Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early í90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

Fan Mailbag: Bryant, Lakers and Metta World Peace

Maybe, if you are a Los Angeles Lakers fan, the Mayans were right. The world is supposed to end in 2012, particularly if Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol cannot forge a winning combination. Understandably, fans in India, too, are feeling the ripples of a 9-13 start to the Lakersí season, which explains a majority of the questions in the second edition of the Fan Mailbag being dedicated to the NBAís most glamorous franchise. Also, with Kobe Bryant having just become the fifth player in NBA history to have scored 30,000 points, there is much buzz about his future and his standing among the gameís greats.

Akshay Manwani, one of our resident NBA experts, answers some of the fan questions around these developments and more:

Saahil Dhillan: Whoís better Ė Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?

Difficult question because not only is this about two all-time greats, but also because both Bryant and LeBron play completely different positions. Bryant is a shooting guard while LeBron is a forward who plays primarily the four position (power forward). Their careers have also panned out contrastingly, with Bryant tasting success very early with the Lakersí three titles between 2000 and 2002. LeBron, on the other hand, had to endure seven tough seasons at Cleveland before he got his first ring with the Heat in his second year with them. To my mind, Bryant is unquestionably the player with the bigger heart, the player with the Ďwinning is everythingí attitude. However, I suspect, given LeBronís overall versatility, he will go down as the better player than Bryant in the gameís history books.

Nishant Dalal: When is Kobe going to retire?

Why would you want that, Nishant? Isnít it fun watching Bryant continue to sizzle and dazzle even when he is pushing 35? He is also leading the leagueís leading scorer this season, with his 29.2 PPG being his best performance since he averaged 31.6 PPG in 2006-07. But to answer your question, Bryant himself suggested, during a training camp interview with CBSSports.com, that it's almost unfathomable he would play beyond 2013-14.

Saurabh Kumar: Will the Lakers be able to win the NBA championship with Mike DíAntoniís offense?

Inherent to that question is whether DíAntoniís offense has ever won an NBA title with any other team? And the answer to that is a resounding ĎNOí, with DíAntoni having his best showing when the Phoenix Suns lost in the Western Conference Finals in successive years in 2005 and 2006. So why is DíAntoniís offence supposed to win him a title with the Lakers? The hype is understandable when you have players like Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol on one team, but for the Lakers to win under DíAntoni their 3-point shooting (besides Bryant) needs to improve and they have to play better perimeter defense. And defense has never been known to be a hallmark with any of DíAntoniís teams.

Kavipal Singh: Why does Kobe Bryant have only one regular season MVP?

Bryantís one regular season MVP is not a reflection of his own mettle as a player, but a credit to the terrific talent that continues to come through the league. Since the 2000-01 season, there have been as many as eight different MVPs with only Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and LeBron James being multiple MVP winners in this time. Also, the focus while choosing the regular season MVP is not just on individual performance, but on the respective playerís contribution in his teamís dominance in the regular season. Viewed through that prism, Bryantís one regular season MVP is absolutely fair.

Akhil Nath: Which is the best team in the NBA?

Going by current regular season standings, itís clearly between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are both locked at 18-4. The Thunderís record is remarkable given that most people thought they would stumble in the aftermath of James Hardenís departure in the offseason. However, my early vote for the best team in the league for the season would go to the Spurs. They rank in the top five in the NBA in offense, defense and pace of play.

They have done this while playing the most travel-wearying schedule in the league to date. They have played 13 games on the road compared to the Thunderís eight. Their 11 road wins is better than the total wins of 12 other teams. And the fact that they have managed this with Kawhi Leonard missing 13 games and Stephen Jackson missing a dozen and counting makes their early success even more remarkable.

Rohit Coelho: What do you think Kevin Martin brings to the Thunder which is so important for their success, or to put it simply, what did the Thunder lose in Harden and what did they gain in Martin?

Martin has shot the lights out for the Thunder, going at more than 47 percent from the field and 3-point line, which is why OKC does not miss Hardenís scoring contribution so much. However, this is not to suggest that the Thunder did not lose anything in the Harden trade. Harden is a playmaker and could carry OKCís second unit without any help from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Martin is an off-the-ball scorer, a situation owing to which OKCís Scott Brooks has changed his teamís substitution pattern a bit. NBA.comís John Schuhmann offers an excellent analysis of how the Thunder are adjusting to the Martin-for-Harden situation here.

Lakshay Pahuja: Why did Ron Artest change his name to Metta World Peace even if it is ironic?

Lakshay, if I had a dime every time I incorrectly predicted what Ron Artest, or should I say Metta World Peace, was up to, I would have been a millionaire by now. I understand that the name change to World Peace was laughable after his supposed intentional elbow to James Hardenís head in April last season. Coming on the back of his chequered history in the league, which includes the famous Malice at the Palace brawl, it made Artest even look contemptible. Forgotten was all the good work he has done to raise mental health awareness. Perhaps, Artest will always remain the proverbial big bad wolf in the eyes of his harshest critics even though he has donned sheepís clothing quite literally with a name like World Peace.

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