Someone said the final games of the season are an audition for Dwight Howard to show he can be what the Los Angeles Lakers expect him to be. More than the emergence of Howard as a star and leader, something he has proved he can do in the past on a weaker team, it’s a chance for the Lakers to step out of the shadow that Kobe Bryant casts upon the entire franchise.
A player who is paid more money than anyone else in the NBA should be, simply put, the best player in the league. The MVP of the NBA, in a sense that the MVP is the best player, not the most significant to his team. NBA contract work differently – it’s about his commercial value to the team; about the competition at his position and his demand in the market; a back-loaded payment for being underpaid during the early days of his career. Kobe Bryant will become only the second player in NBA history to make more than $30 million in a season for 2013-2014, but it’s not something he deserves.
Dwight Howard has been in Bryant’s shadow all season. While those backing the Lakers to win the West before everything began and unfolded, thought that slowly but surely and safely, Kobe Bryant will give up his control and hold over the team, handing it over to Howard – the younger player coming over to take over the Alpha-male role of the team.
But those around Kobe never thought he’d give up control. Bryant sees only one way of winning, and that’s with him being the star of the show. It takes certain type of players, who don’t mind swallowing their egos and do a lot of dirty work despite their talent to make a system like that work. Bringing in Howard, who knows he’s worth and how good he is when healthy and playing in the right schemes, team and offense, was simply setting the groundwork for disaster.
Eventually, Bryant’s heroics brought the Lakers to the well, and it seems their slight head start over the Utah Jazz might be enough, even if Howard is leading a team without two of its best four players, and a bench that was too short to begin with. Anything can happen, but Howard was made to be the focal point of an offense, and it seems like he was simply waiting in the shadows all year for this chance to happen.
So after Bryant called Howard out in the middle of the season, creating an entire team backlash against an own player, Howard is still here, un-traded, and the only hope for the Lakers to beat the Houston Rockets and make the postseason despite everything, maybe even finishing sixth if a certain chain of events unfolds. More than that, it’s a chance to show the Lakers have a future without Kobe Bryant – something that was always there for those who wanted to see.
The idea of trading Kobe Bryant comes into the minds of people once in a while until they remember two things – no one will take a 35 year old player with so much money to pay for him unless they’re willing to rebuild their entire team, because his salary is about half the cap. The second? That no-trade clause, which keeps the Lakers occupied with other things, although probably always wondering about what if.
Soon, probably sooner than anyone thought, we’ll get to learn if actually removing the Kobe Bryant equation from the basketball court is a blessing or curse for the Los Angeles Lakers. My opinion? It won’t be such a bad thing to try, even if the Lakers do miss the playoffs this season. In sports and the NBA, something this bad is always the beginning of something better, if the right people know to make the right moves to benefit from it.