Lakers guard Kobe Bryant talks to reporters at an interview session during… (Aaron M. Sprecher / EPA )
HOUSTON — The gulf between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard became literal Friday, with NBA officials placing the Lakers stars on opposite sides of a giant hotel ballroom for All-Star media interviews.
There was no underlying message, subtle or otherwise.
Bryant and Howard were stationed in those spots because that's where league officials had set up streaming video feeds.
The teammates were also on different ends of the emotional spectrum, Bryant remaining upbeat as he discussed the Lakers' struggles while a dour Howard conceded he wasn't enjoying himself on the court as much as he had earlier in his career.
"At the present time, no," Howard said. "Hopefully it gets better."
Fun times could still be had with the Lakers (25-29) in the coming months. Howard said General Manager Mitch Kupchak and other team executives assured him he would remain a Laker after Thursday's trade deadline.
"They told me they weren't going to trade me," Howard said. "That's what Mitch said."
But would Howard stay a Laker beyond this season? He declined to talk about his plans for free agency other than to say he's "got to do what makes me happy."
He certainly didn't seem happy Friday.
Bryant appeared giddy by comparison after arriving via a private jet that also carried Howard here for Sunday's All-Star game at the Toyota Center. The veteran guard cheerfully entertained questions about his new Chinese Twitter account and the opportunity to get away from a season that has gone wildly astray.
"You hit the reset button and hopefully there's an 'Easy' button like in the commercial you can hit and come back in the second half of the season and things are a little easier for us," Bryant said.
Bryant and Howard could use some uncomplicated moments in their relationship. Their last month together has included a clear-the-air meeting in Memphis, which only served as a prelude to Howard's father saying the teammates needed to sit down again to discuss lingering issues.
They could get some quality face-to-face time here over the next few days. Howard said he wasn't concerned about aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder, in part because he didn't expect anyone to intentionally foul him in an exhibition game.
Bryant said he intended to enjoy himself in his 15th All-Star appearance before resuming his season-long worries about the Lakers.
"It's an opportunity to get some rest, regroup and put the first half of the season behind us and move on," Bryant said.
He could be back
Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett clarified recent comments that this would be his final All-Star game, saying he only meant that he could not take future selections for granted.
"To make that kind of assumption when the league is getting better and the younger guys are getting better," Garnett told NBA TV, "I wasn't going to do that."
Garnett, 36, has two more years and $23.5 million remaining on his contract with the Celtics.
High flyers, low profiles
It's a good thing these guys are being asked to dunk basketballs and not sell products.
There isn't one marquee player involved in Saturday's dunk contest, an event that once attracted the game's top talent.
Of course, that doesn't mean there's no bravado among participants Eric Bledsoe (Clippers), Kenneth Faried (Denver), Gerald Green (Indiana), James White (New York), Terrence Ross (Toronto) and defending champion Jeremy Evans (Utah).
"You know, I've got a dunk that will really go down in history," said Green, keeping the specifics of his plan a secret. "This dunk is going to be one of the best dunks of all time."
East Coach Erik Spoelstra selected Miami's Chris Bosh as the replacement starter for Boston's Rajon Rondo, who will miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury. Bosh will be joined in the starting lineup by Heat teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. . . . New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is expected to play for the East despite suffering a deep bruise on his right arm Wednesday during a game against Toronto.
Chicago Tribune staff writer K.C. Johnson contributed to this report.