Kobe Bryant has been where Dwight Howard is–a free agent considering leaving the famed Los Angeles Lakers for uncertain pastures. It took a meeting with the team owner, the late Jerry Buss, to convince Bryant to stay in 2004. Bryant hopes his words will have the same impact on Howard, the center who played just one drama-filled season with the Lakers.
Reports have surfaced that Howard has already made up his mind to flee the Lakers for the Houston Rockets, his major beef with LA being coach Mike D’Antoni’s system that mitigates his inside strengths. But until he does, Bryant said he is committed to selling Howard on the Lakers and their potential to make a championship run.
One source to ESPN said that Bryant came “very” close to leaving for the rival Clippers until a face-to-face meeting with Buss, who sold his superstar guard on the Lakers’ unbending commitment to winning titles and acquiring talent to get there.
The Laker Nation held its collective breath as Bryant debated his future. And while Howard’s popularity hardly approaches Bryant’s, losing him with no compensation in return would be a significant blow. General manager Mitch Kupchak remembers Bryant’s vacillation well.
“There was a lot of uncertainty on what Kobe would do (in 2004), a lot of rumors very similar to what’s going on right now,” Kupchak said. “When the phone call came in, we didn’t know which way it would go. I would say it’s very similar.”
He added: “There was a period where Kobe was earning his stripes in Los Angeles. Here it is, seven, eight or nine years later and I think that’s what would happen with Dwight once he puts his roots down and says ‘This is the place I want to be.’
“I think that’s part of the problem. I think the city feels they were renting him for a year. But the reality is he couldn’t sign an extension. Financially, the rules provide that he wait until July 1 to get the best deal he could possibly get. It was one of those situations where please tell us you want to be here and please show us you want to be here. But he can’t do it until July 1. I think that’s part of it. Of course the way the season went didn’t help things either.”
Howard was underwhelming as a Laker, often-injured and seeming disinterested at times. But he’s still young and athletic and among the top centers in the game. That’s why he is such a hot commodity.
Besides Bryant and the Lakers, Howard also plans to meet with the Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. He was scheduled to have dinner Sunday night shortly after 12:01 a.m. with a Rockets group that includes Hakeem Olajuwon, James Harden, coach Kevin McHale, Chandler Parsons and owner Les Alexander.
They can offer Howard a four-year, $88 million contract after agreeing in principle to trade forward Thomas Robinson to Portland for two future second-round picks and the rights to two European players, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Houston also waived veterans guards Aaron Brooks and Carlos Delfino to clear more salary cap space.