Sources: Lakers' pitch 'honest'
Nine years ago, Kobe Bryant stood in a place very much like the one Dwight Howard was in Tuesday afternoon as he heard the Los Angeles Lakers' final pitch to persuade him to re-sign with the franchise.
Phil Jackson had just retired after a loss to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Shaquille O'Neal had been traded. The Lakers' other key players -- Gary Payton and Karl Malone -- were aging. And the team across town had a collection of young stars that appeared to be on the cusp of a breakthrough.
More on the Lakers
For more news, notes and analysis of the Lakers, check out the Lakers Index. Blog
The Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, stepped in at the last minute for a face-to-face meeting with Bryant and promised him that even though it may look as if other teams are better positioned to contend for titles, the Lakers always would do everything it took to surround him with talent to contend for championships.
Tuesday afternoon, Bryant and Lakers point guard Steve Nash delivered a similar message to Howard, multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting have described to ESPN. Bryant and Nash told Howard that while other teams may seem better positioned to win in the immediate future, only the Lakers had players who actually had won multiple championships and knew what it took to win them.
Howard, who is hoping to have a decision by Friday, repeatedly stressed in the meeting that his main goal is to win titles, sources said, and Nash and Bryant argued that while they are both older than the Houston Rockets' James Harden and Chandler Parsons, as well as Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, only his teammates in Los Angeles actually have ever won anything.
Bryant told Howard he needed to "plant his roots in one place and grow." He said there always would be issues to deal with in whatever city he plays but that he would be better able to deal with them once he commits to one team and one city, sources described.
Howard, at one point, asked Bryant and Nash how healthy they truly would be next season, sources said. Bryant assured Howard that he believes he will return to an elite level. Nash told Howard that he is confident he will get back into the kind of shape he was in before breaking his leg in the second game of the season. He also asked Howard to give this group of players another chance to make up for an injury-riddled 2012-13 season.
The discussion, one source said, surprisingly had little to do with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. But it did get into some of the other issues -- such as Howard's health -- that had been the source of tension during the season, and the three men had what sources described as an "honest" discussion about them.
"I thought it was a very productive meeting," Nash told reporters after the sit-down adjourned. "We talked about last year and how it can be built on. I think a lot of the excitement of last year never came true, so it was unfinished. We want to find a way to get him back, regroup, retool and make it happen."
Nash, who said he felt "positive about the meeting," shared another message to Howard imparted during the session: "This is the fan base that will embrace him for many years."
Unlike the Rockets, who flew Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler into L.A. to be part of the presentation, the Lakers did not have any of the franchise's legends present nor were there any video messages from Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy et al. Former Lakers coach Jackson also was not involved in the pitch. However, the 11-time champion coach sent a dispatch to Howard via Twitter before heading to vacation in Montana over the weekend.
"While i'm there I expect to see you get on board," Jackson tweeted to Howard. "tis ur place."
Jackson sent another message to Howard via Twitter on Thursday morning, noting that he was "amenable to talking with DH, but the meet never came to play."
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Jackson has informally made it known that he was available to the Lakers in their pitch to Howard, and other capacities in the future, should Howard ever seek counsel. Jackson, the fiancé of Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss, has become something of an informal consultant to the Lakers, general manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledged after last Thursday's NBA draft.
"He's been helpful since 1999," Kupchak said.