Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard have opportunity to fix Los Angeles Lakers’ off-court woes

Oct.1, 2012, 2012; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during media day at the Los Angeles Lakers Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers are a big disappointment this season. That’s been said by everyone from the anchors on SportsCenter and general manager Mitch Kupchak all the way down to your friends, family and work mates. They started the season with an ailing Dwight Howard, physically absent Steve Nash and a physically and mentally missing Pau Gasol en route to their current 15-18. Despite improved health, the Lakers have continued to stumble and it has left fans and analysts alike in shock.  Rumors have began swirling about disharmony within the Lakers locker room, specifically the relationship with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant – two men both known for being a disruptive force in the locker room seasons prior. To respond, Kobe Bryant tweeted a jovial picture of him and Howard preparing to go to blows to mock the report and silence any doubt. For a team that’s displayed nothing but disharmony on the court this season, the latest surge of conjured rumors may be the push they needed to galvanize off of the court and hopefully for Lakers fan, find a good working relationship on the court.

Before the NBA season began, CBS Sports unanimously predicted the Lakers would reach the NBA Finals and fall to the Miami HEAT  while the NBA.com team believed  that the Lakers would once more claim the crown of the Pacific Division over the Clippers. Fast forward to only early January and those two propositions appear laughable. There have been flashes of the LA outfit that fans dreamed of before the nightmare began, including the encouraging five game winning streak that culminated with a pulsating Christmas Day victory over the streaking New York Knicks. However, for every night like that there’s another defensive meltdown against the Clippers or deflating home loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Dwight Howard incited some speculation when he alluded to the key difference between the Lakers and their dominant crosstown rival Clippers, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“We have to play like we like each other,” Howard said. “Even if we don’t want to be friends off the court, we have to respect each other.”

Howard stressed there’s no animosity between teammates. He just believes the Lakers’ haven’t reached their full potential for reasons beyond age and injuries.

“It really starts off the court,” Howard argued. “You have to have that relationship and that chemistry off the court for it to really blossom off the court.

“Those guys on the Clippers team, they really enjoy each other off the court and it shows.”

The specific statement to pinpoint in Howard’s curious comments would be the phrase “it really starts off the court”. The inference of course, is that by ‘starting’ they don’t currently have a very tight-knit bond off the court. It comes as little surprise given the play of the Lakers, but Howard’s affirmation is damning for the purple and gold. Examining the personalities on the LA roster, Mike D’Antoni’s history with blending talent, the environment of the basketball loving city of LA and the time the Lakers have to get their act together, it appears the Lakers desperately need something to spur a bond within the players circle.

Perhaps they can thank Stefan Bondy from the New York Daily News for giving them a prime opportunity to unite as a team for his inflammatory article that has enraged the Lakers organization.

Bondy’s article on the alleged feud between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard  outright accused the two stars of having a “heated exchange” and stated “Howard was restrained from going at his teammate”. Those are pretty loaded words, and if it were true, would suggest at an irreparable disconnection between the two. Especially by  embroiling Bryant, who has a storied history with Shaquille O’Neal, and his tendancy to hold grudges over seemingly minor and strange issues (see: Smush Parker), in the report

However, the Black Mamba has already found a use for his new Twitter account, taking to the social media outlet to all but fully dispel any notion of bitterness between the two stars.  If it were a player such as Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose, with reputations of being great teammates who could possibly sweep a locker room issue under the carpet to try and keep their team focused, maybe it wouldn’t silence the doubters. But a man like Kobe Bryant has never shied away from telling reporters exactly what he thinks, often to the disdain of the Lakers organization.

Dwight Howard is a man who also knows the damage of rumors and has joined Bryant in the pursuit to dispel the report, speaking candidly to reporters earlier today.

“We’re losing. Every little story that comes out is geared towards breaking ou team up, but we’re bigger than that. We’re stronger than that and we’re not going to let anything divide us,” He said.

Howard’s portrayal of the Lakers locker room appears to be a far cry for the same team that he said “have to play like we like each other, even if we don’t want to be friends off the court,” less than a week ago, and is an extremely encouraging sign.

It’s instances like this that bring good teams together. Bonding as a united front against flat out lies is a brilliant way for this Lakers franchise to discover some kinship. Sometimes rumors and reports can break up a team (Oh hi there, New York Jets), but this specific case instead offers a chance for Bryant and Howard to join fellow veterans Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace in showing the world the truth in the one way they know how – by playing good basketball.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, the plans of showing Bondy and the league why they’re wrong may be on hold for a while with developing injuries to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. The uphill battle to the playoffs just got a bit steeper, but there’s no physical injury that can deter the Lakers from building chemistry off of the court, and for the embattled franchise that should be their number one priority if they hope to creep into the playoffs this season.