Hoops and Howard


LONDON - The surreal scene of an Olympic media mixed zone following a basketball game between the United States and Argentina on Friday evening:

At one end was Kevin Love, an NBA star who has talked openly about his frustrations with ownership of the Minnesota Timberwolves not providing enough talent around him to build a playoff contender.

At the other was Kobe Bryant, a Hall of Famer whose organization has provided him with enough talent over the years to fill the River Thames.

Which it has done again.

Love them. Hate them. Care nothing about them. The Lakers are about winning championships, or at least offering a roster that will have an opportunity most seasons. They do again today. Hold those thoughts about Oklahoma City ruling the Western Conference for years to come. Things just got real interesting.

Few times in Olympic history has a player not competing become the main fixture of conversation as nations unite, but Dwight Howard did so here without even being here.

The U.S. beat Argentina 109-83 and will get its expected finals match against Spain on Sunday, when Lakers teammates Bryant and Pau Gasol oppose each other for a gold medal and yet will undoubtedly be thinking about what is to come after hugs are exchanged and flags are raised and someone’s anthem concludes.

“We just added one of the greatest defensive players of all time,” Bryant said of Los Angeles giving up Andrew Bynum in a four-team deal that landed it the league’s best center. “We’re a championship-caliber team, absolutely. I’m excited. It’s going to be sensational.”

LeBron James wouldn’t answer questions about it. Kevin Durant said he didn’t care, but you know he does. Manu Ginobili was upset Argentina lost but impressed with the trade. Andre Iguodala was too busy coming to terms with being shipped from Philadelphia to Denver.

Love was probably counting the days until he becomes an unrestricted free agent. It’s in 2015.

NBA players and Olympians were questioned about how much an impact Howard will bring to a Lakers side that now has Steve Nash running the point and Bryant and Gasol in their usual spots.

Funny. Bryant said he and Durant joked about such a scenario earlier in the summer, but the young Oklahoma City star was convinced the Lakers couldn’t get Howard without giving up Gasol. Bryant wasn’t so sure. He thought it possible.

He knows the history too well.

“I told (Durant), ‘Well, we got Pau for virtually nothing (in 2008), so I think we can make this happen, too,” Bryant said. Championship franchises do what’s necessary to win, even when an ego-driven commissioner wrongly denies a trade for an All-Star point guard and then allows him to go to the team in which you share an arena. Chris Paul is here, too. You can imagine his thoughts on the Howard deal as his Clippers literally became the second best team in L.A. again overnight.

If the Lakers and Thunder played today, Oklahoma City probably still wins. If they play in a conference finals in late May, who knows. Howard has proven to be as much diva as dominant and Nash can’t guard a chair, but we’re now looking at a Lakers team that will start four Hall of Famers.

Can you imagine the number of dunks Howard will get off pick-and-rolls from Nash? Gasol might now be a fourth option. That’s a bit scary.

That the champion Heat might get a reprieve from being the league’s most despised team for a while won’t bother anyone in L.A., whose franchise resume of success and banners has always been a symbol for others to loathe.

“The Lakers have always made smart decisions and business moves,” Bryant said. “Credit management. The deal for (Paul) got pulled from underneath us and now they come up with something better. That’s impressive.

“(Howard) just needs to come in and do what he does. Look, I’ll play for maybe 2-3 more years. The team is his. He’s not going to have to come and sacrifice much of anything. He can now carry the franchise well after I’m gone. Dwight couldn’t be in a better position. Look at all the great centers who have been in L.A. He’s the next one.”

Yep, it was a surreal scene, all right.

Gasol had just led Spain past Russia and into the gold medal game when he came around the corner of the mixed zone to face a hoard of reporters.

One offered this welcome:

“We need to talk to you about Howard.”

Said Gasol, smiling: “No (bleep).”

Ed Graney is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/graney Follow him on Twitter @edgraney He can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com