It became a big story last season, when Dwight Howard was on the trading block and reportedly did not want to come to Los Angeles following a conversation with Kobe Bryant where Kobe made it clear the Lakers were his team. (How much of that leak was Howard and how much was the talkative people around Howard is up for debate.)
It was assumed as part of it that Kobe and Howard didn’t have much of a relationship. But that was not the case — they had been talking for years. Not just at All-Star Games and the like, but real mentoring conversations.
Howard laid it all out for Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated in a fantastic profile.
“What people don’t know is that this is one of the guys who I’ve been talking to for about four years now,” Howard said. “And he has been an amazing help to me, just pushing me in ways — secretly because we played in the Eastern and Western Conference. But it’s been him just talking to me, showing me how to do certain things with my team and things like that…
“I told [Bryant] as soon as I got here, ‘Hey, I want to be one of the greatest to ever play. I want you to push me every day,’ ” Howard said. “And he was like, ‘I’m going to push you, because I see something in you, and I want to make sure that I do my part.’ And I promised him that I’m going to do whatever I can do.”
I bet there are more guys than we know who turn to Kobe now as a mentor, as a guy who has been there and done that and knows what it takes to win. What it takes to stay on top.
We’re going to learn a lot about Howard the next couple of years, it’s not about what Kobe tells him anymore. The level of pressure on him is different. Right now he sounds like his old, happy-go-lucky self in the interview with Amick. But how does he adapt that personality to the brighter spotlight he is in now, and how does he handle the pressure — from Kobe, from other teammates, from the fans — as the Lakers move toward the playoffs. The Lakers as an organization don’t see making the finals as a successful season.