By KEVIN DING
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER firstname.lastname@example.org
EL SEGUNDO – The guy really does love to make people smile. So in that sense, this is definitely Dwight Howard's time.
His arrival here – especially with news from Philadelphia that Andrew Bynum's knee already hurts, a bone bruise contributing to him being sidelined three weeks – has people all around Howard in Southern California smiling simply upon seeing him.
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It's not yet about meeting the expectations. It's still about the giddy excitement from the Lakers having Howard.
And after the mass flooding he escaped in Orlando, Howard needs these hopeful, sunny smiles to savor before anyone gets into the down-and-dirty business of actually winning an NBA title. Mere calm before the storm wouldn't have cut it.
"This," he said Monday, "is one of the happiest moments of my life."
Reads like ridiculous hyperbole. The funny thing was that it sounded like nothing but his reality when the words came out of Howard's mouth.
The emotion comes from that deep and is that radiant. After he finished the Lakers' media day event Monday, Howard pulled his bright red socks up to meet the bottom of his shorts, hugged some more people along his path to his car and brought that smile toward the gaggle of Lakers fans calling and cheering from behind a nearby fence.
This is who Howard is; this is all he wants to be. While everyone is giving a reason why this will or won't work with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, Howard has an interesting analysis on why it should.
The key, he said, is that everyone realizes "all we have to do is be ourselves. We don't have to do anything extra, anything out of the ordinary."
Howard knows he stumbled in Orlando as he tried to assume the weight of Disney World. The idea he is now free to be me – and meeting Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show after she voiced a character in Howard's favorite movie "Finding Nemo" – makes this the undisputed happiest place on earth for him.
He still has his crew of buddies to share this new adventure, manager Kev Samples and trainer Bryan Meyer anchoring the group, but Howard is settling in on his own. He just moved into his own place after months living out of L'Ermitage, a Beverly Hills hotel. He's getting healthy and increasingly can be expected to play on Oct. 30 opening night (though "I hope so" is as far as he'll go in evaluating his back rehab).
"He's just very thankful to be here, just feels very blessed to be here," said Bryant, who reported "great communication over the summer" with Howard. "Having gone through that whole ordeal and to finally be in a position where he's finally excited and ready to go, it just feels like a blessing."
The truth is that having Bryant here is one epic reason why no sense of pressure has engulfed Howard – and none will anytime soon, either.
Bryant is not prepared to hand over anything to Howard.
Bryant is full-on, Boy-Scout-ready as far as preparing to be prepared, though.
"I got a question earlier about whose team this is," Bryant said. "I don't want to get into the 'Well, we share' (response). No, it's my team, all right?
"But I want to make sure that Dwight, when I retire, this is going to be his. I want to teach him everything I possibly know, so that when I step away, this organization can ride on like I never left.
"This organization has done so much for me; I'm so thankful to them. That's one of the conversations that Jimmy (Buss) and I had over the summer: 'If you have the opportunity to get Dwight, get him, because I want to see this organization continue to flourish and continue to win championships and be successful long after I'm gone. So I'm very happy for the opportunity."
Howard has had numerous conversations along those lines with Bryant.
"Learning from Kobe, this is something I think I need for myself so I can grow as a player and a person," Howard said. "He's been through almost every situation possible, on the court and off the court. And I think he can really help me out a lot."
Howard also said: "I know he's going to be tough on me. I expect that. I want him to do that. I want to be that guy. So I'll take all the heat that he's going to give me, because I know that at the end of the day it's going to make me a better player, a better person, and it's going to make this team better."
No, this isn't about to be some Shaq-vs.-Kobe star wars sequel. Shaquille O'Neal was always more dark clown than happy camper, and Bryant was never cut out to be another dude's baby bro anyway.
Bryant wants to teach. Howard is ready to learn.
If it stays that way, everyone will still be smiling when the season's over.