Kobe Bryant's quest for a sixth championship could've ended in 2013. However, the Lakers' shot at creating a superteam, most notably the Dwight Howard acquisition, failed to live up to expectations. And while most blamed Dwight for it, a single phone call was enough for Kobe to realize their partnership was doomed from the start.
Failed superteam experiment
Howard was supposed to be the final piece to bring the Lakers back into title contention after the Kobe-Gasol pairing ran out of steam from a three-straight Finals runs. But instead of raising another banner, the new superstar duo, along with Steve Nash, Metta World-Peace, and Pau, only prolonged the team's stretch of early postseason exits -- the Spurs swept them in the first round.
With three MVP awards, 33 All-Star game appearances, and four Defensive Player of the Year awards between the Lakers' starting five, fans expected at least another Finals run. But injuries got in the way, allowing Mike D'Antoni to roll out the projected All-Star lineup only 19 times throughout the season - seven rotation guys missed 171 games combined; starters missed 81.
But perhaps even the bigger issue was the lack of chemistry between their superstar pairing. Kobe himself talked about it in his documentary "Muse."
“I tried teaching Dwight," Bryant said. "I tried showing him. But the reality is that when you have a perception of what it is to win a championship – and most perceptions of what it’s like to win are a very outgoing, very gregarious locker room where you pick each other up and you’re friends all the time. That is the perception. But when he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable. And it’s very tough to be able to fight through that, and to deal with that challenge. And I don’t think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature.”
"This ain't gonna work"
Dwight's jovial personality didn't fit with Kobe's uncompromising approach to winning, which resulted in Howard being traded from the Lakers after just one season. "I just think we were on two different levels mentally," the big man said during his appearance on FS1's Fair Game with Kristine Leahy. "He hadn't never seen a person like me. Someone who could enjoy basketball but at the same time not be so [serious]. That's not me."
According to Jalen Rose, it took one phone call for Bryant to get a grasp on Howard's personality. And that one phone call was enough for the Lakers superstar to come to the conclusion that their tenure with the Purple and Gold was doomed from the start.
"I was standing right next to him at his camp when he first talked to Dwight Howard," Rose said. "And I'mma say this now because they made amends. I've never said this before. When he got on the phone with Dwight Howard, because I know what that conversation was. I was right there and Dwight was excited; he was asking him about L.A. He was asking him about how he was going to help him, make him better; he asked him off the court, he asked about everything."
After he asked all of those questions, you know what Kobe said? 'I'mma show you mofo how to get championships. What do you think about that?' He got off the phone with Dwight Howard and said, 'his head ain't in the right place. This ain't gonna work.' And, it didn't work."
Jalen Rose, ESPN
Ever since that moment, Kobe was on a mission to change Howard's approach for the better of the team. But it seems Dwight never allowed himself to be changed. Two big egos, with diametrically opposite personalities, at different levels of dedication, were never able to find common ground, and the upshot, as Kobe predicted, was underwhelming.
Bryant, just like Michael Jordan, had the win-at-all-cost mentality and was willing to "pull, push, yank"and do whatever it took to get everybody on the same page. Those who bought in had championships to show for. Dwight never did, and he became a scapegoat for the Lakers' failed superteam experiment.