Examining What Dwight Howard Must Learn from Kobe Bryant as a Leader

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - OCTOBER 01:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers on a video set for members of the media during Media Day at Toyota Sports Center on October 1, 2012 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Dwight Howard may have been the biggest story in Los Angeles this summer, but Kobe Bryant is still the biggest name.

He'll be happy to remind you, too (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):

"I got a question earlier about whose team this is," Bryant told reporters at the Lakers media day Monday. "I don't want to get into the, 'Well, we share ...' No, it's my team. But I want to make sure that Dwight, when I retire, this is going to be his. I want to teach him everything I possibly know so that when I step away this organization can ride on as if I never left."

Kobe, could you tell us how you really feel about the situation?

At least we don't have to worry about there being any ambiguities in the locker room.

The message was loud and clear—and entirely superfluous. Was anyone still wondering whether Kobe would run this show? Dwight Howard wouldn't be in Los Angeles unless Bryant was perfectly okay with it, and he wouldn't be perfectly okay with it without some obvious qualifications.

The Lakers are Kobe's so long as he wants them to be.

You almost wonder if Mike Brown ever feels like an assistant coach.

Bryant means to lead, and he's already started doing so. The first step in establishing order amongst larger-than-life personalities is picking an alpha dog and going as he goes. That isn't to say the 34-year-old is a tyrant. He'll happily delegate responsibilities, especially if that means allowing Steve Nash to manage the offense.

When it comes to establishing this team's direction and serving as mentor-in-chief? Bryant's the one wearing the pants.

After all, the Lakers' new use of the Princeton offense was at least in part Bryant's idea, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Not that we should be surprised, but if this is the kind of decision over which the Lakers legend has say, there's clearly nothing stopping him from declaring himself Dwight's very own Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

No, he won't teach Howard how to play the center position—though his post-play at the guard spot is superlative.

Bryant's legacy will mostly be defined by the extent to which he transforms Howard into a serious, hardened competitor, a legacy that will be felt both on and off the court. 

Such is life as heir to a very public and highly-scrutinized throne. One day, Dwight will be the one faced with recruiting and assimilating new star talent, keeping their egos in check and setting a tone in Laker Land. He'll be the one answering after Los Angeles defeats and projecting the franchise's image.

Stability is a precarious thing in star-studded locker rooms. Even when the personalities mesh, there's a heightened accountability to the fans and media. Just ask Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.

Remember how amazing we thought they were before the New York Knicks happened to them?

But for an empty trip to the NBA Finals and a disastrous trip out of Orlando, the early stages of Howard's career have been charmed. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is lauded for everything but his free-throw shooting, esteemed the greatest center in the league.

Now someone will actually be paying attention to it all. Howard will be more than a nightly top 10 highlight; he'll be the reason for every rise and fall of the league's most storied team. How he performs in the biggest of games will define him now—not his cheeky impersonations or high-flying dunks.

When Dwight misses a free throw now—as he'll be oft to do—someone will actually care.

Bryant will tell Howard as much about facing pressure with composure as he'll tell him about facing the best in the Western Conference.

The Lakers will need nothing less.