Q. Ira, is everyone focused in the wrong place with the Lakers? Could it be more about the players than coaches?
- Larry, Reseda, Calif.
A. It could and it likely is.
This, like all things Lakers over the past decade, is all about Kobe. He might not have handpicked Mike D'Antoni, but he signed off on the hire, something that apparently was not the case with Mike Brown.
Now the challenge for D'Antoni is to make it appear he is not working for Kobe, something only Phil Jackson has been able to pull off.
Ultimately, the strongest personality in the room decides a team's fate. While D'Antoni can play cornpone at times, he has plenty of personality and plenty of ego. Of course, so does Kobe, an ego only Jackson has been able to turn into a positive.
What will make a difference with the Lakers is Steve Nash staying healthy, Dwight Howard appreciating just how much it takes to win a championship, and Pau Gasol not thinking that with Howard in place he no longer has to play big.
The Lakers could have won with Brown, who barely got to experiment with Nash. They might have won with Jackson, but that was no lock, based on how it ended two seasons ago. They will win with D'Antoni only if Kobe leads the way.
The ultimate question might be why the Lakers didn't push past the charade once they opted against a Jackson reunion and simply name Bryant coach. Unless that's next.
Q. Is Carmelo the front-runner for MVP?
- Boris, Teaneck, N.J.
A. As long as Amare stays away.
Look, Anthony couldn't be better positioned, what with Mike Woodson having made a career out of isolating his prime perimeter scorer. And to Carmelo's credit, he seized that role during the latter stages of last season and hasn't looked back.
But until Amare Stoudemire gets back, until we get a better read on that chemistry, we won't truly know how it will shake out for Anthony.
That said, the Knicks now have the point guards capable of getting Anthony the ball where he needs it and when he needs it.
Considering Wade, Bosh and LeBron (and even Darko) all now have rings, Carmelo recognizes that he has become the new LeBron of their draft class, the one questioned about whether he can turn his unique skill set into a ring.
To a degree, the moment is at hand, a moment that just might go hand-in-hand with an MVP season. With LeBron expected to be involved in his share of routs (thereby limiting his stats), with the shine somewhat off Kevin Durant because of the Thunder's failure in the Finals, Carmelo has his opening. The question is whether the Knicks will place high enough in the standings to add substance to Carmelo's stats.
Q. Just saw Jeremy Lin's airball on the 3-pointer that could have tied it against the Heat. Is he fitting in with the Rockets?
- Skip, Jamaica, N.Y.
A. Yes, but not as Lin-sanity, merely as a complementary piece alongside James Harden and, to a degree, Omer Asik.
And that's fine, too, because Lin-sanity clearly came with an expiration date. The adjustment now is the one that never came in New York with Carmelo, playing side-by-side with an elite scorer.
To a degree, this might be a more comfortable role, where he can spot up (that ugly miss against the Heat notwithstanding) and play as more of a complementary piece. To a degree, playing as part of a hybrid backcourt, where both guards can handle, should, on one hand, ease the Knicks-like burden on Lin and, on the other, also allowing him to play in attack mode without apologies at other times.
Q. I'm glad Pat Riley stuck with Erik Spoelstra after that 9-8 start.
- Horace, Hollywood, Fla.
A. As opposed, say, to what has transpired with Mike Brown with the Lakers?
Yet while many have made the comparisons, the situations are different.
When LeBron and Bosh joined Wade in Miami, the three were taking a long view, tied together for at least four seasons and as many as six, depending on opt outs or playing out their full contracts.
With Dwight Howard an impending free agent, with Steve Nash's back, and with Kobe talking retirement in two years, this is all about the moment, this moment, for the Lakers. By contrast, the Heat's Big Three all have acknowledged that by coming up short in 2011, it galvanized them toward great, more enduring goals.
For the Lakers, the clocking is ticking. Success has to come now. There will be no consolation from coming close, especially when Dwight can simply pick up and leave.
Had the Heat made a move a month into their Big Three experience, it would have sent a message about a lack of patience. That might have discouraged LeBron from further developing his game.
With the Lakers, there is no pretense of patience. Mike Brown had to win, now. Now that mandate belongs to Mike D'Antoni.
Q. When will Delonte West resurface? He could be a steal for a contender.
- Smitty, Tampa
A. When it comes to Delonte the player, I'm a huge fan. He defends, passes, can make timely shots.
But there is so much baggage there that he not only has become a minimum-salary player, but one who can't even find work at that wage.
This is a league of second and third chances, but when someone like Mark Cuban and a team like the Mavericks say enough is enough, it can't help but scare off other suitors.
Teams are less likely to risk locker-room chemistry this early in the season. But when the pressure starts to come in the standings, figure on someone taking the plunge, particularly if Delonte is still out there once 10-day contracts start.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http.//twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.