Hamilton: Kobe Bryant Is Playing Game of Chicken With Dwight Howard’s Ego

“This is my career, this is my future, this is my life,” he said. “I don’t want to have another summer where I’m rehabbing and trying to get healthy again.”

When told of Bryant’s comment regarding “urgency,” Howard dismissively responded, “That’s his opinion, that’s it. He’s not a doctor.”

All of this, right before the Lakers battled the Celtics on national TV in the first game since Gasol’s injury was announced.

Nobody was surprised, then, when it was revealed that Howard would play.

Against the Celtics, Howard fouled out in just 29 minutes, collecting nine points and nine rebounds.

After the game, Howard’s body language was indicative of a player who was miserable and wanted out.

He sat, shoulders slouched. His responses barely audible, his gaze dismissive and indifferent.

He seemed tired, hurt and frustrated.

“I’ll do what I can to help this team win when I’m out there, that’s all I can do,” he said.  “You win some, you lose some, you gotta move on.”

Move on, the Lakers must, but to the playoffs? They may not if things continue like this.

In this league, players don’t only play with their teammates, they play for their teammates. All the talent in the world won’t help a team win unless the players collectively buy into one another, believe in one another and respect one another.

Someone should tell Bryant.

After the loss, Bryant claimed that he hasn’t been trying to send messages to Howard through the media, but he’s too smart to not know that whatever he says about the fragile 7-footer will make headlines.

“I think the statements from yesterday were really overblown to be honest with you,” Bryant said. “I didn’t say anything that was offensive. It was pretty shocking to me in terms of how everybody reacted to it.”

According to Bryant, he won’t try to motivate Howard that way.

“If I had a message in mind, I would make it pretty black and white,” he said. “I don’t need to be surreptitious about it,” he said.

But the only thing that makes sense is that Bryant is trying to motivate Howard. The thought here? It’s a risky proposition that, at best, could help Howard fulfill his potential.

At worst? It could cause him to leave $30 million on the table and bolt Los Angeles for his hometown of Atlanta come July.

When asked what he thought of Howard’s play against the Celtics, Bryant was somewhat dismissive, even while knowing that Howard played hurt. “I think he did all right. It was his first time back, obviously he was a little rusty, kinda out of it a little bit, but he did all right.”

Bryant, though, knows he needs Howard to be great. In his quest for six, Bryant is on the outside of the playoff race. The Lakers are a manageable 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets, but the final 32 games will likely be played without Gasol.

Now more than ever, Kobe needs Dwight. The Lakers are simply running out of time.

At TD Garden on Thursday night, while the Lakers were getting drilled, Bryant must have had thoughts of Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Bryant, failing in his first bid for a fourth ring, walked off the court, humbled by a 39-point bruising.

Though the stakes were not nearly as high on Thursday night, the result was nearly as lopsided. Bryant finished with a very efficient 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting. The more telling statistic, though, was that he had no assists.

He simply had no help. That, even without Gasol, must change.

It’s Howard’s time to deliver.

One way or another, we will find out if Dwight Howard is merely playing with Kobe Bryant, or if he’s willing to play for him.

Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops whose columns appear here on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton.

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