During ESPN's broadcast of the Los Angeles Lakers' sixth loss in a row, analyst Jeff Van Gundy commented on the complex relationship between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, and the apparent tension between the two that has dominated the news recently.
In Ramona Shelburne's article, Howard suggested that one of the issues plaguing the Lakers right now is that they really don't enjoy each other's company off the court. He even went further to call into question a certain teammate's leadership skills.
Howard never mentioned Bryant by name, but it wasn't hard to guess who he was referring to when the conversation veered toward alpha males and the best ways to show your team you are truly a leader.
Bryant is as alpha as they come, and the story only grew worse from there when reports surfaced that Howard had to be restrained from physically confronting Bryant after another loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on New Year's Day.
According to the New York Daily News, Howard was upset after Bryant referenced and agreed with statements made by Shaquille O'Neal that criticized Howard for being soft.
The Lakers have since refuted those claims, and it does seem strange that a news outlet nearly 3,000 miles away from the source was the first to break the story.
However, no number of tweets from Bryant playfully fighting with Howard will hide the fact there is a fissure that exists between the two players, and unlike Kobe and Shaq's days, the issue only gets worse when Howard and Bryant are on the court.
Kobe and Shaq's off-court relationship may have been rocky, but on the court they were perfect complements for each other. And it didn't hurt that they were each at the top of their games.
Shaq may have detested Bryant off the court, but he recognized that he was playing with one of the most talented guards in the NBA. Likewise, Bryant understood that he was playing with one of the most dominant paint players in league history on both ends of the floor.
The fact that Bryant and Shaq created magic on the court may have allowed them to endure each other as long as they did, and the potential for greatness that was wasted may be the root of the animosity that still exists between the two to this day.
Howard's talk of chemistry issues and Bryant's insults may remind some fans of Kobe and Shaq's star-crossed marriage, but this one may be destined to end in a worse manner since the conflict involves issues on the court that are nearly impossible to resolve.
Bryant may still be able to play elite on-ball defense in spurts, but he has regressed into one of the worst off-ball defenders at his position. Sometimes it looks like Bryant is not even trying.
Kobe consistently fails to switch on defensive rotations, he usually goes under screens instead of fighting through them, and he's often caught watching the ball instead of his man.
Bryant will never be the defender he was in 2002, but his age does not excuse the lack of effort he has displayed recently, and the problem is compounded when you consider that Steve Nash may be the worst starting point guard in the NBA when it comes to defense.
The combined poor defensive efforts from Bryant and Nash put Howard in a very difficult position when it comes to defending the rim. Even if he were 100 percent healthy, it would be impossible to plug all the leaks from the Lakers' perimeter defense.
Unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that the Lakers and Bryant can improve enough defensively on the perimeter to mount a challenge to the likes of the Clippers, Spurs and Thunder. And it's equally unlikely that Howard will develop anything that resembles a post game in that period.
Howard has openly talked about sharing the ball, and his 10 looks at the basket per game suggest he may have a valid point—but maybe there would be more sharing if Howard proved he could finish.
In Orlando, the fact that Howard was a poor player with his back to the basket was hidden by the plethora of three-point shooters he was surrounded by. But Howard doesn't have that same luxury in Los Angeles.
The Lakers' lack of consistent outside shooting makes it easy for teams to collapse on Howard in the middle. Since Howard has no go-to move with his back to the basket, the plays usually end with a turnover or Howard kicking the ball back out.
Howard may regain his explosiveness and strength when he fully recovers from his back injury, but he will never be a go-to player in the paint like Shaq was on the offensive end for the Lakers.
In fact, there is little on the court that reminds anyone of the Lakers' three-peat days of the early 2000s, and that may be the reason Kobe chuckles whenever anyone compares him and Howard to him and Shaq.
Bryant is not the player he was during that time, and Howard will never be as dominant as Shaq. As the 2012-13 regular season has illustrated so far, this Lakers team doesn't even deserve to be mentioned in the same context.
The Kobe-Shaq breakup may still be hard to stomach for Lakers fans, but at least they will always have the memories of three NBA championships won. Does anyone believe Bryant and Howard will ever be able to say the same?
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