At the beginning of this season, and most of last season, the Los Angeles Clippers seemed to be having a ball with Chris Paul running the show.
Paul is one of the most competitive guys in the NBA, so winning is his number one priority. But even being that way, he still managed to foster an atmosphere of fun with his new teammates. Tweeting pics of them sleeping on the plane, hosting barbeques; that type of thing.
The Los Angeles Lakers haven't been very playful since the Shaq days, largely because that's not Kobe Bryant's personality. As he ages, he's become more personable, but he won't be the one starting jokes or hosting game nights.
That's partially why Dwight Howard has struggled to find his place on this team. He's a well-known fun-loving guy and that has made some question his commitment to excellence, including Bryant it seems. The captain called out the center earlier in the season by saying he'd played through the same injury Howard was sitting out with.
Laker executives have been very vocal about wanting Howard to be the centerpiece of their team once Bryant retires, and it seems that Bryant's season ending injury has brought that about sooner and changed the locker room vibe at the same time.
There's not as much nervous energy, despite the crushing pressure. While the stakes are still as high as ever, Howard has managed to turn this into a fun challenge, much like Paul has done for the Clippers.
It also seems like he's learned a thing or two from Bryant's stoic nature.
There's a careful balance between Howard's pre-game 300 speech and his serious statements to the media. In a recent interview, he said:
"I just want to win, plain and simple. I just want to win. A lot of people are counting us out and they’re doubting our talent and our team, but I just want to win and I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win. It’s not about me having 30 points a night, but just me dominating the game. That’s what I want to do."
Based on that quote, Howard is exactly what the Lakers need right now. It's always fun to watch Bryant drop 40 on a team, but that's not playing the unselfish kind of basketball that wins championships.
In an interview earlier this season, Antawn Jamison told 710 ESPN that Bryant has told Jamison to yell if he's open because, Bryant confessed, he only sees the basket.
Going back to what we learned in kindergarten, the Lakers need to share.
This is more likely to happen with a humbled, fun-loving Howard than the super-pressure state of mind that Bryant holds.
Now, this isn't comparing Bryant to Howard, but just observing how the team overall has responded to situations. This season, with this roster, and the ridiculous system that's been forced upon them, moving the ball around has never been more important. As weird to hear and hard as it is to say, Bryant playing coach paired with Howard loosening up the team’s atmosphere could be the best one-two punch the Lakers could hope for.