Not that we’re sure how much things have warmed up between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, following the Big Chill that ran through the All-Star Game where Dwight, being Dwight, broke up West teammates in the dressing room with his Kobe imitation, at least until Kobe walked in.
Not that we’re ever sure what’s really going on between Kobe and Dwight.
All we really know is the polite version they give us, like “Spinal Tap” lead singer David St. Hubbins whose girlfriend, Jeanine, has pointed advice for his bandmates, even if he has to take her “brutally candid version” of “and sort of tart if up for them.”
Before the All-Star break, Kobe acknowledged the tension only by misdirection, noting that while they weren’t best friends, he didn’t hate Dwight the way he hated Shaquille O’Neal.
Dwight was in total denial mode, as he was about everything since his arrival.
If that didn’t sound like such a good omen, it was better than what all the insiders were saying:
“Dwight and Kobe hate each other.”
Said one of the inner circle guys Sunday: “If the season had ended at the All-Star break, Dwight would have definitely left.”
The vibe has warmed up since as the Lakers pulled their faces out of the mud and set off in search of the No. 8 slot.
If this is Bryant’s second, uh, negotiation with his star center, Kobe has been the grownup who has kept reaching out while sitting on his anger at Howard’s disinclination to commit to the program, from acting like he wants to be there to reining in his fun-loving nature to fit the team’s dead-earnest, win-or-else approach.
Bryant praised Howard wherever possible, even telling Howard in the Memphis meeting that he knew he’s hard to play, asking Dwight if he had any problems with him.
All there were were things that were wrong.
Even in Orlando–where Dwight never intended to re-sign–he was considerate enough to insist he hoped to stay.
After being pilloried, anyway, Dwight decided he had been too nice and talked too much. From his introductory press conference as a Laker, he refused to say a word about free agency… which didn’t work, either.
Distracting Magic teammates was one thing, because he was all they had, or would have.
Upsetting Kobe Bryant with his his refusal to commit to the Lakers in any way was something else, entirely.
Said a source close to the Bryant camp in January:
“If Dwight doesn’t want to be here, why is Kobe supposed to sit down with him?”
Howard played the innocent through All-Star Weekend. Then with the league afire with talk about the iced-over relationship between the Laker stars in Houston and former Magic teammates ripping him for calling “players that nobody wanted” in yet another it’s-not-me justifications, he threw out his first hint about staying.
Not that Dwight threw a formal press conference to reverse course. He tacked it onto his usual answer about “the process” of getting on the same page, adding, in passing, they “have years” to work it out.
Now, if the Lakers can just keep winning, who knows?
Maybe they’ll really have years to work it out.
The warmup continued last week as Kobe shot the lights out and Dwight ventured into the comedy act he does when he feels good, saying they should play George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” as Kobe walked off, even singing the “B-b-b-b-bad” intro when Kobe walked by him in the dressing room.
In other words, Dwight just discovered that, as opposed to what he had heard, Kobe’s not too old, after all, and really does deserve the Alpha times Alpha status among the Lakers.
Last weekend Howard, who had steadfastly refused to acknowledge any need to defer to Bryant, came out with a new one—Dwight had gone to Kobe to ask advice on his troubles at the free throw line.
“I always tell him I’m afraid to miss,” Howard said. “So when I get there, I don’t want to miss so I end up missing.
“He was like, ‘You know what? Shoot 1,000 jump shots a day and you’re going to miss a lot of those shots–but then you’re teaching yourself that, hey, it’s OK to miss.’”
On other teams, teammates are so effusive about each other, it means nothing.
(You know how all coaches at one point or another say, “That just shows the character of this team?” With all that character, half of those teams miss the playoffs.)
Next Page: Kobe & Dwight Get On The Same Page