Kobe Bryant is not a happy camper right now. He is unable to find his way to his happy place. Can you blame him?
A player with Kobe's competitive fire does not want to have his career end with a slow, painful decline. This is particularly true for a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, one that has gone to considerable trouble to pursue championships now instead of building for the future.
Should Kobe continue to "motivate" Dwight Howard through the media? Should he continue to speak of "urgency" (via ESPN), or will that just add confusion and frustration?
Urgency was certainly an interesting word for Bryant to use. Does it mean "heal faster," or is he telling Dwight to toughen up and play through the pain? Typically, Kobe does not says things without a purpose.
Pain is a tough thing to judge, particularly when it comes to other people. We all deal with difficulty in our own special way. Who among us can feel what someone else is feeling? When you go to the emergency room with a problem, they might ask you to rate your level of pain on a scale of one to 10.
Could there be a more subjective judgment than that?
Perhaps Kobe has played through more pain than the average mortal. Then again, maybe his nagging injuries over the years have never reached what others have experienced in terms of injury. The truth is that no one will ever be able to compare.
I am not a psychologist, but I play one when I write about sports. This is a clash of styles, and we have seen this movie before.
As tweeted by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
Column: Looking back, there's good reason Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard were reluctant to become Lakers teammates. tinyurl.com/a87a323— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 8, 2013
Dwight is known as a fun guy. Kobe is a rip-the-heart-out-of-your-opponent guy. Different styles. This isn't to say that Kobe can't have fun and Dwight is incapable of competing at a high level. Still, they take the court with a different attitude. Is Howard sensitive? There are indications that he is. However, is that going to change?
If you are Howard, is this team worth further injury? Fans are quick to critique the athlete that is more cautious in a contract year, but would we be any different if we were in the same situation?
The challenge for Kobe is that he cannot turn off the desire. Bryant is not the type of guy who is going to ease into retirement or coast toward the end of his career.
Kobe's strategy for encouraging Dwight may be justified, particularly if Howard could conceivably play through the pain without risking further injury. However, if Howard is as sensitive as he is portrayed, the strategy could backfire in a very big way.
It isn’t like Howard does not want to win. However, I think when you are talking about the world of professional sports, there is a difference between wanting to win and needing to win.
Kobe needs to win. Tiger Woods needs to win. Michael Jordan needed to win. This is why these particular athletes are so compelling. This is why their heroics are about more than just their athletic feats. At some point, fans can see the heart and passion come through.
You understand why Kobe has a sense of urgency. Sometimes when you are frustrated, you take it out on the closest person. Bryant has been around long enough to realize that his options are limited at this point. Even with healthy big men, the Lakers are a long shot to contend.
Without them, they have almost no shot at all.
Can Kobe make peace with how the Dwight Howard experiment is unfolding? Perhaps. If not, the rest of season could be very frustrating for Bryant, the team and Lakers Nation.