Let the deadline writers ask about the game, a USA Basketball staffer pleaded with a throng of reporters waiting for Kobe Bryant in the minutes after the United States 109-83 semifinal win over Argentina. Then ask about Dwight Howard.
One question passed, then two, then the floodgates opened. Team USA may have moved one win away from its second straight Olympic gold medal on Friday, but the only subject anyone was interested in talking to Bryant about was his new teammate.
"I was very excited," Bryant said of the four-team trade that brought Howard to L.A. "It's one of those things you hear, then you have to let it go because it changes every two minutes. Once I got the word it was confirmed, my mentality switched from excitement to execution [to] 'How are we going to do it?'"
Indeed, it has been a charmed offseason for Bryant, one win away from his second Olympic gold, already set to play with a Hall of Fame point guard in Steve Nash and now he will be protected by Howard, a perennial MVP candidate and three-time Defensive Player of the year. But while the pass-first Nash will slip easily in the Lakers lineup, questions about how -- and how well -- Howard will fit remain.
Most of the speculation has been stoked by a pre-trade deadline phone call between Howard and Bryant, where two alpha males reportedly flexed their muscles. According to Yahoo! Sports, a recruiting call from Bryant turned awkward when Howard wasn't hearing about an elevated offensive role and Bryant didn't hear from Howard a commitment to rebounding and singular focus on winning championships.
Since then Howard has tried to move on (and on, and on), while Bryant cheered his union with Nash while plotting how to squeeze enough juice out of his frontcourt to get the Lakers past the Spurs and Thunder, allowing the possibility of pairing with Howard to leak from his mind.
"We joked around about [a Howard deal] during the summer," Bryant said. "The consensus was there was no way we could get Dwight and still keep Pau [Gasol]. [Lakers management] all love Pau, there was no way they were going to let Pau go, so therefore we can't get Dwight."
It was a confluence of events that brought Howard to Los Angeles; the Nets' inability to sweeten a strong offer, the Rockets' failure to have enough assets to Orlando's liking, a complicated 12-player, five-draft pick trade coming together. But as Howard enters his first day as a Laker, Bryant claims to be unconcerned about Howard's role in the offense. If anything, he sees an expanded one.
"He's not going to have to sacrifice much," Bryant said. "He just comes out and does what he does. He will get more touches here than he did in Orlando. It sounds weird to say, but it's true. We do a great job playing through the post, playing through him, playing through Pau. It's going to be sensational."
There is a risk to this deal: Howard won't sign an extension, if for no other reason than he can earn $40 million more if he signs a new contract in the offseason. A source close to Howard says he is "very open" to re-upping with the Lakers, but if the season goes south the possibility Howard could walk into Dallas' cap space this summer looms large.
Bryant says there is no reason for friction, no cause for a turf war. It's his team now, but soon it will be Howard's.
"I'll probably play two or three more years," Bryant said. "Then the team is his. I'm excited for the Lakers franchise because now they have a player that can carry the franchise well after I'm gone. It should be his. He should be willing to accept that challenge."
Certainly it will be interesting. Gasol graciously accepted a supporting role when he came to L.A. in 2008, so battered by the strain of an 0-12 playoff record as a leading man in Memphis he was eager to play second fiddle. Howard won't be so enthused. On paper L.A. is stacked, with a formidable starting lineup and a bench (Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks) capable of producing. It could come down to chemistry, and Bryant's ability to share the spotlight in Tinseltown might make all the difference.