Everyone’s seen this coming from the moment the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard. It was the prevailing thought in that Adrian Wojnarowski column about how the clown act needs to end: Kobe and Dwight Howard are not wired the same way, and Kobe’s not going to put up with any Dwight-related crap. A clash is inevitable. And as the Lakers disappointed throughout the early part of the year and Howard failed to match his level of play with the Magic, that only seemed like more of a foregone conclusion. The two even reportedly almost came to blows once, though they publicly joked about the supposed incident.
Now, though? It’s out in the open. Now, Howard’s shoulder is acting up again, but Pau Gasol is out for weeks, and if neither he nor Howard is playing, the Lakers don’t have much of a frontcourt. So Kobe said this:
“We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal,” Bryant said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “We need some urgency.
(Howard) has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is,” Bryant told MacMullan. “It’s win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That’s just how (the Lakers) do it. And that’s foreign to him.”
Overall, it was pretty balanced stuff from Kobe – he mentioned that Howard worries too much about what others think of him, that he “doesn’t want to let anyone down.” Not exactly scathing words, but at the heart of those words is what’s block-quoted above: screw the injury and get back on the court. Howard, well, doesn’t quite see things the same way:
The irony of this is that on the court, despite the lack of Howard over the past three games, the Lakers are in the midst of one of their better stretches of the season. They’ve won three in a row and six of seven, stubbornly remaining in the playoff hunt. But to be at their best, they need Howard, and clearly Kobe feels he’s capable of being out there. Howard does not. We’re not in Howard’s shoes, so it’s tough for us to judge Howard’s readiness to play.
What we can say, though: the conflict in personality between Kobe and Howard has officially arrived in a public setting. Who’s right? Is either one of them right? It doesn’t even matter, really. What matters is how the two players, and the rest of their teammates, handle things from here. Maybe it was for the best that the dueling personalities are now in open disagreement – now there’s no choice but to confront whatever issues exist between the two. How successful they are in doing that will determine if the Lakers can cobble together anything worthwhile out of this frequently-nightmarish season – and in Laker fashion, whether or not they’re successful, they won’t be boring.
UPDATE: Kobe chimed in today to try to do away with any potential controversy before it starts, saying he’s “not even a little bit” trying to push Howard into an early return and adding he was “shocked” that his words came off that way. As for his own ability to play through pain, he had this to say:
“I’m crazy, though, so I don’t put that on other people.”
At least he’s honest.
Getty photo, by Harry How