This week revealed the true fault with the Lakers. I mean fault in the fissure sense, like the cracks in the earth’s crust running underneath California that occasionally cause the ground to shake. It’s not so much the differences in personality between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, it’s the difference in the stages of their careers.
Kobe is in win-now-at-all-costs-even-if-it-means-a-shortened-lifespan mode. Howard has to weigh all the pros and cons of his upcoming free agency, when he’ll have to make the most important decision of his career. A championship isn’t Howard’s only concern. Nor should it be.
Howard, 27, is about to determine where he’ll spend his prime years ... and whether he’d be willing to forsake millions of dollars to spend them with someone other than the Lakers. The irony is the injuries he’s going through now could help the Lakers’ chances of keeping him for the long term. If he’s worried that his body is breaking down, that the back surgery last year and the shoulder problems he’s encountered this season won’t allow him to regain his prior dominance, he would be advised to take the extra contract year and the more than 30 million additional dollars he would receive by re-signing with the Lakers.
But wouldn’t you want your body to heal properly before you had to choose, so you wouldn’t be making a decision based on fear? If you were Howard, wouldn’t that take precedence over a regular-season game in February? People like to believe they’d be all about team and championships. Those people haven’t been in a position of turning down $30 million.
What about loyalty? Yeah, what about it? Loyalty to a place he just got to? The same team that tried to trade Pau Gasol, then asked him to come off the bench even after he brought two more banners to Lakerland? What about that whole saga sends a signal to Dwight that he’ll receive eternal gratitude if he sucks it up now and plays through the pain?
The little media back-and-forth between Kobe and Dwight that played out over the past couple of days won’t preclude them from coexisting on the court when they have to. But it does reveal their different approaches, and it’s hard to win when people stand in different philosophical corners.
Kobe and Shaq didn’t get along, but at the start of the last decade they both were consumed with the same thing: winning championships. Shaq had his humongous contract, Kobe had already been given a fat, six-year extension. They squabbled over the means, but their end goals were the same. That’s why they got three rings together.
The Lakers traded for Howard even though he wasn’t clamoring to come to L.A. They knew he was in a contract season. They shouldn’t be surprised if his agenda doesn’t completely mesh with everyone else’s. They shouldn’t be angry if he does what’s in his own best interests.