Perhaps it was the last time there was true clarity in the Lakers' front office this season.

I asked Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss a month and a half ago – before Dwight Howard started playing but Steve Nash stopped, before Mike Brown's defense was replaced by Mike D'Antoni's offense – about what then and even still now boils down to the central issue for the Lakers' franchise moving forward:

Doesn't Dwight still have a lot to learn as far as being a winner, about becoming the kind of mentally strong leader that is the mark of a truly great Laker?

Buss' response: "I don't feel that, but if you ask the question, I'd say Kobe would probably be the best teacher of that."

Yes, yes, yes.

The thorny part of that completely sensible answer is that maybe the question is inherently flawed.

Maybe being that kind of winner is something you can never really learn.

Howard's mental toughness came into question again after the Lakers' loss Sunday night to Orlando's crew of NBA novices. It was enough for Kobe Bryant to question directly what Howard and Pau Gasol are doing.

Bryant suggested to Gasol through the press that it's time to "put your big-boy pants on" with regard to accepting fewer post touches – which Bryant noted he has also accepted despite his own passion for the post.

But Bryant was hardly venomous toward Gasol, confident they together can tap back into Gasol's "Black Swan" again: "I know him," Bryant said.

Bryant more clearly placed blame for the loss on Howard, who shot 9 for 21 on free throws – officially following in Shaquille O'Neal's footsteps because no Laker had missed more than he made from the line with at least 20 attempts since O'Neal's final Lakers season in 2004.