When Kobe Bryant speaks, his teammates tend to listen.
That’s why the Black Mamba is making a smart decision by waiting to get the last word in with Dwight Howard this offseason. The big man is projected to be recruited by a number of suitors in unrestricted free agency and will be hearing various pitches over the next few weeks.
ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin sat down with Bryant on Monday to discuss a wide variety of issues—including his recovery from an Achilles injury the superstar suffered at the end of the regular season—but none of those topics were as important to the future of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise as No. 24’s plans to keep D12 in the Purple and Gold.
This is what Bryant had to say on the subject:
For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be. We all want him here. But then that's when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don't start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument. I'll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word.
Howard hasn’t given any indication on where he will sign, with his latest comments coming courtesy of the Los Angeles Times’ T.J. Simers. Howard told the reporter, "It's free agency and I have the opportunity to choose where I'm going to play. God opens doors, and I'm relying on my faith to direct me. I want to win; I've done everything else. I just want to win."
When asked if he could win with the Lakers, Howard just grinned and told Simers that “any team” he is on technically could.
Given that Superman believes he can win a title no matter where he lands—despite his lowest season averages since '06-07 with 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game—it could come down to money. If that is the sticking point, the Lakers certainly have a major advantage over the rest of his suitors.
According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, L.A. can re-sign the center with a five-year, $118 million deal, while the rest of the league can only offer a maximum of four years and $87.6 million to poach him away from the Lakers.
You can certainly expect Bryant to be in his ear with that figure when he makes his closing remarks, as $30 million isn’t an insignificant amount. While Howard could make most of the difference up by signing another max deal in four years, there may not be an opportunity.
As Bryant recently proved and Howard has definitely experienced over the past two seasons, injuries are a part of the game. Something severe could happen at any moment, and sometimes it’s better to be financially secure on a guaranteed deal than have to wait four years to recoup $30 million.
What will Howard do in free agency?
There are plenty of issues to iron out—including Pau Gasol’s expiring contract and coach Mike D’Antoni’s ability to handle the personalities on the roster—but the Lakers wouldn't be a terrible long-term destination for Howard.
As one of the more thoughtful and calculating players in the league, the Black Mamba will likely point out the good and minimize the bad in his conversation with Howard. Don’t be surprised if it works, as the future Hall of Famer has an uncanny knack for getting his way.