Will Kobe Bryant Determine Dwight Howard's Future with the L.A. Lakers?
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant knew his team would make a play for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, and according to Kevin Durant, Bryant shared this bit of wisdom in July during practice for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Durant was skeptical of Bryant's words, and I would be, too, under the same circumstances, but not for the same reasons as Durant.
Durant's opinion was likely formed foremost as a competitor, and a Lakers team featuring Howard and Bryant would undoubtedly make his goal of dominating the Western Conference a little more difficult.
However, Durant's assessment of Bryant's claim failed to consider one of the points of potential conflict in a marriage between Howard and the Lakers.
According to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld, one of the major roadblocks between a deal with the Magic and Lakers was a phone conversation with Bryant and Howard in which Bryant offered his vision of Howard's role with the Lakers.
Howard had thoughts of forming a dominant one-two punch for the Lakers, but Bryant wanted Howard to accept a role as the team's third scoring option behind himself and Pau Gasol, and focus most of his energy on defense and rebounding.
And that was before Steve Nash came into the picture.
Needless to say, Howard was reportedly not fond of Bryant's opinion, and this phone call supposedly dropped the Lakers further down Howard's list of desired destinations.
Well, apparently the decision was taken out of Bryant and Howard's hands, and now that Howard is a Laker, is he finally prepared to accept Bryant's words as truth?
Because Howard's role, as Bryant described, is the surest way to the 2013 NBA title.
I can understand Howard's reluctance to relegate himself to third-wheel status after serving a stint as the heart and soul of an entire franchise, and I can certainly empathize with Howard when it comes to Bryant's casual dismissal of Howard's offensive talent.
Bryant may be callous and indifferent, but in this instance, he is right, and the Lakers' Finals hopes may hinge on Howard adopting Bryant's point of view.
Howard's 57-percent shooting from the field last season proves he is an efficient scorer, but how important is that attribute on a team that includes Bryant, Nash and Gasol?
Each of those players have defined their legacies on offense, and with Nash and Gasol running the pick-and-roll and Kobe on the wing, I would venture to say the Lakers' offense is in pretty good hands.
That doesn't mean Howard can't help the Lakers with his interior scoring, but he can impact them much more by preventing baskets from opposing teams.
Especially since defense is where Howard's greatness lies.
A player doesn't win the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year three times for nothing, and what makes Howard's feat even more impressive is he has yet to even master the nuances of individual defense.
Imagine what type of player Howard will be when he learns to use his athleticism, strength and quickness to completely lock an opponent down defensively.
When that happens, you will know that Howard has truly arrived, but the only way he will reach that point is by heeding the advice of Bryant.
Whatever you may personally feel about Bryant, you can't deny his passion for greatness, and any words he may offer Howard will have the ultimate goal of a championship as their motivation.
Maybe Bryant was being a little selfish in asking Howard to check his ego and accept his role, but if any player has the right to make that statement, it's Bryant.
Bryant's reputation and legacy has been forged by fire, success and failure, and if you can't accept advice from a five-time NBA champion, then who would you rather listen to?
Deron Williams? Mark Cuban?
Neither Cuban nor Williams can provide Howard with the same type of championship-level motivation that Bryant can, and playing for the Mavericks or the Nets is not the same as suiting up for the Lakers.
When it comes to heritage and postseason relevance, Dallas and Brooklyn do not even measure on Los Angeles' scale.
Don't get me wrong. Howard would be a star in Dallas or Brooklyn, but in Hollywood, he could be a legend, with Bryant's help.
The number of championships the Lakers can win with Howard is only limited by his ability to coexist with Bryant.
If Howard buys into Kobe's way of thinking, then Bryant will be a legitimate title contender until he finally hangs up his sneakers, and Howard will be there to claim the mantle of franchise leader for the next decade.
The biggest step in Howard's maturation and evolution as a player may be his ability to understand this dynamic.
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