If Bryant believes Howard isn’t playing up to his potential, an attempt to light a fire underneath the center is justified. But the Lakers' captain must realize that all athletes digest criticism differently, and if D12 can’t take the heat, calling him out will do more harm than good.
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reported he news of the Bryant vs. Howard incident on Monday. He wrote:
A league source told the Daily News that the Lakers stars got into a heated exchange following a New Year’s Day loss to the 76ers, and Bryant went for a low blow—referencing and agreeing with Shaquille O’Neal’s criticisms of Howard being soft. Howard was restrained from going at his teammate, according to the source, and there have been rumblings from the center’s camp that he’s been unhappy with Bryant since earlier in the season.
Apparently, now that Phil Jackson is no longer running the show, Bryant has taken the responsibility upon himself to play mind games with his underachieving teammates.
Again, that isn’t necessarily a problem. L.A. may have never won back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 had Pau Gasol not been called soft too many times to count. Gasol took the criticism to heart and toughened up, at least for the time being.
Perhaps Bryant attempted to ignite the same transformation in Howard.
Of course, Howard and Gasol certainly aren’t wired the same. Superman is addicted to attention, while the Spaniard is subdued.
Because of his reflective personality, Gasol may be more open to criticism than Howard, who seemingly loves to be loved. That’s why, in the future, Bryant needs to play it safe when pushing D12’s buttons, because the wrong one could create a Ray Allen-to-Rajon Rondo-like relationship that similarly sends Howard packing.
Now, Kurt Helin of NBC Sports is skeptical of the whole story. He questions how Bondy got his hands on the information before the Los Angeles media.
Bondy also uses the near fight to transition into a scenario that imagines Howard leaving L.A. and teaming up with Deron Williams in Brooklyn.
Use your own judgment. But whether the story is accurate or not, the Lakers must make it a priority to build their team chemistry, not risk losing the little that they have.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.