That’s the last time the Lakers tell Kobe Bryant, “Want to come with us to try to sign ____?” Bryant was part of the delegation that met with Dwight Howard in what may have been Dwight’s Laker farewell. If Howard expected a continutation of the three-day prostrate-a-thon by officials from the other four teams on his list, he was now sitting across from the wrong Mamba.
“You need to learn how it’s done first, and I can teach you here,” Bryant said, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, quoting witnesses in the room. “I know how to do it and I’ve learned from the best–players who have won multiple times over and over. Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you.”
In other words, man up, join in or ship out.
My money’s on “ship out.” That roar you heard was air rushing out of the Laker dirigible.
Howard has since fled, er, withdrawn to Aspen, Colo., for peace and reflection. Teams calling up to re-schmooze him were told Dwight wants to shut it down and get on with making up his mind.
Next time you see him will be in whose jersey?
Houston officials came away thinking they’re the clear leader. Dallas owner Mark Cuban was trying to bag Josh Smith, to lure his pal, Dwight. Golden State has an offer the Lakers may like—a 2014 No. 1, an expiring contract and Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson—which means nothing unless Dwight wants to play for the Warriors.
Having watched Bryant hold his tongue for months, I’d guess it went like this:
Publicly supportive, Bryant privately bristles at having to win a guy over who doesn’t want to be here. By season’s end, however, they establish a cordial relationship with Howard effusive in praise of Bryant, even going to him for advice.
Unfortunately for all concerned, Kobe’s injury changes all equations. Once the Lakers were the percentage play for Howard with Bryant and the extra $30 million. Now Dwight can play alongside James Harden, who’s 23, or Kobe, who’ll be 35, coming off Achilles surgery and hoping to be ready–or ready as he ever will be again–by the opener.
(Alternate theory: Howard, who loves being loved and can’t endure being ignored, had already decided to leave.)
Bryant bristles anew as the Rockets, Mavericks, Hawks and Warriors queue up to woo Howard, while Lakerdom divides into those begging Dwight to stay–including the Laker organization which puts up murals and billboards–fans who rail at the groveling, and, of course, fans who want to grovel as far as it takes to fire Mike D’Antoni.
Everywhere else, of course, starting across the tracks in Clipper Nation, it’s the pratfall of the ages.
A Laker, or, at least, this Laker, can only take so much. When their turn comes, Bryant gives Howard a manly invitation to stay, both barrels in the chest.
It doesn’t matter that no one else in the organization would have gone as far. Bryant, who is effectively the organization, has just stood up for the Laker Way, for the days when no one had to sell Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq or Kobe, himself, on being here, before banners and #StayD12 hashtags.
Quoth the Mamba, if you didn’t want to be a Laker, nevermore.
Actually, Dwight has never looked sure he wanted to be here from his first press conference when he wouldn’t even say something polite and non-binding like “I hope to stay,” as he had in Orlando… where he never planned to stay.
When the ballyhooed Lakes thudded out of the gate, fans began looking at Howard–coming off back surgery–like, “where’s the beef?” In Lakerdom, where defeat is supposed to be intolerant, his ready smile, expressing the child-like joy he had vowed never to lose, was wrong. For Dwight, who lives for adoration and attention, it was a long way from Orlando.
If he was already half-way out the door, it would explain his run-ins with teammates, even the pacific Steve Nash, and his laughable problems with basics, like running a pick-and-roll with Nash, and worse, being unable to learn to run a pick-and-roll with Nash.
Not that Howard has left yet. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
On the other hand, if the days he leaves is the day the Lakers will know it was over before it began.
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