It’s one thing to believe your team has a chemistry problem. It’s another to make that claim while at the same time saying something that could damage the team’s fragile mix even further.
Dwight Howard made some headlines when he compared the Lakers to their cross-Staples Center rival Los Angeles Clippers after the Clips won the most recent battle of L.A. 107-102 on Friday night.
“Look at the difference between our team and theirs,” Howard told The Associated Press. “They just play together. They share the ball. Everybody’s excited when something happens. We have to be like that to be a great team.”
It’s not mind-boggling to think there is some frustration for the Lakers. After signing Steve Nash and trading for Dwight Howard, expectations were soaring this season. Instead, coach Mike Brown was axed after a 1-4 start, assistant Bernie Bickerstaff coached the team for a spell and—after a flirtation with former coach Phil Jackson—Mike D’Antoni was eventually brought in to try to bring an offensive spark to the Lake Show.
Brown did himself in with the Princeton offense idea. But D’Antoni’s results have only been marginally better. It adds up to a 15-17 record—including a pair of losses to the Clippers already—and a very real possibility of missing the postseason despite having some of the sport’s biggest names.
The Lakers are currently 11th in the Western Conference standings, 2½ games behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot.
It’s a volatile mix in the locker room right now and Howard may have poured a little gasoline on the fire. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon—or even a rocket surgeon—to figure out that Howard’s comment was a swipe at Bryant.
Bryant shoots a lot. We get that. He shoots almost 22 times a game, more than anyone else in the NBA.
Howard, meanwhile, is getting 10.8 shots a night, slightly below his career average of 11.2 but significantly less than the 13.4 attempts he took for the Orlando Magic last season.
The Lakers had an embarrassing moment in the loss to the Clippers when forward Jordan Hill was writhing in pain on the floor after rolling his ankle while exactly zero of his teammates went to him to see if he needed any help.
That speaks much more to the chemistry on the club than talk of shot attempts and sharing the basketball.
D’Antoni tried to cover the Hill situation after practice on Saturday, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com, “I think it was a lapse. I don’t think it was meant. It’s something we addressed and talked about.”
One takeaway from the ESPNLA.com piece is this: Howard and Bryant have very different ideas about leadership.
Bryant said this year’s team is a very different dynamic from the one that existed when Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal won three titles together from 2000-02.
“That just wasn’t going to last,” Bryant said of his time with O’Neal. “You have too many alpha males. What do you think would happen if you put (Michael) Jordan with Wilt (Chamberlain)? It’s just not going to happen.”
Bryant said his relationship with Howard is a different sort of thing.
“It’s not the same thing,” Bryant said. “On that team, it was me and Shaq and role players, who were excellent role players. Here it’s me, Dwight, Steve and Pau (Gasol). We play to each other’s strengths. Steve is the best facilitating guard. Pau is the best facilitating big man. The ball goes through those guys and it allows them to make everybody better. It’s really that simple.”
Howard, for his part, wanted no part of the discussion about leadership and alpha males.
“You can’t look at it as the alpha male,” Howard said. “It’s basketball. We’re not a pack of wolves. There’s different ways to lead a team. Sometimes you have to follow to learn how to lead. I’ve done an excellent job with guys being somebody they can all come to if they have a problem.
“But if they’re not working the way they need to work, I’m the guy that will tell ’em, ‘Hey, you need to get in the eight room of get some extra shots up.’ That’s where I come in. I don’t have to bark about it to (reporters) or to the team.”
Howard then went on to talk about how he tried to create an atmosphere that is happy and enjoyable.
Does that sound like Bryant’s sort of atmosphere? Bryant is much more similar to a Jordan, a player who will make everyone else around him miserable if it means making them better, tougher and more able to contribute to the greater good.
There’s still 50 games left for the Los Angeles Lakers to figure it all out and there is too much talent in that locker room to simply write 2012-13 off as a failed chemistry experiment.
But this latest mini-controversy might provide a precursor to Howard’s free agency this summer and the chances the Lakers have of retaining the best of what is a very small pool of quality centers in the NBA.