Indeed, the franchise has typically been able to acquire whichever superstar it desired once upon a time. However, Dwight Howard’s departure from the Lakers appears to be a signal worth keeping an eye on.
Many assumed Howard would remain with the Purple and Gold given the team’s rich history in terms of championships and dominant big men. Mind you, he left Los Angeles during the 2013 offseason in favor of the Houston Rockets.
On the surface, his exit makes sense. The Rockets are younger and have an amazing perimeter talent in James Harden to complement the former Olympian for years to come.
With that said, no superstar willingly leaves the Lakers. This is where Bryant comes in. His competitive spirit coupled with his singular focus to win at all costs can rub certain teammates the wrong way. And in the case of Howard, it seems fairly obvious that is what occurred when reading between the lines.
During the 2013 free-agency period, Howard manifested some interest in remaining with the Lakers. Mind you, his willingness to rejoin the franchise depended on Bryant’s status. Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein had the story at ESPNLA:
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Sources told ESPN.com that Howard and his representatives -- in a handful of meetings with Lakers officials before he became a free agent July 1 -- strongly suggested the center would have a difficult time re-signing with the team if [Kobe] Bryant stayed with the franchise beyond the 2013-14 season, the final year of his contract.
In other words, Howard would consider the Lakers as an attractive destination provided Bryant was no longer on board. However, the flirtation between both parties simply was not meant to be.
The five-time world champion participated in an interview with Mike Trudell prior to the start of free agency and announced he planned on playing three more seasons. Without knowing it, he basically torpedoed the Lakers’ chances at retaining the superstar center.
Howard’s joyous personality did not mesh well with Bryant’s demanding nature. Consequently, upon hearing that the 2-guard was postponing retirement for a few seasons, Howard jumped ship.
Former Laker Metta World Peace shared as much with Mark Medina on the situation:
Once Kobe said he could come back for three years, I knew Dwight was going to Houston.
Thus, it seems apparent that Bryant rubs certain players the wrong way. His well-publicized rift with Shaquille O’Neal certainly lends credence to that.
Furthermore, the biggest free-agent signings the Lakers have made during Bryant’s tenure occurred during the time O’Neal was a member of the franchise. Karl Malone and Gary Payton agreed to join the team in the 2003 offseason at bargain prices for a shot at a championship.
That team failed to live up to expectations and was essentially dismantled. O’Neal left via trade, Malone retired and Payton was traded to the Boston Celtics.
Since the departure of O’Neal, the Lakers have signed three notable players: Derek Fisher (2007), Metta World Peace (2009) and Steve Nash (through sign-and-trade in 2012).
Nash is the only player in that list that can be considered a star, and yet he was 38 years old when he signed on to play with Bryant. Put it all together, and it seems fairly obvious that stars have not been willing to play with the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer.
Bryant is a terrific talent and also one of the greatest players the league has ever seen. But the man wants more. He defines his career through his ring count and thus seeks to win as many titles as possible regardless of the collateral damage.
If feelings get hurt, so be it.
Midway through the first season, I tried to at least have a conversation with Kobe Bryant -- he is my teammate, he is a co-worker of mine, I see his face every day I go in to work -- and I tried to talk with him about football. He tells me I can't talk to him. He tells me I need more accolades under my belt before I come talk to him. He was dead serious.
This speaks to some of the difficulties Howard may have had when dealing with Bryant during the course of the 2012-13 campaign. It is entirely possible that the former league MVP dealt with the former Orlando Magic player in the same manner.
Parker had more to offer on his icy relationship with Bryant:
Basketball is a team sport. It is team-oriented. It is not an individual sport. It's not tennis or golf. It is a team sport. When you are the star of the team, you have to make your teammates feel comfortable. You have to make them feel welcome. And he did not do that at all.
This is the reputation the 17-year veteran has built for himself. As a result, no great players have attempted to join the Lakers via free agency since O’Neal’s departure. Not even at full price or at a discounted rate.
This becomes incredibly pertinent because the Lakers are projected to have roughly $50 million in cap space for the 2014 offseason. During that same period, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony can potentially opt out of their contracts and become free agents.
James is unlikely to join the Purple and Gold since he is already on a team with championship pedigree. Anthony on the other hand might be swayed by the most glamorous franchise in basketball.
However, Bryant’s overall attitude and form of leadership will most definitely scare away stars from joining him. History has shown that none have been willing to voluntarily subject themselves to the Kobe System, and it is difficult to envision this trend changing going forward.
Bryant has exhibited an incredible amount of determination and focus with respect to accomplishing the goals he has set for himself. His confidence and stubbornness have allowed him to reach the mountaintop more times than any of his peers.
Yet, his greatest strengths are also the biggest impediment to adding the league’s best talent next to him.
J.M. Poulard is a featured columnist and can be found on Twitter under the handle name @ShyneIV.