Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

With last night’s win over the visiting Utah Jazz, the Lakers pulled into a tie for…

Was I really going to write “11th in the Western Conference” right there?

Yep, I was, and no matter how much this team continues to set us free from all our lofty expectations, the whole season still seems hallucinatory to me.

Since we’re all forced to continue watching, let’s talk about the most interesting thing that happened at Staples Center last night. It wasn’t Pau Gasol playing like his family had been taken hostage, or Kobe’s assist-to-shot ratio, or even Metta World Peace firing 11 shots from downtown. It was Bryant’s remarks following the game to USA Today about teammate and fellow all-star Dwight Howard.

“It’s a matter of learning (for Howard). What I try to tell him is that it’s not necessarily about what you (want), how you are as a person, or what’s comfortable for you. It’s really about what’s going to help elevate us.

From what we’re able to observe, Dwight Howard isn’t a confrontational, in-your-face personality. During his first several years in Orlando, it was his youthful demeanor and playful wit that endeared him to NBA fans. You could make the argument that his avoid-confronation-at-all-costs behavior is what ultimately made him look so foolish during his last season with the Magic.

Bryant played a big chunk of his career with another ex-Magic center with a similar personality, someone he eluded to when referencing Howard:

“It’s a process for him. He wants to be one of the greats of all time, and to do that you have to learn from the greats of all time – be it Bill Russell, be it Shaq. I mean Shaq was a moody, temperamental dude. So if you watch all the big men who have come before, you start to see a common denominator. … I want (Howard) to be great, so I’m trying to push him.”

But how effective will Kobe’s sometimes unpolished method of leadership be with a personality like Howard? And the bigger question, will Howard still be wearing the purple and gold after February 21st?

“I don’ t know what the future holds. I don’t know if (Howard will be traded)…But I know that as long as he’s here, I’m going to continue to help him, mentor him, help him be great. That’s all I can do.

… And the rest is on Howard to adapt, get healthy, tread some water, and most importantly, morph back into Dwight Howard again.

With the trade deadline looming, the Lakers reeling and Howard’s signature on a long-term contract not certain, the time for substantial change is now. Whether that change comes in the form of Howard’s temperament, or the name on the front of his jersey, remains to be seen…