Speculation ensued, and fans were torn on whether they wanted Howard to stay or not. Many lamented the “Stay D12” billboards across Los Angeles, and others were seemingly indifferent to whether he stayed or not.
In either event, Howard chose to leave and as Abbott claims in his article, Kobe was the reason Dwight left the Lakers — blaming an early-July recruitment meeting as the cause:
The Lakers meeting took place in Beverly Hills on July 2 in the modernist, windowless conference room at Relativity Media — the offices of Howard’s agent. Kupchak, Howard’s closest ally on the team, prepped the Lakers’ pitch. One big point: Listen carefully. Another: Dress appropriately. “Our approach,” a Lakers source explained at the time, “is that we are interviewing for the job. We want to show that this is a place his dreams can come true.”
As the Lakers’ contingent settled into the conference room’s ergonomic chairs, it was clear that two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, in a nice crisp shirt, listening attentively, was running Kupchak’s game plan. But Bryant showed up, according to a person in the room, in “hoops shorts, a T-shirt and a gold chain.” He had also packed an attitude.
When Howard asked why his teammates let the injured center take all the flak when the Lakers’ season went south, Nash said he didn’t know that Howard had felt that way and that had he known, he would have acted differently. Bryant, on the other hand, offered a crash course in developing thick skin and a mini lecture on learning how to win. Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard that Bryant’s lecture was “a complete turnoff” for Howard.
Now, while Kobe may be part of the reason Dwight left, that meeting was certainly not the only reason. The two had played together for the greater part of an NBA season, and never quite meshed together. Dwight often looked lost offensively, and constantly fumbled the ball when it was delivered to him in the post. The blame began to set on Kobe at times as well, to which he addressed the situation to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:
“I’ve tried to go out of my way to get him the ball,” Bryant told Y! Sports. “Sometimes I end up looking like an idiot, because I get up in the air, I’ve got a shot, but I try to find him. But he thinks I’m going to shoot, so his back is turned. I’m trying to think about getting him the ball a lot – take care of him as much as I possibly can. It takes me out of rhythm a little bit, but I’m fine with that. If that’s going to help our team, I’m more than willing to do that.”
“I’ve constantly tried to help him out, tried to talk to him,” Bryant said. “Two o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning. Texting him. Sharing reading materials. Anything to try and help him.
“He’s coming off a major surgery in a market where it’s just merciless; where there’s demands and responsibilities of athletes. It’s been tough on him.”
Kobe followed that statement by saying blame falls on himself as well, as he needs to shoot a higher field goal percentage. He also later said to place all of the blame for the season on him, so while Dwight may have felt the team let him be the scapegoat, perhaps not all of that is true.
The main reason for the Lakers failing that season, essentially, was injuries, which Kobe knew. In that, he is absolutely correct in his “crash course” on how to develop thick skin in a gigantic market. Yes, the blame is going to be placed somewhere — often times incorrectly — but in order to survive and rise above that, one needs to be able to block that out and perform.
Contrary to what Abbott asserts, the meeting is not the sole cause for Dwight leaving. After all, Dwight already knew what it was like playing with Kobe, and a sales pitch on how it would be different the following season wasn’t going to change his mind.
Howard did not work well within Mike D’Antoni’s system, and in truth he left for a team better poised to contend in the Western Conference. Kobe and Nash barely played the following season, while Gasol remained under-utilized and the team suffered even more injuries in 2013-2014.
Similarly, Howard did not seem to have the championship DNA that we’ve become accustomed to with Lakers’ greats over the years, and certainly did not come off as a franchise player for the purple and gold.
As Nash — who is the ultimate teammate — said following Howard’s departure, Howard never seemed like he wanted to be a Laker in the first place, via ESPN:
“Ultimately, I think Dwight wasn’t comfortable here and didn’t want to be here and I think if he didn’t want to be here, there’s no point for anyone in him being here,” Nash told “The Mason & Ireland Show” on ESPN LA 710 radio on Tuesday. “So, we wish him the best and move on.”
“Dwight had some issues with the season,” Nash said. “I think it kind of basically goes with what he said to the media that he never quite felt embraced in L.A. He never quite felt supported. That’s basically it. I think in some ways you can read into that what you will, but I think he never quite felt comfortable at home and I don’t know if that’s anybody’s fault.”
If we’re going to throw quotes around, I’ll throw out another Nash quote that Abbott brought up while trying to discredit the Black Mamba:
After his first year with Bryant, Nash couldn’t hide his disappointment when talking to Grantland’s Zach Lowe: “I think it’d be nice to find a middle ground where he does his thing but the ball still can move for great parts of the game. … But I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. When you play with Kobe Bryant, the ball is gonna be with him most of the time.”
Here, Abbott tried to use that quote as a revelation that even one of the most selfless players to ever play the game had a problem with Kobe hogging the ball, all to make the claim that no other superstar wants to play with Kobe.
However, what Nash said was simply a fact — that Kobe has the ball a lot of the time. It’s always been that way, and it likely will always be that way going forward. It’s not that he hogs the ball or shoots too much, but he is the focal point of the offense in many aspects. Even though he averages a decent amount of assists (4.8 over the course of his career), many of those come as a direct result of him breaking down the opposing defense or on isolation plays, and not necessarily as a result of a free-flowing offense.
Is it an ideal situation in terms of team ball? No. But, it’s not for a lack of effort on Kobe’s part, as that particular season he made it a point to share the ball more and actually averaged 7.0 assists following the All-Star break. He also advocated utilizing Gasol’s offensive skill-set in the post in addition to his play-making along the perimeter (in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, he operated on the top of the floor quite a bit more than usual).[divide]
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