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.
There’s this overplayed angle talked about by some fans and pundits suggesting the Warriors just got lucky last season — for example, they faced a banged-up Rockets’ team in the conference finals then a Cavaliers’ squad without two of their big three through the Finals. Then there was Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers saying the Warriors were lucky not having to play the Clippers or Spurs in the postseason.
The Warriors are sick of hearing they were lucky.
Friday Klay Thompson fired back at Rivers, via CSNBayArea.com.
– “I wanted to play the Clippers last year, but they couldn’t handle their business.”
– “If we got lucky, look at our record against them last year (Warriors 3-1). I’m pretty sure we smacked them.”
– “Didn’t they lose to the Rockets? Exactly. So haha. That just makes me laugh. That’s funny. Weren’t they up 3-1 too?”
– “Yeah, tell them I said that. That’s funny. That’s funny.”
Warriors big man Andrew Bogut phrased it differently.
If you think the Warriors just won because they were lucky — you are dead wrong.
They were the best team in the NBA last season, bar none. They won 67 regular season games in a tough conference, then beat everyone in their path to win a title. Did they catch some breaks along the way, particularly with health? You bet. Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant didn’t win a title without catching some breaks along the way, either. Nobody does. Luck plays a role, but it was not the primary factor in why the Warriors are champs.
All this talk of them getting lucky is fuel for the fire they needed not to be complacent this season. Way to give the defending champs bulletin board material, Doc.
Dwyane Wade has earned his status as an elder statesman, the E.F. Hutton kind of veteran who speaks and everybody listens.
Rookie Justise Winslow is listening.
Winslow (who should have gone higher in this draft) is a perfect fit for the Heat and he’s going to be part of their rotation off the bench from the start of the season (along with Josh McRoberts and Amare Stoudemire). Wade has already fully stepped into the mentor role with Winslow working with him on post moves, reports Jason Lieser at the Palm Beach Post.
“As his career develops, hopefully he’s able to do multiple things on the floor, but right now there’s gonna be certain things (Erik Spoelstra) wants him to do, and some of those things I’m good at,” Wade said. “I’m just passing down knowledge to someone who I think could be good at things that I have strengths at. It’s gonna take a while, but if he figures it out at 21, he’s ahead of the curve. I figured it out at like 27.
“All of us are where we’re at because someone before us helped us. They helped by letting us sit there and watch film with them or having conversations with them. If he’s a student of it and he really wants to know, I’m a pretty decent teacher in certain areas.”
This is what you want out of a veteran leader and some of the young teams out there have done an excellent job adding this kind of mentor — Kevin Garnett in Minnesota may be the best example. Someone who can pass on his wisdom and show the team’s young players how to be a professional and win in the NBA.
It’s a little different for Winslow, he and the Heat are more in a win-now mode, but he should be able to contribute to that.