Hollywood isn't used to losing—that much is clear. Bryant and the Lakers had visions of contending and subsequently capturing championships but instead are operating on the NBA's version of life support.
Toss in more than $100 million in salary commitments, and tensions are undoubtedly high in Los Angeles' locker room.
To the point where this team is reportedly broken beyond repair.
Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant just can’t get along, and there’s a team in Brooklyn that might be waiting to pick up the pieces.
A league source told the Daily News that the Lakers stars got into a heated exchange following a New Year’s Day loss to the 76ers, and Bryant went for a low blow – referencing and agreeing with Shaquille O’Neal’s criticisms of Howard being soft.
Howard was restrained from going at his teammate, according to the source, and there have been rumblings from the center’s camp that he’s been unhappy with Bryant since earlier in the season.
Of course. Bryant and Howard are the Lakers. Kobe is the heart and soul of this team, and Howard is the one who is supposed to finish what he and the Black Mamba started once Bryant is long gone.
Any friction between this pairing, any prospect of its collective failure, should strike a prodigious amount of fear into the Los Angeles organization and its fans.
But while there is cause for concern here, there's also cause for skepticism.
Why exactly are these two feuding so profusely? Bryant is attempting a league-leading 22 shots per game, while Howard is attempting to cope with the reality of the Lakers both scoring more and allowing fewer points with him on the bench, but are we supposed to believe they're alone in this?
As important as Bryant and Howard are to Los Angeles, this convocation's shortcomings cannot be placed upon the shoulders of one or even two players. It's on everyone.
Pau Gasol needs to get his offensive act together. Howard needs to attempt more than 10.7 shots per game. Bryant may need to spread the ball a little bit more. And the Lakers, as a whole, need to play better defense and acquire or establish some added depth.
Why are Kobe and Howard coming close to blows then? Why are they pointing the finger at one another when they know neither has enough fingers to point at each of Los Angeles' problems?
Well, per Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM.com, they're not:
For those wondering, I was told on Thursday that the rumor of a Dwight-Kobe altercation was nothing more than talk.
I also know of two other reporters that were made aware of the rumor last week and also told the story wasn't true when they looked into it.
One of those reporters Rudolph speaks of appears to be Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, who also shot down the notion that Dwight and Kobe were feuding.
Two Lakers sources have adamantly shot down the reported Dwight/Kobe incident. One said, "it's simply not true."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 7, 2013
I don't blame you.
Bondy painted a completely different picture, after all—one that had the Lakers imploding and then dealing Howard to the Brooklyn Nets:
If the Lakers decide Howard won’t re-sign, they risk losing him for nothing and it becomes more likely they trade the six-time All-Star.
The Nets spent all of last year trying to acquire Howard, who admitted in October that Brooklyn was his preferred destination.
The Nets are in a position to put together an enticing package if they know Howard would sign long-term to play with Deron Williams. The Nets’ previous proposals to the Magic centered around Brook Lopez, who is having a breakthrough season coming off foot surgery.
You shouldn't be. This is where anguish and befuddlement turn into clarity.
It's not inconceivable to believe that Howard and Bryant are currently at odds. Kobe only smiles when he wins, while matching socks are enough to get the perpetually ecstatic Howard downright giddy.
In them, we have two very different personas who earn their coin focusing on opposing sides of the ball. Truthfully, the groundwork is already laid for them to butt heads, argue like a married couple and exchange callous glances at mealtimes.
Remember, this is the same Bryant who was brutally honest (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) about Howard's team debut:
On the occasion of his preseason Lakers debut, perhaps his truest and most important introduction to this most scrutinized job in sports – center for the Los Angeles Lakers – had come after the tears and ovation and his teammates pranking him by pushing Howard to lead them out of the tunnel – only to stop and let him run out there alone. For one, Kobe Bryant doesn't do basketball laugh tracks, nor condone them.
"I don't play those games," he grumbled later.
Bryant isn't a fan of the jokes, nor he is an agent of humor like Howard. So yeah, the potential for them to clash beyond reason is there.
Look at the difference between our team and theirs. They just play together. They share the ball. Everybody's excited when something happens. We have to be like that to be a great team.
Kobe isn't exactly known for his passing, and Dwight's comments came on the heels of a performance that saw Bryant attempt nearly twice as many shots as he did. Once again, we have the necessary fuel to throw into the irreparable conflict-based fire.
Let's not pretend, however, that Bondy's report isn't as flimsy as the Lakers' interior defense.
We could board the "Bryant and Howard hate each other" train. We could jump on the "Lakers will shop Howard" bandwagon as well.
But we're not going to, because we know better.
Not only are two other reporters, one of which (Shelburne) is based in Tinseltown, refuting Bondy's findings, but are we actually going to accept the Nets angle here?
If the Lakers were to shop Howard, their priority—Mitch Kupchak and Mike D'Antoni's priority—would be acquiring the prolific stretch forward who has continued to elude them. The Nets and Brook Lopez don't offer that. They also don't offer any assets that are conducive with Los Angeles' blueprint beyond next season.
In case you can't smell that, we're currently being treated to the stench of nonsense.
Again, I'll be one of the first to admit these two stars are liable to wage verbal war. Not only are they overwhelmingly dissimilar, but they're two fierce competitors. Teammates or not, the desire to win trumps amicable emotions when the going gets tough.
We must, however, understand that his relationship isn't damaged beyond restoration. It's not even broken.
Are the Lakers on edge? Are their egos fractured, their dynamic bruised and their morale nearing the point of crippled?
Most definitely. Playing sub-.500 basketball will do that do a team. But it won't destroy a mutually beneficial relationship; it won't provoke the premature demise of this relationship.
Dwight and Kobe need each other. Bryant needs Howard to help ensure the twilight of his career isn't anything less than fulfilling, and Dwight needs Kobe to assist in turning his championship dreams into reality. As such, they're not about to self-destruct.
Overanalyzing the nonexistent strain that is being put on this coupling is futile, especially when all evidence supports the contrary.
At a time when Bryant could have placed blame upon the suddenly challenged Howard, he directed our attention to the Lakers' age, to their lack of depth.
And while some—I'm looking at you, Bondy—would like to believe Howard is plotting his escape from the City of Angels, bear in mind that he continues to call out (via Shelburne) the entire team:
"Those guys on the Clippers team, they really enjoy each other off the court and it shows," Howard said Saturday after Lakers practice.
And how about the Lakers? Do they have that chemistry?
"It's something we have to do to get better," he said. "We have to play like we like each other. Even if we don't want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be, when we step in between the lines or we step in the locker room or the gym, we have to respect each other and what we bring to the table.
"It really starts off the court. I think you have to have that relationship and that chemistry off the court for it to really blossom on the court. It takes time to develop that. You just don't come together and then expect to be best friends right away. It just doesn't happen like that."
Here Howard broaches the subject, the concept of "time," not all things wrong with Kobe.
Which is great.
This isn't a Howard who is shirking responsibility for Los Angeles' transgressions. He repeatedly emphasizes the term "we," one that encompasses both Bryant and himself.
Kobe has been no different.
Yes, Bryant and Howard have argued before, and they're going to argue again.
But that's because they care. They care about the future of this team, about the performance of one another and about the fatal dose of disappointment that is currently plaguing the Lakers.
That's not a bad thing. If these two stars weren't at odds over the failure of this team, I'd actually be concerned.
No, if anything, the history these two have built thus far—emotionally—is encouraging.
It affirms devotion is there. It indicates that Bondy's "findings" are as baseless as the notion that the Nets have anything of value to offer the Lakers for Howard.
Most importantly, it's a confirmation that the case being compiled against these two actually proves their relationship has merely bent.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of Jan. 6, 2012.