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What Kobe Bryant's "Defense" of Dwight Howard Says About Lakers Relationship

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What Kobe Bryant's
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

If you don't have anything nice to say about Dwight Howard, don't say anything to Kobe Bryant.

He isn't in the mood.

Or, at the very least, he's willing to say whatever he needs to in order to defend his new teammate and heir to the Laker throne. After all, he really doesn't have a choice in the matter. If this is still Kobe's team—and he assures us it is—then he's also the guy who stands between his team and those who have something to say about it.

Needless to say, plenty has been said about Dwight Howard. Given the Lakers' protracted flirtation with the notion of acquiring Howard, Kobe's probably been hearing what's been said for some time now.

He certainly seems familiar enough with the grievances directed Howard's way—namely that he's not a serious enough competitor and that he mishandled his exit from the Orlando Magic.

If Howard's to follow Kobe's lead, he should pay attention to how he defends his teammates.

Bryant rejects both charges and does so with the eloquence we've come to expect from one of the league's most cerebral and media-savvy personalities. And his argument's a good one, for the most part anyway.

To the point that Howard is too carefree, Bryant reminds us of those three Defensive Player of the Year awards, and with respect to claims that Howard was disloyal, the Lakers icon had even more to say (via CBS Sports' Ken Berger):

"There's a lot of double standards going on in professional sports, and basketball in particular. Because when it's a player's opportunity to make a business decision, they pull out the loyalty card. When it's ownership's or management's turn to make a business decision, it's a business decision."

On face, Bryant's position seems like an unassailable one, and that's because to a large extent it is.

The problem isn't that Kobe's wrong; he's just right about the wrong thing. This was never a question of loyalty, at least not loyalty alone. It was about the way Howard went about leaving more than the fact that he left.

There's an etiquette to these situations, a standard operating procedure that preserves the dignity of a player's relationship to his team and community. It's a lesson we should have already learned—not when LeBron James left Cleveland, but when he celebrated it with an hour-long, televised "Decision" that milked his fans' anxiety for all it was worth.

What better way to start the season than with a public trade demand?

Howard should have known better.

It was as if he was breaking up with Orlando via text message, one of those things you just don't do.

None of this is news to Bryant incidentally. Howard kicked things off prior to the 2011-12 season with a trade demand and a public one at that. He even aired his dirty laundry so that the world knew why he was doing it (via ESPN's Brian Windhorst):

"I'm not a GM, I never said I wanted to be a GM. What I said was I want to be involved. Everybody has a right to be involved. ... I should want to be involved. I should want to say 'hey, this is what we need, this is what we need to do.' If I didn't care, I wouldn't have said anything."

Of course, Howard's explanation is pure nonsense. By all accounts he was involved. The part he didn't like was GM Otis Smith not using enough of his ideas. In other words, whether Dwight said it or not, he wanted to be a GM—just on a part-time, back-seat driver kind of basis.

Howard explaining his mixed feelings.

But even if the substance of that explanation merits consideration, the fact that he was explaining it in the first place defies belief. It wasn't fair to the Magic organization, and it wasn't fair to teammates subjected to the fallout.

The problem here wasn't loyalty. Nor was it a loyalty issue when Howard almost immediately decided he wasn't so sure about that trade demand after all.

The back-and-forth saga continued throughout the season, culminating in a summer for the ages.

Howard didn't just want to be traded, you see. At one point, he insisted he be traded to one team and one team alone—a demand so laughably narcissistic and bizarre you'd think it were satire rather than real life.

And because he made that part of the demand public too, the Magic had an especially difficult time getting a deal done. That's what happens when you ruin a club's leverage by artificially excluding potential suitors.

The Magic weren't in any kind of bargaining position. They were being held hostage.

Again, none of this has to do with loyalty or business decisions or a guy's right to want to leave his job.

Dwight almost certainly lying after Stan confirms media reports about attempts to get him fired.

And Bryant knows that, just like he knows it wasn't a "business decision" when Howard reportedly went behind former coach Stan Van Gundy's back to get him fired.

Incidentally, none of this should reflect poorly on Kobe. To the contrary, he's teaching Howard a valuable lesson about what loyalty really means, illustrating that loyalty by example. Bryant's sticking his neck out, making an argument he can't possibly believe—for a teammate.

The same guy who put his own teammates through a senselessly maddening season, the one who never had his coach's back, and the one who faulted a front office whose mistakes (mortgaging the future for a chance to win right away) were fundamentally designed to placate Howard and his impatience. 

Kobe's wrong about Howard, but he's absolutely right to defend him. 

That's what loyalty looks like, and hopefully Howard was paying attention.

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