Hindsight is always 20/20.
You take a look back at something and think of the way it should have been handled. A bad situation should have been made good and a good situation should have been great. But that’s not the mindset for Los Angeles Lakers superstar and future hall of famer Kobe Bryant.
In the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers boasted a team, that, at least on paper matched up with any team in the game. It was supposed to help lead Bryant and the Lakers back to elite status. A sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns netted the team legendary point guard Steve Nash. To make a good situation better, the Lakers acquired big man Dwight Howard in a huge 12-player deal. With their in-house talent mixed with the new acquisitions, the Lakers became instant championship contenders.
The Lakers full lineup read as follows: PG Steve Nash, SG Kobe Bryant, SF Metta World Peace, PF Pau Gasol, C Dwight Howard.
How could you not win with that squad? That’s four future hall of famers in the starting lineup alone. They were supposed to rival the Miami Heat’s big three and face them in the NBA Finals in the greatest clash of titans in history.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
Issues in team chemistry partnered with injuries led the Lakers to a disappointing record of 45-37 record, 7th place in the Western Conference and a first round playoff exit. Amid the disappointment, Bryant and Howard appeared to be odds the whole season. It started early in the season too. Like, the time Howard spoke to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.com about Bryant and the teams rough start.
“I know [Kobe] was a little frustrated tonight. He wants to win just as bad as all of us do, but we just got to stay together, remember it’s a process, and stay focused.”
Surely, that didn’t sit well with Bryant, the face and leader of the franchise. This newcomer, for all intents and purposes, is telling Bryant how things should be run. The two tried downplay the situation until Bryant reportedly called out Howard and challenged him to better himself and listen better (via Yahoo Sports).
“You need to learn how it’s done first, and I can teach you here. You have to learn how it’s done, 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.”
After that lone season in Hollywood, Howard bolted from the controversy and bright lights of Los Angeles to sign with the Houston Rockets. Perhaps for the better, both egos went in different directions and could start over. And, when it seemed as if the Howard/Bryant saga died down, this happened.
A confrontation between the two led to Bryant venting frustrations he likely held for a long time. With good reason too, Howard was considered to be a future face of Lakers basketball when Kobe Bryant decided to retire. Help anchor the franchise and learn at the feet of the master. Instead, tempers flared, remarks were made and a dream team became a nightmare.
Now, as Bryant nears retirement, he looks back on the entire ordeal with Howard without regret. In an interview with Grantland Basketball Hour to promote his upcoming documentary, “Kobe Bryant presents ‘Muse,'” Bryant was asked a litany of questions regarding his career. One of the questions was how he would handle the Howard situation differently, given the chance.
“Zero. Absolutely zero. Nothing.”
“Listen, I learned how to be a leader by watching Magic (Johnson), (Larry) Bird, Michael (Jordan) and those guys. They’re relentless, they’re ruthless. For me to give the keys to this kingdom to the next dude that’s going to lead the Lakers organization for years to come, he has to have that same DNA. I can’t be apologetic.”
There you have it. Arguably the greatest Laker in team history would not have handled a situation with a talented but brash player differently. Nor should he. Bryant’s commitment, passion and legacy have earned him the right to lead his team, his way. He’s helped the team to five championships during his career. Howard? Not so much.
It’s interesting to ponder on “what could have been.” Could the two have managed to co-exist for the sake of winning? Much like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant did a decade ago. Could the two have come close to the success of Shaq and Kobe? Truth be told, nobody will ever know the answer.
Therefore, it’ll always be an intriguing fantasy rather than a incredible reality.
[Image by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]