By Ben Golliver
Dwight Howard barely made a peep in the All-Star Game, scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds in just 14 minutes, but his alleged antics behind the scenes have surfaced in the tabloids.
Relations between Kobe Bryant and his Lakers teammate Dwight Howard were beyond icy during the weekend’s All-Star game in Houston — with Howard mocking Bryant behind his back in the locker room, sources exclusively tell Page Six. 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.” Despite a recent clear-the-air meeting in Memphis, relations haven’t thawed. At the game, Bryant said, “It doesn’t matter” what his team does with Howard as the trade deadline approaches. Reps for Bryant and Howard didn’t get back to us last night.
Howard was in full goofball mode on All-Star Sunday, chucking up halfcourt shots during warm-ups, giggling with Griffin on the bench, launching a three-pointer during the game and joining with Griffin in pretending to imitate a two-man gymnastics acts that performed on the court during a deal ball.
It's worth noting that imitating Bryant is one of Howard's go-to gimmicks. The Los Angeles Daily News reported back in August, shortly after the Lakers traded for him, that Howard imitated Bryant in front of reporters.
After the news broke Thursday, Howard's phone rang. A familiar voice was on the line.
"Wassup, Dwight, how you doing?" Howard said, imitating new teammate Bryant's deep growl as reporters began to laugh in recognition. "Yo, yo, yo, L.A. is happy to have you, you know. I'm happy for you."
Howard has gone back to the gimmick throughout the season, according to various reports.
Also worth noting: the context of Bryant's "It doesn't matter" quote. The Los Angeles Times reported the full statement.
"I don't know what they are going to do," Bryant said Sunday at Toyota Center after helping the West defeat the East, 143-138, in the All-Star game. "But at this point ... , it doesn't matter. what matters to us is what we do on Wednesday [against the Boston Celtics] and go from there.
"That's the most important thing. That's my message to the team is that you can't worry about the future, you can't worry about the past, you just have to focus on the present and we really have to maximize every single game."
Given that Mitch Kupchak has publicly stated that Howard will not be traded before the Feb. 21 deadline and that Howard confirmed to reporters in Houston this weekend that he has been told by management that he will not be traded, it's reasonable to conclude that Bryant was simply dismissing the rumors rather than Howard's importance to the Lakers.
This isn't the first time Howard and Bryant have reportedly been at odds behind the scenes. Back in January, a report surfaced indicating that Bryant and Howard were involved in a "heated exchange" after a loss. The pair mocked the report by posting a photo of themselves fake sparring in the training room.
When Howard sat out to rest a shoulder injury earlier this month, Bryant suggested the Lakers needed more urgency and that the team "didn't have time" for Howard's shoulder to heal. That prompted Howard's father to criticize Bryant and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. The Lakers collectively did their best to sweep that situation under the rug. The personality differences between these two players -- whether any particular report is accurate, stretched or invented -- aren't going anywhere. Neither Howard nor Bryant has shown any inclination to bend his ways to accommodate the other. The larger question hanging over all of this is whether the Bryant/Howard pairing can be functional on the court heading into next year and beyond. If there aren't signs of progress down the stretch as the Lakers mount a playoff push, momentum will mount behind the notion that Howard isn't worth all the baggage he brings.