Q. If the 76ers feel like they got fleeced with Bynum, how should the Lakers feel about what they're getting out of Dwight? This couldn't have been what they expected? -- Steve, Van Nuys, Calif.
A. I had a chance to speak to a coach close to the Lakers' situation and he told me the expectation now in Los Angeles is that Dwight might not be right all season as he works his way back from last summer's back surgery.
The coach said that the Lakers are working under that assumption, that the Howard they're seeing now is not a Howard playing at 100 percent.
However, unlike with Andrew Bynum and what is going on in Philadelphia, the sense with the Lakers is that Howard will eventually return to his dominating himself, with increased mobility expected.
And don't overstate the 76ers being duped with the Bynum trade. To a degree, it also was their decision to move on from Andre Iguodala, that the team had maximized the possibilities with Andre and that, at worst, such money would be better spent in free agency going forward.
As for the Lakers, a max offer will be on the table for Howard, with no reservations about his status as the league's preeminent big man.
The great issue for Howard could come down to how he feels his game will work in Mike D'Antoni's system, a system that should grow more fluid for all involved once Steve Nash returns.
Q. Gregg Popovich does most certainly not have the "right" to do whatever he wants. There is no "right" to do anything you want to do when doing what you want takes selfish advantage of something bigger than yourself, and when that "something bigger" pays him so handsomely. He is taking advantage of every fan, every TV deal, every NBA player's huge salary, as well as his own financially posh job. He did not build the league to what it is today, he simply took advantage of every person associated with the league, all fans, all players, all refs. This is just another example of a high-paid, self-centered jerk who is living on another wealthy planet and who is overpaid for his contributions and consequently has a distorted and bloated image of his own worth. -- Roland, Portland, Ore.
A. So, you, uh, didn't think it was a good idea to send Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker home before the Spurs played in Miami? Look, getting past his salary and the spotlight he is afforded, Gregg Popovich is a coach, and coaches coach to win championships. Believe me, Pop would feel no greater satisfaction than sharing a few words with David Stern during a championship-trophy celebration in June. All of that said, I think you are spot on when pointing out how showcase games such as Spurs-Heat have not only made Pop a rich man, but also contribute to the wealth of so many others, and even the mere incomes of those with ancillary NBA jobs. What it was was selfish. So the question becomes whether a coach has the right to be selfish and put a championship vision above all else.
Q. Ira, Knicks-Nets might have been the most fun I've had at a game in years, and I'm a Knicks fan. Is this the start of a new era for the city game? -- Mark, Sheepshead Bay, N.Y.
A. I think what that game showed is that the Knicks and Nets have lifted themselves comfortably into Tier 2 status in the East alongside the Celtics, behind only the Heat.
Basically, with Bynum's issues in Philadelphia and Danny Granger's absence in Indiana, the East appears to be settling into three playoff tiers, with all due respect to the Hawks and their surprisingly solid play.
Essentially, the Heat should be able to run away with the top record in the conference, if they should feel so inclined.
Then it appears there is a clear second tier with the Knicks, Nets and Celtics.
Beyond that, there should be a healthy scramble for playoff spots, in a group led by the Hawks.
As for championship prospects, it figures to come down to how truly accepting Amare Stoudemire would be of a bench role in New York and whether Brook Lopez can impose his will, and remain healthy, for Brooklyn.
But to get back to your question, yes, it appears that Knicks-Nets has risen to a higher plane with the Nets' return to relevance.
Q. How about my Bobcats? Still think the Southeast is the worst division? -- David, Fort Mills, S.C.
A. What Mike Dunlap has done reminds me in many ways of what Bill Musselman did with the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves, how his highly disciplined ways were able to maximize his team's record.
To a degree, Michael Jordan also deserves credit with the win-now trade for Ben Gordon.
All of that said, heart and hustle only get you so far in this league, and unless Michael Kidd-Gilchrist truly blossoms this season as a rookie, it appears there is a limited ceiling for the Bobcats.
Q. Where's the national respect for the Grizzlies? -- Anne, Millington, Tenn.
A. OK, enough of the woe-is-we. There has been more respect this season for the Grizzlies than arguably any point in the franchise's history, including the revival under Hubie Brown.
But there also is a difference between topping power rankings in November and truly standing as a contender. A contender is a team that has a definitive go-to perimeter scorer for definitive go-to moments. So that comes down to where you believe Rudy Gay stands.
For all Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are capable of, someone needs to get them the ball in critical situations. When it comes to creating scoring opportunities in playoff situations, that's where Gay comes in.
If you view Gay as elite, then you legitimately can view the Grizzlies as elite.
Q. When will disappointing teams start to make moves? -- Mike, Washington.
A. I don't think any time soon, with the league's most disappointing teams being the teams we essentially expected to disappoint.
There is, however, one key date approaching. Players signed in the offseason cannot be dealt until Dec. 15 or for three months, which comes later. So Dec. 15 unlocks a significant pool of players, pieces that either could be moved as mismatched parts, or contracts that can be aggregated to make deals work under the salary cap.