Dwight Howard: Will Kobe Bryant's Impact Lead Him to Greatness or Free Agency?
From Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and Shaquille O'Neal in 1996, the Lakers have crafted their legacy by building around a dominant interior presence. Howard certainly fits that description, but Wilt and Kareem didn't have to play with Kobe Bryant.
Magic Johnson and Jerry West may be the most well-respected Lakers in franchise history, but for all their personality and charisma, it's hard to picture either one of them calling out their star-teammate centers, even when they deserved it.
But Bryant is something different.
Bryant has shown since his early days in the NBA that he has little use for teammates who fail to exude the same type of focus and purpose that he does, and no player has been great enough to escape his criticism.
At this point in his career, all Kobe really cares about is winning rings, and if your approach to that goal doesn't say you're with him, then you're against him—and it doesn't matter who you are.
Kobe's feud with his future Hall of Fame teammate O'Neal is legendary, and while forward Pau Gasol may one day be a candidate for the Hall himself, that hasn't stopped Bryant's icy glare from occasionally falling on him.
Should we expect anything different when it comes to Howard's interaction with Bryant?
As J.A. Adande of ESPN noted in a recent article, Howard's introductory interview was filled with responses about how much fun he would have playing with the Lakers, but he only mentioned winning a ring once.
And that lone nod to the Lakers' championship history was actually done while Howard was quoting Bryant during one of his several comical impersonations.
Howard's other talent may have drawn plenty of laughs from the assembled media, but the humor will dry up pretty quickly if he doesn't begin to appreciate Bryant's singular focus.
Bryant has never been known for his patience, and I'm not sure if even Andrew Bynum's immaturity has properly prepared him for Howard. Howard is arguably just as immature as Bynum, but even worse, he seems to lack courage of his convictions.
Howard's indecisiveness held the Orlando Magic hostage for more than a year, but the Lakers can't afford to be bound by Howard's whimsical nature. Maybe he will sign a long-term deal in Los Angeles and maybe he won't, but all Kobe really cares about is Howard's resolve for the 2012-13 season. Howard can laugh and joke all he wants, but when he stares up into the rafters at Staples, the only thing to hold his gaze will be the remnants of champions.
And Bryant is part of that legacy.
Lakers fans have been giddy about the prospects of fielding a team that includes Bryant, Howard, Gasol and point guard Steve Nash, but even that starting unit will not be good enough to realize its potential unless Howard can assimilate to his championship environment.
Either he buys into the title theory that Bryant has presented (or eventually will), or he once again becomes the NBA's most sought-after free agent following the upcoming season.
As Wilbon said in his article, Howard had the luck to be traded to the only team in the NBA that gives him a chance to immediately compete for an NBA title, because it certainly wasn't happening in Brooklyn or Dallas.
Whether Howard chooses to grasp this opportunity and embrace it is totally up to him, and I'm sure Bryant will not make that task any easier.
The Dwight Howard we recently have become familiar with may not have the intestinal fortitude to accept Bryant's challenge, but maybe it's possible for Howard to summon a vestige of his former self.
After Howard's Magic lost in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 2009, he sat on the bench and took a moment to reflect on these same Lakers celebrating their 15th NBA title on his home floor. In that moment, Howard displayed a moment of introspection and levity that has been missing recently.
Hopefully, Bryant can help him capture that feeling again.
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