'OK, now let's switch.' (Jennifer Pottheiser/NBA/Getty Images)
Hey, did you guys have a fun All-Star Weekend? Did you enjoy taking a brief break from the day-to-day grind of the NBA season to tilt your focus toward the talents of some of the league's most gifted players and away from all of the silly melodrama that tends to dominate chat shows and sports talk? I hope so, because it's all over — time to punch the clock and get back to talking about how the Los Angeles Lakers stink, hate each other and are a disaster of epic proportions.
According to the New York Post's Page Six gossip column, Lakers center Dwight Howard (last seen making jokes on the bench in the third and fourth quarter of the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, in which he did not play the final 20-plus minutes) had a little fun at the expense, and behind the back, of teammate Kobe Bryant (last seen working uncommonly hard on defense in the closing minutes of said exhibition game) in the Western Conference locker room:
Amid other reports that the Lakers’ chilly on-court chemistry was spilling into the locker room, we’re told that 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.”
After that, Bryant told everyone at his lunch table that he didn't even care about Dwight, and is just totally, like, whatever about the whole thing.
On one hand, it's understandable to have plenty of skepticism about the veracity of a gossip column report about alleged locker-room hijinks that, as ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin noted, didn't generate any chatter over the weekend in Houston. This seems like the sort of thing that would've gotten the attention of the roughly 1.4 million media members in town and at the Toyota Center to cover the All-Star festivities.
That said, it's hard to totally disbelieve the report, in part because of all the reports of ongoing turmoil between the two stars and in part because of how Bryant's weekend comments about whether the Lakers would look to move Howard before Thursday's trade deadline ("I don't know what they're going to do [...] At this point, it doesn't matter") seem to play into the "icy" relationship stuff. Mostly, though, it's because it's very, very easy to envision a situation in which Dwight would put on Kobe's uniform and do an impression of him to try to get people to laugh; we've seen him do that impression for that purpose multiple times before.
Of course, whether or not this actually took place and whether or not Kobe and Dwight actually become friends means significantly less to the Lakers' chances of getting hot, turning things around and making a playoff push than the facts that they've been a middle-of-the-road offense and a bottom-10 defense since Jan. 1, that they're going to play 10 of 15 games on the road in March, that they're missing a huge piece in the injured Pau Gasol and that Howard, nearly 10 months removed from his lower back surgery and suffering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder, is still a ways away from being the kind of consistently game-changing presence the Lakers so desperately need him to be.
It's the on-court stuff that'll determine whether or not the Lakers can sneak into the eighth seed; it's the actual basketball that will determine the team's fate. As always, though, it's the spectacle and sideshow that'll keep people talking about a 25-29 team that, like a Dwight Howard impression, hasn't really been fun to watch in a while.
I, for one, just can't wait until Dwight and Kobe simultaneously release a photo wearing one another's jerseys on Instagram as Mike D'Antoni stands by making the Macaulay Culkin "Home Alone" face. That'll take the air out of the ol' "they don't like each other" balloon, right?
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