Kobe Bryant was in the NBA news recently when his former big man Andrew Bynum responded to an inquiry as to how Bynum thought Bryant helped mature his game.
When Bynum was asked about his on-court relationship with Bryant, he made it sound like a double-edged sword.
Bynum noted that Bryant will draw double teams and make it easier for teammates to get open looks. On the other hand, Bryant admittedly loves to shoot and will often overlook guys in the post with excellent position.
It was an open and honest critique. I appreciated the insight from Bynum and it made me reflect on Bryant’s relationships with his big men. Often as tumultuous as they were successful, the Laker teams of the Byrant era relied on those relationships for just about everything.
The Kobe Bryant Chronicles fittingly began with a big man. Jerry West shipped highly regarded center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the rights to a little known, fresh out of high school guard in Kobe Bean Bryant.
That trade would be the basketball equivalent of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, but the Lakers seem to get lucky in these situations. (Bryant for Divac is only one example. The Pau Gasol trade and the Dwight Howard trade made little basketball sense at the time.)
Bryant’s years with Shaquille O’Neal resulted in some amazing feats. However, the title run was limited to three years because neither wanted to share the spotlight. O’Neal’s book released about a year ago let us into some of the grievances between the two.
Following the trade of O’Neal to Miami, the Lakers were in limbo for a couple of seasons. Bryant was widely regarded as the greatest player on the planet. The Lakers were not winning many games, and were certainly not at championship level. He frustratingly demanded a trade.
During this time Bryant accomplished amazing individual achievements, but until Gasol got to Los Angeles nothing had moved forward with the team.
Bryant and Gasol’s relationship has been the smoothest of Bryant’s career, but that is because everybody knows that between those two Bryant is the alpha male. He will take over. He will get angry at you and make you pay on the court. Gasol’s nature is to acquiesce to Bryant’s personality rather than combat it, which is why, despite his criticisms for being soft, the Lakers have been so successful the past five years.
Now we come to Dwight Howard. Howard is the new-era superstar. This is much different from when Bryant was watching the game and growing up playing ball. Bryant grew up watching and idolizing Michael Jordan. So he adopted that mean streak, that “I want the ball. Get out of my way” attitude. Good or bad, that is what he is.
Howard has more of a LeBron James attitude toward what being a superstar in the NBA is. He wants people to like him. He wants to keep his sponsors. Howard’s image is that of a nice guy and he has made a lot of money with that image. However, he still thinks of himself as a superstar because that is what everybody says he is.
So when those two personalities meet and something goes wrong on the court, Bryant yells at whoever made the mistake. Howard is not used to that, and because of that he has been less aggressive than usual despite the fact that Bryant is taking less shots per game than last season.
Bryant’s relationships with his big men throughout the years dictated that team’s success. The rest of this year will be no different. It appears he has grown to pass the ball more, but will Howard be willing to go all out? I don’t know. The good thing for the Lakers is they still have enough time to figure out the answer before it’s too late to fix.