As the relationship between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard seemingly gets worse with each passing interview, it was only a matter of time before we compared it to Kobe’s previous partnership with Shaquille O’Neal.
That time is now.
O’Neal is unquestionably one of the most dominant players to ever play the game, and his time in Los Angeles coincided with his peak as a basketball player. Thus, when he played for the Lakers, he was not only an established superstar, but already one of the best big men the league had ever seen.
Bryant, on the other hand, was merely a young player fresh out of high school when he joined the franchise, and he was eager to prove not only that he belonged, but also that he would one day become the greatest ever.
Their pairing should have initially been perfect, but Bryant felt as though he should be getting more minutes, more shots and, well, more of everything.
As a result, the future league MVP often looked as though he was sabotaging the offense in favor of highlighting his talents, which struck a chord with his teammates.
Further exacerbating issues, Bryant often felt out of place with his older teammates and thus never addressed them. The roster was left with the impression that the youngest player on the team acted as though he was above them all.
His older teammates resented him for it, especially O’Neal, the team’s leader and dominant personality.
Eventually, Phil Jackson joined the franchise and got the players to trust each other and play together. The chasm between the Black Mamba and the Diesel was still there, but Jackson’s coaching philosophy allowed them to coexist and appreciate each other’s talents on their way to four trips to the NBA Finals and three championship parades.
Regardless of their issues, Shaq and Kobe forged a unique alpha-male relationship because they failed together, but also succeeded as such.
Howard and Bryant’s union offers a different situation, albeit one with a few similarities.
Bryant has been to the mountaintop several times and understands the sacrifices that come along with it. Before morphing into the dominant personality and best player on two title teams, Bryant had to subjugate his talents to play the role of supporting actor to O’Neal as the Lakers won three straight titles.
Dwight Howard, however, had spent the past few years being the best player on an Orlando Magic team that was an Eastern Conference contender. In the spring of 2009, the Magic even made it to the NBA Finals, but were eliminated in five games by Kobe’s Lakers.
Essentially, Howard has spent the bulk of his NBA career being the top guy on his team and in his city.
But oh, how different things are in Los Angeles.
With the Lakers, he is asked to focus on defense, rebounding, catching and finishing and maybe posting up every now and then.
Howard was once considered to be one of the two best players in the league. Yet, as he enters his prime at age 27, there is a debate to be had over whether he’s even the third-best player in the City of Los Angeles.
Needless to say, the reduced role is gnawing at him and causing him to be unhappy. In addition, he now has to put up with a teammate that is superior in terms of status, accomplishments and popularity that questions his toughness, as well as his commitment to the team.
In a slight twist of irony, Howard is living Bryant’s career in reverse, and it’s not exactly a pleasure for the former All-NBA First Team center.
Howard has had to deal with his back and shoulder injuries, a diminished role and a superstar teammate with a green light that would make Allen Iverson jealous.
As the old adage goes, winning cures everything. But that’s just the problem; the Lakers haven’t won enough this year, and in turn, that has made it difficult for the center to accept his position in the team’s hierarchy.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and the 17-year veteran just haven’t meshed at all on or off the court this season. Where the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has begged his teammates to show a sense of urgency, the Purple and Gold’s big man has preached patience.
When Howard voiced his displeasure with the offense, Bryant responded by sharing the wealth with his teammates, but then reverted to form as the Lakers went away from team ball and ran a steady dose of isolation plays for the Black Mamba.
Bryant even went as far as stating that he was in fact making sacrifices on ESPN Radio Los Angeles with Mason and Ireland. SportsRadioInterviews.com posted a transcript of the interview in which the four-time All-Star Game MVP shared his view on the fact that Dwight wasn’t a fan of the offense:
Well, I don’t like passing as much as I’m passing either but I have to do it in order to win. We just do what we do to help each other win ball games, even if you prefer to do something else. At this point it really doesn’t matter, it’s just about helping us be successful and he’s great, he could be absolutely great and obviously Steve, we know how fantastic Steve is at doing it and it really plays to our strengths.
It’s tough to predict what the future holds for the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, but at present time, the competitive spirit of the team’s two superstars just hasn’t blended well together to produce a winning environment.
Save for a few isolated performances, one can make the claim that the Kobe-Dwight marriage has been a train wreck. Unless someone can come in and repair their relationship, there is a good chance it may not be salvageable.
Kobe and Shaq may have barked at each other, but they always found a way to play together on both ends of the floor. The new guard-and-center tandem just doesn’t seem to have that same collective hunger and ability to dominate opponents.
Howard might feel as though he is getting the short end of the stick in this one, but in truth, it’s really the basketball fans around the world.
J.M. Poulard is a featured columnist and can also be found on Twitter under the handle name @ShyneIV.