Kobe Bryant either doesn’t get what’s at stake or he’s just an awful negotiator.
As Dwight Howard gets set to make the offseason’s loftiest decision, the gag order on the Los Angeles Lakers’ sharp-tongued superstar apparently has expired.
Opting to dish tough love ahead of the best interests of the Lakers, Bryant couldn’t keep quiet long enough. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported what Bryant told this summer’s biggest free-agent target:
You need to learn how it's done first, and I can teach you here. I know how to do it and I've learned from the best—players who have won multiple times over and over. Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you.
Fantastic stuff, Kobe. You can imagine Howard, who is an elite superstar with obvious pride, is going to handle that real well.
That’s like asking out the prettiest girl in the room and telling her you’ll teach her to be a good person. And, oh, by the way, there’s nothing pretty left in the room after Howard—at least in the Lakers’ case.
Howard might as well tell Bryant if he wanted to learn how to win a title, he’d ask Shaquille O’Neal’s advice first. Okay, maybe that’s going too far.
Still, Bryant’s words probably aren't sitting too well with Howard, who considers himself a franchise player and may not be an eager student of one of his biggest critics even if it is the advice he needs.
The sad thing is that Bryant is simply hurting his only actual shot of success next season. Bryant should understand the delicate, love-seeking personality of Howard by this point. If he wants an elite center to join him this season for the sunset of his career, then he should be building him up rather than demeaning him.
Bryant has more to lose than anyone if Howard opts not to return to Los Angeles. If Howard does return, at least there is hope of contending in the West with a healthy Lakers squad. Without Howard, though, suddenly the Lakers become incomplete in what becomes a definite transition year.
Bryant’s clock is ticking, and a wasted season in 2013-14 cuts his hopes of a sixth title in half or at least in thirds (if he plans to play another three years). There’s no way Howard appreciates the dynamic of the situation with Bryant or the outlook of another rough season dealing with his complaints.
While Bryant has the most to lose, there’s a list of others who have plenty at stake with Howard’s decision.
Bryant may have the most to lose in terms of immediacy for a title, but the Lakers’ general manager is the one who could lose out on arguably the game's best big man for the next five seasons.
Bryant will likely have long since hung up his Laker uniform by then.
Mitch Kupchak can't improve his roster past Howard this season, but the future is wide open, as the only other player on the payroll in the summer of 2014 is Steve Nash. Obviously, also having Howard as an elite player at his position offers a stronger foundation to build upon moving forward.
Mark Cuban’s Mavericks have become a bit of a dark horse in the pursuit of Howard.
The Mavericks’ owner saved his money by collecting one-year contracts last offseason and now his franchise has the max dollars to pay Howard.
There's no better superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki than an interior-protector in Howard. If it signed Howard, Dallas would still have some money left to spend on complementary perimeter players, though they probably wouldn’t be of superstar quality.
The problem for the Mavericks is that they're still a few larger pieces away from contending with the league's top teams even if Howard does come. That's the hard sell for Cuban and it extends the issue if Howard doesn't come.
Without the elite center, the Mavericks will fall further behind in trying to compete with the superteams like the Miami Heat or the talent-laden franchises of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The urgency to contend for a championship could ultimately lead to Howard’s decision to sign with the Houston Rockets. Kevin McHale has an inexperienced, talented team that transforms with the elite center abilities of Howard.
Howard’s best chance to win right away, and into the future, is with the Rockets. James Harden is a young superstar with the scoring abilities of Bryant and without the baggage of his criticism. Chandler Parsons continues to emerge and his friendship with Howard speaks to further chemistry amongst stars.
That formula of talent and togetherness is the best pitch for McHale, who, like all NBA coaches, needs to win right away.
Coaches are quite dispensable in today’s NBA, and McHale’s ability to win multiplies with the addition of Howard.
Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson and/or Harrison Barnes
By all accounts, the Lakers have made it sound as if they won’t consider a sign-and-trade. Their goal is to hang on to Howard, but if that doesn’t happen, they can dig themselves out of the luxury-tax hole and start fresh in the summer of 2014.
However, if Howard decides that the Golden State Warriors are his choice and tells the Lakers he’s either going there via trade or he’s signing elsewhere, the Lakers may opt to at least come away from the ordeal with some assets.
It’s a long shot, of course, because taking on Andrew Bogut and other contracts means paying the steep price of the luxury tax. Still, if the Warriors are also parting with young chips such as Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, the Lakers may decide it’s worth it.
(There’s a whole other point here about whether Howard would still be interested in a Warriors team without both Barnes and Thompson, but that’s another issue.)
Other than Howard, who has the most at stake in his decision?
The chances are slim, but the careers of the Warriors’ trio could wind up in Los Angeles if Howard decides the Warriors are his best fit and it magically works out.
Some offseason decisions are large enough to shake up the league. Howard has weighed a multitude of scenarios, leaving the fate of many NBA personalities hanging in the balance.
The future of multiple franchises and the story of how Bryant’s career could end in Los Angeles are at stake.
Howard’s decision should come this week. Once it happens, everyone else can move along with their contingency plans.