Kobe Bryant on his free agent pitch to Dwight Howard: ‘I have to make sure I have the final word’

Kelly Dwyer

Dwight Howard is doing what Dwight Howard usually does. The attention shifted away from him, once his petulance cost him an early exit in Game 4 of Los Angeles’ first round loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and he can’t say “no” to any credentialed media member that wants to talk about Dwight Howard with Dwight Howard. So Dwight Howard talked about Dwight Howard recently, leaking news of his intentions to seriously consider signing with Houston and Dallas when his contract with the Lakers (the one he committed to a year ago while a member of the Orlando Magic, because he can’t say “no” to anyone) expires at the end of June.

As a result, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are going to do what Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have always done. They’re going to look Dwight Howard in the eye and ask him if he really wants to leave 72 degrees and sunny and tens of millions of dollars to leave Los Angeles. Even if such a departure might be the best basketball decision for someone who has made a career out of not making basketball-related decisions.

Here’s part of Kobe Bryant’s sit-down interview with Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles:

"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," Bryant said. "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."

This was always going to be the case, even if Howard ended the meeting smiling at and hugging his should-be mentor in Bryant, then deciding to head to Houston the next day.

Bryant and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak are aware that Dwight Howard is the man that was swayed by teammates he didn’t want to play with to stay with a team he didn’t want to be part of during a routine plane ride from San Antonio to Orlando in March of 2012. They’re also aware that a trip to a sunny Dodger game in July with Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and a whole big bowl of Skittles all for Dwight should be able to trump whatever presentation Quentin Richardson and Glen “Big Baby” Davis gave their All-Star center in 2012. A “final word” in that setting can go a long way.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Kobe is falling right in line with the rest of us, and underestimating Dwight Howard.

What if Dwight has, shock horror, learned from his mistakes? What if the same basketball know-how that left him uneasy with a capped-out and moving-nowhere Orlando Magic team is forcing him into considering leaving a Lakers team that barely made the playoffs last year, while moving forward (while majorly capped-out) with the oldest player in the NBA in Steve Nash, and a Mamba 2.0 that is recovering from an Achilles tear?

Laker fans won’t like hearing this, but heading to Houston would be the better decision for Dwight, especially when you factor in his state income tax savings. Houston is certainly no champion in waiting, the team features an All-Star in James Harden but has quite a lot to figure out, but it’s certainly a better option than a Los Angeles team that will not be allowed to use several cap exceptions this summer because of its status as luxury tax-payers. It’s true that Dwight would have rule of the roost in Los Angeles when Pau Gasol and possibly Kobe Bryant step aside in the summer of 2014; but that’s a year from now, an eternity to an NBA player that has to bang in the paint until then, and there’s no guarantee that help will be on the way once Bryant finally retires.

There is the significant possibility that all this is May and June talk, leading up to a July full of actual decisions, and it’s true that we could be overlooking Dwight’s repeated history of doing the sorts of things that would put Howard back in a Laker uniform after Kobe gets “the final word.” Howard was traded to the Lakers, though. He didn’t choose that team, and despite the 72 and sunny, he did not have fun in 2012-13.

No Laker did, if we’re honest, but that doesn’t mean each and every signed-in member of staff doesn’t want a chance to get it right in 2013-14. Howard won’t even be allowed to attempt to sign in until the first week of July, and by that time we’re sure just about everyone outside of Los Angeles and Houston will be pretty sick of this story by the time Kobe gets to have his final word.

That’s assuming that everyone – up to and including Kobe and Dwight – aren’t sick of this already.