The Los Angeles Lakers are doing their best to hold onto superstar center Dwight Howard and lock him up to a long-term deal, but the franchise will have to sweat out the 27-year-old's multiple meetings with other prospective NBA suitors.
As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Monday, Howard has already met with the Houston Rockets, and will still receive pitches from the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors.
All the options at Howard's disposal are sure to be intriguing—especially with the tumultuous campaign he endured in LA this past year.
Having said that, the Lakers are taking every step necessary to convince Howard that their organization is the best environment to foster the next critical stage of his promising career.
In a recent edition of the Los Angeles Times, a full-page ad was taken out encouraging Howard to stay, per the team's official Twitter page:
The rules of free agency play into the Lakers' hands, because the Lakers can sign Howard to a five-year, $117 million max contract. Other suitors such as the Houston Rockets can only offer four years and $88 million, per Wojnarowski.
It was essentially a given that all-time great Kobe Bryant would be prominently involved in the Lakers' recruiting—even though the relationship between he and Howard is a bit lukewarm.
Bryant knows how valuable Howard can be in his pursuit of NBA title No. 6. Wojnarowski points out that Howard is comfortable living in LA and knows how successful the Lakers have been in building championship contenders.
Combining the winning resume of Bryant in the Tuesday meeting with the successful Buss family and GM Mitch Kupchak should only enhance the Lakers' chances of keeping Howard.
Speaking of a winning tradition, the modest but absolutely vital presence of Phil Jackson as a consultant looms large, too.
Hoopsworld.com NBA insider Alex Kennedy reports that Jackson expects Howard to "get on board" and that Jackson's involvement makes the situation in LA more attractive to the big man:
Howard has a lot of respect for Jackson and believes that the legendary coach could help resolve some of the problems that surfaced last year, including the lack of opportunities for Howard and Pau Gasol in the paint. However, Howard wants to see Jackson in a “defined, long-term role” rather than just as a mascot who won’t be around after this week’s meeting.
It remains to be seen whether Howard will get his wish with regard to Jackson's defined role with the Lakers moving forward, but it's impossible to argue with results. Jackson has 11 championship rings as a coach, and if anyone knows what it takes to build a winner, it's him.
Kennedy also highlights how the Lakers will have the final say amongst the teams scheduled to meet with Howard.
Reports by Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA and the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, though, show how serious the Lakers truly are—because they also seem to have gotten the first say:
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met briefly with Dwight Howard in person shortly after 9 p.m., according to a league source— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 1, 2013
Source: Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak indeed met with Dwight Howard briefly after free agency started at 9:01 p.m. Lakers pushing hard...— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) July 1, 2013
Sam Amick of USA Today provides more details, and notes that two meetings actually took place. Billboards have been put up around the city to sway Howard to stay, but the leverage Kupchak may have gained is arguably the most important development to date.
Which team is the best fit for Dwight Howard?
This is something only Howard's incumbent team could have done, and Kupchak capitalized on even the very last minute he was certain to have Howard under contract.
It was a rather small gesture in the broad scope of the Howard sweepstakes, but that type of dedication and the extra money LA can offer may be enough to ultimately keep D12 in LA.