Before I dive into the wild world of the Los Angeles Lakers, I want you to picture something.
Picture yourself with a dog—an energetic, playful Labrador. A Lab is “loveable, happy and friendly to all he meets,” in addition to being known for his “strong, heavy built body,” according to Pet MD.
Now, I want you to picture yourself putting that Labrador alone in a yard with a Pit Bull, a dog whose history tells you all you need to know about it. Per Pet MD:
The canine’s ancestors were the result of experimentally crossbreeding different Bulldog and Terrier breeds for the purpose of bear- and bull-baiting, a blood sport in which the dog was trained to attack until the larger animal was defeated. When baiting was banned in the 1800s, the dogs were then bred for the sport of dog fighting.
Your nice, friendly Labrador has entered the vicious Pit’s territory—what do you think is going to happen?
When the team brought in D12, there was hope that he and the alpha dog would be able to coexist, and even flourish, together. After all, not all Pit Bulls are aggressive and dominant. However, the yard was only big enough for one of them.
On July 7, Howard agreed to a four-year, $88 million contract with the Houston Rockets after just one up-and-down season with the Lakers that ultimately led to disappointment. Howard prematurely returned from a back injury, and it showed all season.
Despite the fact that he wasn’t 100 percent, Howard was still a monster and put up 17.1 points a night and led the league with 12.4 rebounds.
Bryant, at age 34, finished third in the scoring race at 27.3 points and basically dragged the Lakers, who eventually finished 45-37, into the playoffs. However, a tear to his Achilles sidelined him for the postseason and the team's eventual first-round exit. Undeterred, as one might imagine, the Mamba claims that he’ll be ready for the start of the 2013-14 season.
The Lakers weren’t wrong to bring in D12, but looking back, it’s hard to see how the Lab and Pit were supposed to seamlessly coexist. 2013 was a season of constant back-and-forth jabs exchanged between them, similar to Bryant’s rocky relationship with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal.
The difference? Kobe and Shaq won three titles; the Lakers didn't last longer than four games this past postseason. Early in the season, the Mamba publicly challenged Howard’s willingness to play through pain, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA reported in February:
Kobe Bryant publicly challenged Howard to return, telling ESPNBoston.com's Jackie MacMullan on Wednesday, "We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal. ... We need some urgency."
Howard dismissed Bryant's stance.
"That's his opinion, that's it," Howard said. "He's not a doctor, I'm not a doctor. That's his opinion."
According to the New York Post, which described relations as "beyond icy," Howard mocked Bryant behind his back at the All-Star game.
Howard “grabbed Kobe’s uniform, put it on, and imitated him in front of all the other players on the West team. He was joking and berating Kobe” to fellow NBA stars, including the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. The source added Bryant later arrived in the locker room, “said hello to everyone on the team except Howard, grabbed his stuff and moved as far away from Howard as he could.”
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.
During the Lakers' recent efforts to woo Howard back to Los Angeles, Bryant didn’t exactly help or backtrack one bit. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Mamba again challenged D12.
"You need to learn how it's done first, and I can teach you here," Bryant told Howard during the Lakers' presentation, witnesses in the room described to Yahoo! Sports. [...]
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, insisted he wouldn't retreat in pushing Howard every day, that as much as the Lakers needed Howard, Howard needed Bryant and the Lakers, too.
"You have to learn how it's done," Bryant told Howard, witnesses described. "I know how to do it and I've learned from the best – players who have won multiple times over and over."
"Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you," Bryant told him.
These guys were just too different to be able to succeed together on the same team. While Howard smiles ear-to-ear, dances and laughs on the court, Bryant scowls and grimaces as he tries to destroy anyone who dares to get in his way.
Whether Bryant was too tough or Howard was too sensitive is up for debate. But there is truth to both sides of that argument.
Maybe Dwight Howard’s Labrador personality will mesh well with James Harden, a similar breed to D12, in Houston. In the end, though, Los Angeles was a yard big enough for just one alpha. And that dog is, has been and will remain for the foreseeable future, Kobe Bean Bryant.