro baseball or football, where -- this isn't breaking news either -- the players would be expected to be less open-minded.

Consider the many negative off-the-record responses from NFL people to Michael Sam's coming out. There is an expectation within the NFL that its league "isn't ready" to treat a gay player with respect. The NFL controversy over Sam has taken attention away from the ground Collins is now breaking in the NBA, where little to no controversy is expected.

SI Now: How will Jason Collins' signing change professional sports?
On Monday's SI Now, executive editor Jon Wortheim discusses the significance of Jason Collins signing, how the discussion has changed since Collins came out, and the fans reaction of his first game in Los Angeles.

Could the Thunder actually be worse off with Russell Westbrook?
-- Mike, Omaha, Neb.

Absolutely not, Mike. As hot as they were in recent weeks, their record with him this season (21-6) remains better than their record without him (22-8). In addition, they've been the best team in the West for the previous two seasons with him. However long it takes for him to recover his legs and to regain the rhythm of teamwork with his teammates will be an investment well spent.

The Thunder's role players have improved in Westbrook's absence. That doesn't mean their team is better without one of the league's top 10 players.

How do you think Evan Turner will fit in with the Pacers? Will they miss Danny Granger?
-- David L., Pittsburgh

They've been missing Granger for some time now, David; it's been two years since he was his old prolific self. Granger and Paul George have a strong relationship, and the trade of his friend made this a hard move for Indiana's best player to accept. But the Pacers were in no position to sit back and assume that they were good enough to beat Miami. That's why they've added Andrew Bynum, Turner and Lavoy Allen to their bench over the last month. As an organization, they must be aggressive in all ways -- in the management of their team and in their style of play -- if they want to be the first team in three years to knock off the Heat. Even with all of the recent improvements to their team, I still don't know whether they can reach the NBA Finals.

Will Glen Davis be the missing piece the Clippers have been looking for?
-- Aaron, Los Angeles

He will help at both ends of the court, Aaron, especially in the playoffs, when he is capable of having a few breakout games by rooting out loose balls and scoring efficiently around the basket. He gives them something of a post-up presence, which could be very useful.

Isn't it something that Big Baby wanted to play again for Doc Rivers? Early in Davis' career in Boston, there were times when he looked as if he couldn't wait to play for another coach who wouldn't be so hard on him. Now it appears that he appreciated Rivers' honesty and couldn't wait to reunite with him.

Which Western Conference team in playoff position are you most worried about making the postseason?
-- Vince, Salt Lake City

Dallas and Phoenix will be most at risk, Vince -- that's obvious. The Suns have more games to play on the road than at home (the opposite is true for the Mavericks) and they'll have less veteran leadership down the stretch as Memphis and Minnesota try to make runs at the last spot over the next two months. Dallas' older stars will be embarrassed if they miss the playoffs; the Suns have already exceeded expectations by a great deal.

Who will have a bigger impact on the playoffs: Greg Oden or Andrew Bynum?
-- Steve, Miami

If I pretended to know the answer to that, Steve, I'd be lying. This is one of the questions that is going to make the Heat-Pacers conference final so fascinating. Can Oden provide enough crucial minutes around the baskets to neutralize Indiana's big men? Or will the combination of Roy Hibbert and Bynum create too much size for Miami to handle? And then you add the injury history of both players and it's impossible to guess how things will turn out.

Will Metta World Peace be signed? Where do you think is his best fit?
-- Joe, New York

Am I crazy for thinking he may belong in Miami, Joe? He could provide some muscle at power forward against the bigger Pacers.

Do the Bobcats have enough offensive firepower to make the playoffs?
-- Lee, North Carolina

I envision Al Jefferson backing them into the postseason with lots of footwork and head fakes, Lee. He and Kemba Walker are averaging close to 40 points between them.

Who will finish with the worse record: the Knicks or the Lakers?
-- John B., Chicago

The Lakers are in the tougher conference, John, and the Knicks will be under additional pressure to make the playoffs because they've already traded their first-round pick to Denver.

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