Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In the next few weeks, maybe, we will see
a huge influx of returning stars to NBA arenas all throughout this great
Some studs will join NBA teams near the top of the standings, further
enhancing those squads status as title contenders. For other teams, these
additions could mean backing into the playoffs as dangerous lower seeds no one
wants to face.
It seems the first to return will be Danny Granger for the Indiana Pacers.
There were reports Granger would suit up against the Charlotte Bobcats on
Wednesday night, but they were shot down when Granger came down with the flu.
"He probably wouldn't be quite ready yet, even if he wasn't sick," Pacers
coach Frank Vogel said.
Granger has practiced and participated fully, showing no signs of any knee
problems that has cost him the entire season until now.
The Pacers have lost two in a row at home for the first time in a year. This
group isn't exactly taking in water just yet. Without Granger, who was thought
to be the team's best player, the Pacers are 31-21 and a half-game ahead in
the Central Division.
While it's not a miracle in a saintly or Jedi sort of way, Indiana has
exceeded expectations. Paul George has emerged, not just as an All Star, but
as the team's brightest star. David West has been sensational and added the
toughness. Roy Hibbert is lost at times and regressed slightly, but point
guard George Hill is a pro point guard.
Adding Granger to this mix won't be tricky. George will slide to the off guard
spot and imagine how gigantic this team will be. George will be a 6-8 shooting
Defense is how this team excels and Granger won't hurt that. As he gets
acclimated, Vogel will probably still use Lance Stephenson, but Granger is a
decent defender who has been around long enough to know how the Pacers win
The next returning star should be Derrick Rose. He granted an interview to USA
Today where he said, "I'm not coming back until I'm 110 percent. Who knows
when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year.
It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back
until I'm ready."
That didn't sound as promising as reports that he'd be back right after the
All-Star break. Rose has sounded timid in the limited times he's spoken about
his torn ACL that has kept him out all season.
Like the Pacers, the Chicago Bulls have played much better than anticipated
without their franchise guy. They trail the Pacers by a half-game in the
Central and Nate Robinson, who is filling in not just for Rose, but for an
injured Kirk Hinrich as well, has done admirably.
Luol Deng leads the NBA in minutes played this season. Joakim Noah is ninth.
Both have endured nagging injuries, as has a semi-rejuvinated Carlos Boozer.
It would be huge for the Bulls to get Rose back soon to lighten the load on
those three players. With a healthy, and rested, Rose, coupled with some
breaks for its other three key guys, Chicago could probably give the Miami
Heat a run in the Eastern Conference.
Problem is, Rose does not sound like a man returning before spring.
"Far away. Far away," he told USA Today.
If eight weeks counts as far away, then we might not see the Los Angeles
Lakers' Pau Gasol until late March. He tore the plantar fascia in his right
foot and with medical training based on a few episodes of "ER," that seems to
be an extremely painful setback.
Gasol had fallen out of favor in Mike D'Antoni's offense and rotation. But,
when Dwight Howard was sidelined earlier this month with a bum shoulder, Gasol
started and was back to his old self.
If the Lakers are still within sniffing distance of a playoff spot (they are
10th), Gasol's return could be gigantic. Kobe Bryant loves the guy and gets
the best out of him. Gasol could be used to spell Howard off the bench again
and, if D'Antoni lets him be, the Spaniard could be muy bueno in that role.
And that finally leaves us with Andrew Bynum.
As a long believer in the fact that Bynum would suit up for the Philadelphia
76ers at some point this season, I now believe you'll see a Yeti walking into
your local grocery store before Bynum plays this season.
Bynum said on Monday he still experiences pain in his left knee, "a lot of
pain" to be precise.
"I don't know if it's normal soreness, or if I'll have to play with it," Bynum
said. "I don't know what it is. It's not anything that I haven't felt, so it's
not new. And it continues to kind of go away over time, so it's all good
stuff. No swelling."
Bynum's case is the most interesting of these four. The Sixers are ninth in
the East standings and catching the Milwaukee Bucks for eighth isn't a
The 76ers roster was put together to maximize Bynum's ability. We don't know
how it would work since we've only seen Bynum in some really large suits. And
the Sixers have been a disappointment otherwise.
What looms large in this equation is the fact that Bynum is a free agent at
the end of the season. Does he need to go out there and showcase himself for
possible suitors? Probably not. I'm in the camp that says Bynum will get a max
deal from some team no matter if he doesn't play a minute the rest of the way.
The Sixers can offer him the most and seem to still be interested in retaining
him long term. Do they want to see anything to justify a trade that cost them
versatile swingman Andre Iguodala, double-double machine Nikola Vucevic and
promising talent Mo Harkless? Maybe they do, but Bynum doesn't seem terribly
keen on playing through any pain.
Should he? Bynum could make a gigantic difference in the Sixers' playoff hopes
and maybe he feels a sense of loyalty to provide something for a team that
went and got him. Or, maybe not.
No matter what's going on in Bynum's mind, it seems unlikely he will be in
uniform in February.
Four men can dramatically change the landscape of playoff races. When that
will happen is still up for debate, but their impact isn't.
The Sports Network