Kobe had better share with Dwight - NBC Sports

Kobe had better share with Dwight
Kobe says Lakers are his, but he'd better make sure Howard gets some prime time
Reuters
Dwight Howard, left, greets Kobe Bryant during media day for the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 1.
October 10, 2012, 12:10 am

The talent is abundant. The all-or nothing mandate clear from the first bounce of balls.

And so is the ever-present question that greeted the Heat when they tried to escape to that Air Force base in the Florida Panhandle in October 2010:

Who's the man?

It is, of course, a trick question. Yet, once again, someone bit this year, this time Kobe Bryant.

"I got a question earlier about whose team this is," Kobe Bryant said amid the Lakers' initial media meet-and-greet. "I don't want to get into the, 'Well, we share.' No, it's my team, all right?"

To his credit, Bryant followed up by adding, "But I want to make sure that Dwight, when I retire, this is going to be his. I want to teach him everything I possibly know, so that when I step away, this organization can ride on like I never left."

So let's give Bryant partial credit.

The Heat's approach at the outset in 2010 was the no one was the man, that it would be a Big Three tri-production, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sharing lead billing.

That eventually crashed and burned, leaving Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks to gloat at the end of the Heat's first Big Three season.

And then something changed dramatically before Year II of the Heat's Big Three:

Wade stepped aside. The incumbent star, a player who essentially held the role that Bryant holds at the start of the Lakers' new era, appreciated that the only way for a new star to truly feel embraced is to receive the ultimate embrace, the keys to the offense.

So Wade gave the Heat to James.

And James gave the Heat the 2012 championship.

It wasn't easy for Wade. The stats went to James, as did the majority of late-game showcasing. James went on to win MVP of both the regular season and the NBA Finals. Wade could be found in the background of those celebrations.

But the transition put the Heat in a better place, established the franchise's future with a younger, still-emerging star.

You know, sort of what Dwight Howard is, or is expected to be with the Lakers.

There is, however, one decidedly different element in the Lakers' hierarchy.

As ugly as it got at times for James during his initial season with the Heat -- from coach-gate to cry-gate to I-might-have-made-a-mistake-gate -- he was in it for the long run, a free-agent contract with no escape clause for four seasons.

Howard, by contrast, has no commitment to the Lakers beyond this season, with arcane extension rules and the accompanying financial limitations practically forcing him into 2013 free agency.

It is why, if, as Bryant says, the Lakers' long-term outlook is with Howard at center stage, then there has to be more give from the outset.

With the Heat, the initial thought was of a three-way partnership, that James, Wade and Bosh would be equal protagonists. But that's not how the NBA works, how it never has worked. Despite supporting casts arguably even deeper than today's star-laden rosters, Jordan, Magic and Bird were their teams' definitive leaders.

For now, Bryant says that will be his role with the Lakers. But that also puts Howard, and, even more significantly, the Lakers, in a holding pattern. If Howard doesn't get to experience life front-and-center this season as Laker, how will he know if he wants to commit five more seasons to the purple and gold?

The difference with the Heat is three stars from the same draft class came together. All three arrived at the same place in their careers.

Clearly, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are not in the same place, one at the relatively early stages, one in the middle and one near the end.

If Kobe doesn't defer this season -- and he certainly bristled at the notion while playing alongside Shaq -- will he ever defer? A player like Bryant, as with Michael, tends to believe he is at the top of his game until he no longer is playing the game.

For Wade, the decision to defer was a season in the making, and came at a cost of a diminished reputation, his stats down, his rating in those silly offseason player rankings down, and his Jordan Brand sneaker deal gone.

But he does have another ring, something that appeared doubtful when the Heat went four years without winning a playoff series following their 2006 title.

But for Kobe, there may be no other option but to eventually defer in purple and gold. Lakers stars, their ultimate stars, generally don't move on, be it Magic or Worthy or West. Kobe is in that class.

But some of the greatest later-years Lakers success stories are stars who learn to defer, be it Chamberlain or Kareem or even McAdoo.

Kobe didn't have to step aside for Gasol; instead, the two stepped into a championship run. He didn't have to step aside for Andrew Bynum, because, well, he was Andrew Bynum. And Nash certainly isn't asking anyone to step aside.

But there will be those times when a technical foul will be called and common sense will dictate Nash, with his career 90-percent accuracy, steps to the line instead of Bryant.

And there will be times, as in 2003-04, with Gary Payton and Karl Malone, when accommodations for others will have to be made.

As Phil Jackson said in a Chicago radio interview, "you have to make Howard feel a part of it."

The Lakers, of course, no longer are Jackson's team. But Kobe says they still are his. And in this case, possession could be ninth-tenths of the issue in determining how far the Lakers go and how long Howard stays.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.



Channel Finder