Over the weekend, Howard mentioned the role that "timing" played in his decision to sign with the Rockets over the Lakers. ESPNLA.com dug a bit deeper into the "timing" issue, reporting that Howard was ready to become the face of the Lakers sooner rather than later.
Sources told ESPN.com that Howard and his representatives -- in a handful of meetings with Lakers officials before he became a free agent July 1 -- strongly suggested the center would have a difficult time re-signing with the team if Bryant stayed with the franchise beyond the 2013-14 season, the final year of his contract.
"How can it be Kobe's team and Dwight's team?" one source said. "It was about the passing of the torch."
As an offshoot of those discussions, sources said, Howard's camp at one point asked the Lakers whether they were at least considering releasing Bryant through the league's amnesty provision, since Bryant's return date from Achilles tendon surgery remained in question.
As noted in The Point Forward's wrap-up of the factors that influenced Howard's decision, Bryant's presence was definitely problematic. The Point Forward has always felt that the idea of the Lakers using the amnesty clause on Bryant was a non-starter, and Howard certainly hadn't built up enough good will in Los Angeles to exert influence over a decision that big.
It would be unfair -- to both parties -- to suggest that Bryant was the sole driving factor behind Howard's departure. After all, there was a lot for Howard to like about Houston and questions about Howard's fit with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. But Bryant casts a mighty shadow over the Lakers' present, future and salary cap situation. On the books for a league-high $30 million next season while he recovers from an Achilles injury, Bryant effectively prevented the Lakers from improving their roster by virtually eliminating their salary cap flexibility. Had they re-signed Howard, the Lakers would have been over the salary cap after paying just three players: Bryant, Howard and Pau Gasol.
It wasn't just the money, though. Howard and Bryant initially attempted to play nice, but they have polar opposite personalities, an issue that popped up when the fun-loving Howard reportedly did mocking impressions of the super-competitive Bryant. Rumors of a postgame verbal exchange and reports of an air-it-out team meeting also surfaced. Then, as Howard walked off the court in his final game, guess who came out to the Lakers' bench and received a standing ovation? Bryant, of course. When it came time to court Howard this summer, Bryant told Lakers.com that he had no plans to retire soon, as if preemptively staking his claim. Once face-to-face with Howard, he then reportedly adopted an "older and wiser" approach in his pitch. One report indicated that Howard was put off by Bryant's approach; Howard disputed that characterization of the meeting. Regardless, it's safe to say these two didn't exactly hit it off. Shortly after Howard made his announcement, Bryant posted a photo of himself with Gasol on Instagram and reportedly unfollowed Howard on Twitter. The Los Angeles Times reported that Bryant has since said that he is "happy" for Howard but that he was not disappointed and was "dead center" in response to Howard's departure. Bryant's approach only reinforces the logic behind Howard's decision to leave; both All-Stars seem in full agreement that the timing just wasn't right.