1. What objections, if any, do the players have to HGH testing being implemented or the biological passport being added? David Stern discussed the issue briefly at All-Star weekend and hinted it's a players union issue.
KB: The HGH issue was collectively bargained and was one of the so-called "B" issues left to be dealt with later. The agreement between the league and the union is for a panel of experts to be convened in order to rule on whether there is an accurate blood test for HGH and to recommend testing procedures. That panel is working on it, I'm told. So there's no objection to HGH testing, per se; the process is following the path that was bargained. However, the union has not agreed to any circumstances under which players' blood would be used for any purpose other than, potentially, to test for HGH -- assuming a mutually agreed-upon testing protocol can be established. Stern was specifically asked about biological passports during his final All-Star address, and said, "I think the blood test is the precursor to the biological passport. And that's a subject for discussion with the Players Association." Yes, it is. During collective bargaining, the topic of biological passports was never broached, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. So it came as news to the union that the HGH blood test was viewed by the commissioner as a "precursor" to biological passports, since that aspect of drug policy was never negotiated. So it isn't necessarily that the players object to biological passports, which are baseline measurements from which departures can indicate the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The subject was never negotiated, and in order for it to happen, the players would have to agree to it.
2. I've managed to stay on the "Lakers will make the playoffs" bandwagon through all this mess, somehow. But even I'm terrified of what happens if they actually get there. What's a realistically "good" first-round result for the Lakers? Is it must-win?
KB: The Lakers have fallen so far short of their goals and where everyone assumed they would be that it would seem that simply making the playoffs is a victory for them. Clearly, they're not winning an NBA championship this year. A couple of additional second-round home playoff dates would help chip away at their $29 million luxury-tax bill, though, so from that standpoint, yes, getting out of the first round is a must.
3. Is Doc Rivers some kind of mad scientist? Are the Celtics cyborgs? What is happening?
KB: The Celtics are the zombies of our NBA apocalypse, and Doc Rivers is their ghoulish leader. Seriously, how many lives do the Celtics have? They're 13-4 since Rajon Rondo went down and 15-7 overall this season without him -- compared to 18-20 with him. They were an average offensive team with Rondo, and they're still an average offensive team without him. The biggest difference has been defensively, where according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com, Boston is holding opponents to 5.5 points per 100 possessions less than their pre-Rondo injury rating. Much of that has to do with ace wing defender Avery Bradley anchoring the Celtics' defense in Rondo's absence. Also, the Celtics simply do not die. They just morph into zombies.
4. Kris Humphries is out of the rotation in Brooklyn. The thought is he still will have value as an expiring contract. Is that really the case under this new CBA?
KB: I think you've hit on another vestige of the old way of doing NBA business that is not as valid as it used to be. Teams used to be willing to take on a couple of longer-term deals for an expiring contract as long as they got an asset -- either a young player or a draft pick -- that made it worth their while. Now, the more punitive luxury tax has made teams not only averse, but in some cases incapable of absorbing future money. That leaves teams with cap room as a landing spot for expiring deals, but a number as high as Humphries' ($12 million next season) would be an impractical placeholder for a room team to accept. Unless they're getting a lottery pick, why bother? Just keep your room. Plus, teams aren't parting with first-round picks like they used to.
5. What's your favorite experience involving a snowstorm, Ken?
KB: I lived in Cleveland for 2 1/2 years, so I should have lots of snowstorm memories. But nothing really stands out from my time as an Ohio resident. In my post-Ohio resident days, I do remember having to fly into Akron in the middle of a blizzard in order to make it to Cleveland for LeBron James' first game there since leaving for Miami. After a 10-hour journey, I found some remote diner or Bob's Big Boy or something for a later dinner, shacked up in some roadside motel and then drove to Cleveland the next day. So that was fun. I also once drove from New York to Providence in a blinding snowstorm, through several inches of unplowed accumulation on I-95, to make it to a Patriots playoff game as a football writer for Newsday. Snowstorms build character, you know.