Kobe Bryant Demanding More from Dwight Howard Will Raise Superman's Game
And what Bryant wants now is for Dwight Howard to up his on-court ante. So you'd better believe that's what he and the Lakers are going to get.
On a night where a 99-92 preseason loss to the Sacramento Kings was overshadowed by Howard's Purple and Gold debut, the ever-focused Kobe remained a fixture of perspective, a vocal reminder of what the now self-proclaimed "Iron Man" is here to do.
Which, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, was to "play some mother-bleeping ball."
Howard wasn't brought from Orlando to Los Angeles for his smile, for his defense or even solely because of what he has done in the past. The Lakers brought him in because of what he is capable of doing, his ceiling on both ends of the floor, the same ceiling Bryant has made clear that Howard has yet to meet.
These Lakers don't wonder defensively about Howard, because they already see the way he's going to change everything for them there. Yet Bryant has gone out of his way to push Howard to become a far more complete offensive player, to, in his words, "challenge him to do more than just screen-and-roll and dunk. We want opposing teams to see him as a dominant force."
For so many reasons, Bryant hated the hijinks some of his teammates unleashed on Howard before the game. Bryant has gone out of his way to make sure Howard understands the glare of playing for the Lakers is unrelenting and unyielding. For all the talent surrounding Howard – all the offensive talent that he never had in Orlando – he doesn't want Howard falling into any false security that somehow he doesn't have to grow his game, that somehow he can rely on what's always worked in the past.
Playing for the Lakers, playing in Los Angeles and contending for an NBA title is not something Bryant takes lightly. And he's not about to allow the allure of playing on one of the biggest stages, under some of the brightest lights distract Howard from the ultimate goal—to win that championship, that same championship that has eluded the big man for the better part of a decade.
For him, for Kobe and for the Lakers to get that title, Howard is going to have to raise his game.
We watched as he dropped 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted away four shots in his first game in Los Angeles. But we also watched as he committed five turnovers, shot 37.5 percent from the foul line and, at times, struggled as the focal point of the offense.
Which is why Bryant's latest publicized demands are so important. His honesty, the same honesty that is too often misperceived as poor leadership, is what will drive Howard, what will push him to new heights.
Kobe isn't one to accept anything but the best from his teammates, an expectation that not only Smush Parker, but also Andrew Bynum will attest to.
Because it's not about Howard resuming his place as the league's top center, as an All-Star fixture and universally loved persona. It's about him not relishing, not becoming complacent with such realities.
And that will require Howard to expand his offensive horizons.
Gone are the days when he can make a living off limited offensive abilities; he can no longer strictly be a "screen-and-roll" threat. Such a narrowly constructed mindset was one for Orlando.
But this is Los Angeles.
Howard isn't protected or sheltered in Tinseltown the way he was in Orlando. Not only is the market more prone to scrutinize its inhabitants, but the Lakers aren't his team. Not yet.
It's Kobe's team. No matter how often the offense runs through Howard or how much this unit depends on his defensive execution, this team is Bryant's. It has been for 16 years, and it will remain his until the day he retires.
Until that day comes, Howard must abide by Bryant's demands. The same demands he has made of each of his teammates for nearly two decades. And yes, the same demands that have led to five championship rings.
And such a résumé demands respect, the way Bryant is demanding more of Howard, who has no choice but to oblige if he wishes to please his leader, the first in command, and ultimately obtain that championship ring.
Was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar considered a limited offensive talent? How about Wilt Chamberlain? Or Shaquille O'Neal? No, and neither was Andrew Bynum.
And while only two of them have played alongside Bryant, all four of them won championships in Los Angeles, a combined 11 to be exact. Amidst all the blocks, all the rebounds and all the poor free-throw shooting, their offensive abilities were anything but limited.
And that means something.
Howard must develop a self-infused post game, hone his baby jumper, implement a hook shot that allows him to catch defenders off guard and become a viable threat to pass out of double-teams.
Will Kobe ensure that Howard meets his full offensive potential?
Simply put, if he wants to join the ranks of Abdul-Jabbar, O'Neal and even Bynum—the ranks of big men who have helped deliver multiple championships to the Lakers—he, too, must want more out of the game offensively.
He must want more from himself. He must want to embrace all aspects of the Princeton offense, even the ones that dictate he become a deft passer. And he must want to understand that the trade to Los Angeles wasn't merely the culmination of an 18-month debacle, but the beginning of a championship-worthy era that depends on him.
In other words, he must ensure he doesn't develop or perpetuate "any false security that somehow he doesn't have to grow his game, that somehow he can rely on what's always worked in the past."
Because what he has always relied on in the past hasn't worked. If it had, he'd still be in Orlando, not at the mercy of Kobe's justified will.
But at this point, worrying about Howard's potential failure to adapt, evolve and re-invent himself is futile.
Because Howard won't fail to evolve or re-invent himself; he won't fail.
Kobe won't let him.
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