The Los Angeles Lakers’ interest in Dwight Howard isn’t something that was born this summer. Mitch Kupchak didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that this was as good a time as any to trade for the best center in the NBA.
L.A. had been interested in acquiring Howard for over a year, however, a number of stumbling blocks initially prevented a deal from going down.
One of those stumbling blocks? Howard not wanting to play second-fiddle to Kobe Bryant.
What started out as an internet rumor was eventually confirmed by Howard during his first appearance as a Laker some weeks back. He did originally hesitate at the thought of having to be a backup singer to L.A.’s current superstar. And that hesitation, apparently, nearly cost Mitch Kupchak and Co. a chance at nabbing him.
Despite the fact that it all worked out at the end, a lot of folks are now understandably curious as to how the dynamic between Kobe and his new center will work. Obviously Howard has said all of the right things and played the role of the good soldier up to now, but how long will he (someone who has been a No. 1 option ever since he came into the league) be content with not being the man anymore?
Along the same lines, ever since the trade went down, fans have wondered how Kobe would react to finally having teammates who could actually question his dominance over the franchise.
On Monday, at the start of Lakers training camp, Kobe and Howard did their best to address everyone’s concerns.
"I got a question earlier about whose team this is," Bryant told reporters at the Lakers media day Monday (via ESPN). "I don't want to get into the, 'Well, we share ...' No, it's my team. But I want to make sure that Dwight, when I retire, this is going to be his. I want to teach him everything I possibly know so that when I step away this organization can ride on as if I never left."
"I'm willing to go through that process, learn from one of the greatest to ever play the game and I think it will be great," Howard said. "I think learning from a guy like Kobe, I know he's going to be tough on me but I expect that and I want him to do that. So, I'll take all the heat that he's going to give me because I know at the end of the day that's going to make me a better player and a better person and it's going to make this team better."
And Howard, for his part, seems open to that sort of mentor-mentee relationship.
"I know he's going to be tough on me, but I expect that, and I want him to be that," Howard said (via AFP). "I want to be that guy. I'll take all the heat he's going to give me, because I know at the end of the day, it's going to make me a better player and a better person. ... I'm willing to go through that process, learn from one of the greatest ever to play the game, and I think it'll be great."
Bottom line: is Kobe ready to hand his new center the keys to the franchise? No. But he shouldn’t have to, either. He has earned his place atop the Lakers food chain after 16 years of (mostly) loyalty. Everyone else, including Howard, should take the backseat to him.
Fortunately, Howard is both smart enough and mature enough to understand that.
Get more Lakers news and rumors over on @agroberman