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"Well then, take them. You can shoot. If you think about it, you'll miss. If you worry about other people, you'll miss. You need to keep shooting."
During practice when Howard caught the ball deep in the post, Bryant hollered, "Finish!" He pumped a fist when Howard fired. Bryant urged Howard to observe him as well. "I make guys uncomfortable in practice," Bryant says. "If you want to get to the next level, you have to punish the guy guarding you, make him think about if he wants to play in the NBA anymore."
Guard Chris Douglas-Roberts was the unfortunate soul matched up with Bryant early in camp as he put on his demonstration for Howard. "Kobe is a lunatic," says Douglas-Roberts, who was waived on Monday. "He's fouling you, talking trash, intimidating referees, intimidating assistant coaches. If you don't respond, he dominates you. Dwight is naturally a nice guy with a big heart. But you have to be a little bit of a lunatic to do this. He is learning from Kobe how to win. Everyone here is telling him, 'You've got the physique and you've got the tools to be a killer. Don't care what anybody thinks. Go do it.'"
Coaches are encouraging Howard to draw more fouls, even though he shot only 49.1% from the line last season. "When you're around other confident people, more of your shots will go in," says assistant Chuck Person.
Teammates are also exhorting Howard to speak up in the locker room, even though he's not as experienced as the others. "Come in the huddle, tell us what's in your head, what you're feeling," says 36-year-old forward Antawn Jamison. "That's how you learn."
Howard will absorb Bryant's leadership style, as well as Nash's, in the search for his own. "Steve isn't a dictator," says Grant Hill, now also in L.A., with the Clippers. "He's a conductor. He's all positive. Because of what Dwight's been through, I think he'll really listen to those guys."
Howard is more outgoing than Nash, more benevolent than Bryant and more dedicated to the dirty work than O'Neal. The similarities between the two amiable big men are mostly superficial. "Shaq was a goofball, but Shaq was a big a--hole," Bryant says. "And I was a little a--hole."
If Howard must be matched with a Lakers legend, it's not the one you'd expect.
In November 1981, armed with a new 25-year, $25 million contract, Magic Johnson clashed with coach Paul Westhead after a game in Utah and told reporters he wanted to be traded. The Lakers, who had won a championship under Westhead 18 months earlier, fired him the next morning and promoted assistant Pat Riley. Johnson was booed upon his return to the Forum, a hideous episode that would be buried over time by Johnson's many championships, public works and winning smiles. Today, one of the Lakers' rookie guards is Darius Earvin Johnson-Odom, so named because his mom adored Magic.
Howard will follow the Johnson blueprint as he attempts to rehab his image. At a mortifying press conference in April he threw an arm around Stan Van Gundy moments after the Orlando coach acknowledged that Howard was lobbying the front office to fire him. Less than two months later Van Gundy was dismissed (along with general manager Otis Smith), but Howard bailed anyway. He knows he may be jeered on the road all season—an awkward situation for a self-described pleaser—but do not expect him to grit his teeth the way LeBron initially did. During a photo shoot with Nash for this story, Howard belted out the lyrics to "I Love L.A.," and the normally understated Nash crooned with him. "When he wins, all the criticism will go away to a certain extent," says Lakers coach Mike Brown. "Kind of like [with] LeBron."