Is newly acquired All-Star center Dwight Howard, left, destined to become… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
Without prompting, Dwight Howard appeared more than eager to bust out another imitation.
This time, Howard didn't mimic the high-shrieked yell from former Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy. Howard didn't break out into his Charles Barkley impression by enunciating the word "turrible." Howard didn't make fun of Shaquille O'Neal's monotone voice, either.
Instead, he relived Kobe Bryant's congratulatory phone call when the Lakers officially introduced Howard at a press conference Friday after acquiring him from the Orlando Magic in a four-team, 12-player trade.
"Hey man, yo yo," Howard said, imitating Bryant's serious and giddy tone during a brief pause for Bryant from the 2012 London Olympics. "L.A is happy to have you. You're on our team now. We're looking forward to getting this ring. I'm happy for you, man. It's all love. I'm happy for you."
Jim and Jeanie Buss, the Lakers executive vice presidents for the respective basketball and business operations, laughed as they sat in the front row. So, too, did Lakers Coach Mike Brown as he cracked a wide smile. Various Lakers assistant coaches standing in the back hunched over while trying to contain themselves.
Howard's recollection of his conversation with Bryant marked the first of many impressions he'll likely do. He plans to nail down voices for Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace soon enough. But the reenactment also illustrates how much Howard and Bryant have come a long way as uncertainty surrounded the past year regarding both the Lakers' future and how a dynamic would evolve.
The two have always remained friendly. Bryant and Howard formed great chemistry during the 2008 Olympics and often remarked how fun it would be to play with each other. But the Lakers' quest to secure Howard leading into the March 15 trade deadline this past season went sour after a different phone conversation. Then, Bryant stressed to Howard that it's his team and he would even have to defer to Gasol in the scoring pecking order. Laker officials then learned part of Howard's disinterest partly stemmed from his dissatisfaction with the role Bryant outlined.
Howard's sentiments changed since then.
"That's behind us now," Howard said. "For me, I want to be a great leader and have the opportunity to learn from the best from Kobe on how to lead a team. To be a great leader you have to learn how to follow. I'm looking forward to following in the steps of Kobe Bryant and how he leads a team and Steve Nashand Pau and just the guys who have been here. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from those guys. One day I want to be the guy who leads a team to a championship. This is a perfect time to start."
Howard took great lengths to say all the right things. He constantly mentioned wanting a "fresh start." Howard declined to relive his tumultuous past year with the Orlando Magic. Although he praised the Lakers' starting lineup that features Bryant, Gasol, Nash and World Peace, Howard declined to echo any "multiple championship" guarantee that the Miami Heat's Big Three famously did at a pep rally two years ago. Howard's deference to Bryant fits this script. Yet, as much as the Lakers won't know how such a talented starting lineup will play together until the season actually starts, Howard's change of tune seems genuine.
"I'm going to play two, maybe three more years … then the team is his," Bryant said. "I'm excited for the Laker franchise. 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."
Clearly, the two Lakers stars realize they'll need each other more than ever.
Bryant's best chance at securing his sixth NBAchampionship and possibly extending his career rests on how well he paces his body. Lower minutes, more passing and more efficient shot selection will do that. Bryant even suggested Howard could increase his career average of 18.4 points and 57.7% shooting because the Princeton offense, Nash's strength at pick-and-rolls and Gasol's passing will ensure frequent post touches.
Meanwhile, Howard's coming off a year in which he's acknowledged the endless trade reports have "damaged" his reputation. He acted indifferently to becoming the NBA's villain in the same way LeBron James did after hosting an hour-long special called "The Decision," where he officially left Cleveland for Miami. But as James discovered this past summer and in the Olympic Games, winning provides the best cure.