Insofar as Dwight Howard news is concerned the flashiest bit last week was word. Because, you know, why not? But the most significant came that afternoon, as ESPNLA”s Ramona Shelburne reported Kobe Bryant wants “two more cracks at it to win seven NBA titles at least.” Meaning next season won”t be Bryant”s last, and the “at least” part implies Kobe might want to stick around for even a third, assuming he can perform at a suitable level of Kobe-ness following his Achilles surgery.*
Good news for Lakers fans, but it might be enough to push Dwight out the door.
Not because Howard and Bryant hate each other — they”ll never be besties, but taking family vacations together isn”t a prerequisite for being effective teammates — but because as long as Kobe is a Laker, Howard”s ability to grow as a voice and a leader, something he claims to want, will be limited, his position always deferential. At the time of the trade, Kobe talked openly about helping teach Dwight what it means to be the face of the Lakers, then passing the torch. Well, as long as Bryant plays he keeps the torch. The Lakers are his, and everyone knows it. Speaking freely as it pertains to Kobe is the realm of a select few. Phil Jackson could. Same with Derek Fisher. Those guys aren”t options. Pau Gasol periodically dips a toe in those waters, albeit in more veiled, passive aggressive language.
Everyone else talks in the measured terms of an eggshell walker, or simply doesn”t talk at all. Criticizing Kobe, or even appearing to, simply isn”t worth the controversy. Bryant, on the other hand, has earned his way to the top of Mt. Purplegold and planted his Mamba flag. He says what he wants. Five titles and myriad other honors do that for a guy.
But Dwight Howard is 27 years old, with an impressive resume and skill set. Does he really want to genuflect to Kobe for another few seasons?
Maybe Kobe would, as time went on, really pass that proverbial torch, taking a backseat as he scrapes up against retirement. I don”t think he”s programmed that way. Maybe Dwight isn”t the right guy to be on the marquee for a team like the Lakers, with all the expectations and attention. There are any number of other reasons Howard might prefer to play somewhere else, for that matter, some reflecting more positively on him than others. And if he were to join CP3 in a Clippers uniform — more on that in a moment — no doubt he would have to defer a great deal to Paul, himself a demanding teammate unafraid to exert influence. But Paul isn”t Kobe.
There”s not another player in the league matching Bryant”s influence in his market. And if he really is going to stick around and chase a sixth and seventh ring, it”s reasonable to speculate on how it impacts Howard”s choice.
Other thoughts from a busy week…
- Kobe”s quasi-announcement is on the one hand great news for the Lakers, Lakers fans, and basketball enthusiasts generally. It”s more time to see him live, more time to take the kids so they can one day tell their own they did the same. “The Last Chapter,” as he”s calling it, of Kobe”s career will be fascinating to watch, as Bryant once again tries to bend his body to meet his will, and adjusts his game in subtle ways to compensate for whatever the Achilles tear ultimately takes from him. It”s a net good, but make no mistake: It”s a complicating factor for the Lakers” long term plans. Beyond any potential influence on Howard, there”s the monumental question of payment. How much will Kobe demand? How much are the Lakers willing to give? In theory, Kobe could provide them an incredible discount relative to his talent, simultaneously allowing the team to add more to the roster next summer, send a powerful message about why Bryant continues to play, and (rightly) enhance his already deified status. Everyone knows he”ll have to take a pay cut, but how much?
- By now you”ve likely read the Lakers related wrinkle in the Celtics/Clippers trade talk, and the LAC”s insistence on keeping Eric Bledsoe so that they might at least theoretically — very, very theoretically — package him with Blake Griffin as part of a trade package to obtain Howard. Depending on the report, the Lakers are either totally against trading Howard (particularly to the Clippers), more open than you”ve been led to believe, or haven”t actually talked about it. Since the goal right now is to keep him, the Lakers aren”t going to send signals about a willingness to trade him. But if it”s clear Howard is gone, any notion the Lakers wouldn”t ship him to Playa is (or at least should be) total nonsense. If a swap with the Clippers is the best move for the franchise, the Lakers will )(or should) do it.
- Debate if you want whether Griffin is truly elite, but if he was among next summer”s crop of UFA”s he”d be a huge prize. No worse than second on just about every team”s priority list (non-LeBron Division) behind maybe Carmelo Anthony. But given his age (25 next offseason) Griffin would be the only available star coming into his prime rather than leaving it. Plus, he”s a huge draw and signed to a market appropriate long term deal. If Howard chooses Houston, Daryl Morey will undoubtedly try to pawn off Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to the Lakers, so they can “get something” in exchange for Dwight. But while both are good players, the Lakers probably would prefer cap flexibility instead. But a Griffin/Bledsoe package? They”d be hard pressed next summer to sign a player better than Griffin, and Bledsoe can either be kept or, as one of the most valuable trade commodities in the league, flipped for assets. Meaning they”d get a star entering his prime and a potential high-end guard/valuable chip in exchange for someone leaving anyway. All told, the Lakers would be insane not to make this deal.
- None of this is likely to happen.
Finally, a reminder that we are entering silly season. Every rumor and published report about sources who say X, Y, or Z is put out for a reason. It”s not that the reporting isn”t accurate, just every source has his own motivation for putting something out. Trying to figure out what it might be is always a good idea.