During a recent interview with John Ireland and Mike Trudell of ESPN LA 710, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant stated that he's aiming for a return date between November and December. This comes after Bryant tore his Achilles' tendon in April, which thus projects to be an eight-month recovery.
The question is: How will Bryant's potential return date shape Dwight Howard's decision?
As of July 1, Howard will become an unrestricted free agent and thus be able to join any team that he may choose. While some have speculated that he will, in fact, return to the Lakers, there are no guarantees to be made when it comes to free agency.
Even when it comes to a player choosing the illustrious Lakers over an alternate franchise.
With that being said, Kobe's announced return date could have a more significant impact on D-12's decision than one might believe. While the two may appear to be apples and oranges on the surface, there is a direct correlation.
It all starts with becoming "the man."
Becoming D-12's Team
If Kobe Bryant is to be sidelined until November or December, that leaves the Los Angeles Lakers without their star for training camp and the preseason. In that time, L.A. will likely run their practices in a different manner than they would with Kobe available.
How much better of an opportunity could Dwight Howard receive to prove to his teammates that he can be their franchise player?
Even if Bryant were to return for opening day, Howard would have earned the trust of his teammates on the offensive end of the floor. In turn, the Lakers would be more inclined to run their offense through him and allow Bryant to re-enter as the perimeter force.
Keep in mind, Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal won three titles by running their offense in such a manner.
This is not the same guarantee that another franchise could give Howard, but no team can offer him as much money or as many years on a contract. Furthermore, no other team in the NBA—sans the Boston Celtics, for basketball purists—has the allure of the Lakers.
Being the man in Los Angeles is quite the attractive opportunity—Howard has that chance with Kobe injured.
Returning to the Rotation
The question that instantly comes to mind is what will come of Dwight Howard once Kobe Bryant does return to the starting lineup. While D-12 may be the league's most decorated center, Kobe is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a member of the hypothetical all-time All-NBA teams.
When you're returning from an injury as severe as a torn Achilles', however, there is a transition process—regardless of whom you may be.
If there's any form of sense in Tinseltown, the Lakers will refrain from running an uptempo offense early in the season. Instead, they'll capitalize on the presence of their two elite big men and let Steve Nash create looks for Bryant and the perimeter players.
Once Kobe does re-establish his ball-handling dominance, Howard will have been granted the opportunity necessary to command touches on a consistent basis. It's then that L.A. will truly run their offense through the combination of D-12 and Bryant.
Per the previously alluded to interview, Bryant does want Howard to remain in town.
"It's not like you have guys like Dwight Howard just walking around every day," Bryant said. "Those guys are hard to find. They don't grow on trees. I think when you have somebody like that, with his talent level, you have to, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise, and with the history that this franchise has of having great centers, this would, in my opinion, be the perfect spot for him."
Indeed it would.
At the end of the day, Bryant's reign in Los Angeles is relatively limited due to his age and the severity of this injury. Even if he is the most productive shooting guard in the NBA—Kobe led all players at his position in scoring, rebounds and assists—he's also 34 years old.
Howard has the opportunity to begin his path as a Lakers legend as soon as the 2013-14 season—the silver lining to a devastating Achilles' injury sustained by Kobe Bryant.
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