COMMENTARY | Dwight Howard will give the Los Angeles Lakers the final word when they meet with the free agent on Tuesday, July 2. Confirmed to be in attendance are head coach Mike D'Antoni, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Time Warner television executives.
Though it's strange for the gold standard of professional sports organizations to have to sell anything to the offseason's most prized possession, the Lakers are entrenched in the new reality of the NBA landscape, where the collective bargaining agreement adopted in 2011 has successfully (to this point, at least) mitigated the large-market teams' advantage.
Now, the Lakers have to play in the same sandbox as the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks when it comes to wooing Howard. When they meet, the Lakers, like every team before them, will have to come strong.
The obvious points -- the financial advantage to the tune of nearly $30 million guaranteed over the life of the contract, their strong history and marketing opportunities Hollywood has to offer are all solid selling points the Lakers can pitch to a star athlete. The Lakers have to look beyond those, however, since Howard is well-aware of it all going into presentation.
LA has to dig deeper. Here are five key points the Lakers must make in their pitch to keep Dwight Howard:
1. Last season was an anomaly
The Lakers had substantial injuries to all five starters and still managed to make the playoffs in 2012-13. They had to contend with a new head coach installing a new system without the aid of a training camp. When they did have some continuity at the end of the season, they played well before Kobe Bryant's ruptured Achilles' tendon derailed their chance for postseason success.
All that considered, there's no reason things won't be better with an additional year to get things right and for the players to get healthy. The Lakers need to reiterate just how much of a perfect storm of unfortunate events last season was with the understanding that the Lakers didn't have all of their pieces in place.
2. Mike D'Antoni will adjust his offense
One of the biggest roadblocks with Howard returning to the Lakers is his dissatisfaction with the system D'Antoni installed that places less of an emphasis on post play and more on outside shooting. The Lakers, more specifically D'Antoni, need to explain to him that he will be featured in the offense and that with the aid of a full camp, things will be more seamless.
The other factor is that the Lakers' crop of aging stars won't be around for much longer, and at that point, Howard will be the centerpiece.
3. Be a hero -- be the good guy
Howard may has already worn out his welcome in the minds of many fans in Los Angeles, but if he were to return to Staples Center, become the face of the franchise and win, he could become a hero of epic proportions. If that were to happen, he would be revered not only in Southern California, but throughout the league for being loyal.
The former No. 1 overall pick cares what people think about him, and like LeBron James tried to do after 2010, Howard doesn't want to embrace the villain role. The kind of hero he'd be in Laker-land if he could find a way to be a part of a championship squad would be unparalleled. All of this would almost surely appeal to his "good guy" perception of himself.
The best part for Dwight? All he has to do with the right pieces around him is continue to lead the league in rebounding, something he did with ease last season while hurt, and be a defensive force. He'll have scorers and players who can create surrounding him under all circumstances.
4. A chance to build a super-team in 2014
The Lakers may not have what Houston can offer in terms of young superstars, but their buying power increases exponentially when all of their largest contracts come off the books in 2014. They'll have the cap room to pursue a number of major potential free agents including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and a host of others.
Howard would have the opportunity to recruit them and help orchestrate a new super-team of his own in Los Angeles. Recent history with the Miami Heat has shown that such a strategy can be effective, and if Howard wants to win, he could be attracted to that blueprint for success.
5. The Zen Master -- the X Factor?
While it appears that Phil Jackson won't be present at the meeting on Tuesday, he has been in contact with Howard via text and Twitter. The Lakers and Jackson had a messy falling out at the surface level, but he and Mitch Kupchak remain friendly and he has obvious ties to the organization because of his engagement to owner and executive Jeanie Buss.
The Lakers need to milk this point, because Howard respects Jackson as does any basketball historian. If he does indeed have ties to the team, they need to sell it, mention it, bottle it up and give it to Howard straight. It may serve as their biggest trump card.
Now, the waiting game begins.
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Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
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