We’ll see if that lasts once the two teams hit the floor Thursday night. The Lakers are currently in the midst of a Texas two-step, as they already lost Tuesday to the Mavericks.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles writes about the failed “Stay” campaign, which ended with Howard walking and the Lakers wondering what might have been. Gasol, now the primary frontcourt anchor, offers a reasoned reaction:
He made his decision and felt like that was the best choice for him and so you respect him for it and that's it. A lot of things went wrong last year for sure. There was a lot of adversity. Nothing really clicked. So it was a tough year for everyone. Not for one individual. Pretty much for the entire team it was a tough year to go through.
In the same article, McMenamin references team media day in September, stating, Kobe Bryant "really didn’t give a s---" about Howard’s decision. Gasol gives his own take on the relationship between Bryant and the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year:
There was definitely a lack of understanding and connection. I don't know how much tension there was. There was days when it was fine and everybody was on the same page and when things get a little rough, usually that's when the tensions occur and come up. It was a rough year, a lot of things didn't go our way and that made it that much more difficult.
If anybody’s uncertain of the philosophical differences between the former teammates, here’s Bryant expounding on the subject Tuesday night during an interview with NBA TV:
We have two different personalities. There's a certain way that I believe you have to approach the game in order to win championships. He had a different way that he felt like would be best and because of that it was tough to see eye to eye on [a] daily basis.
Bryant and Gasol also present uniquely different personalities, but they are differences grounded in certain commonalities—a true passion for the game, the willingness to leave everything on the floor and a clear appreciation for each other.
You can see it in their body language, and it comes through loud and clear, such as Bryant’s support for his teammate when trade rumors were flying in the early part of 2012.
Of course, this is the here and now, and the matter at hand is Thursday’s game against the Rockets.
Bryant won’t be on the floor, as he’s still rehabbing from this summer’s Achilles surgery. He’ll glower from the bench most likely, if he’s there at all; he normally spends the bulk of game time receiving treatment in the trainers' room.
Instead, the gentlemanly Spaniard will be down on the block, battling mano-a-mano against his one-time teammate.
In truth, this is the matchup we should see, not an off-court war of media bites. It will be two of the top big men in the league, each with their own skill sets and style. Howard and Gasol were never able to truly click on the same side of the ball last season.
We’ll judge them as competitors Thursday night.