Lakers, Mavs meet with Howard
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The pitches are finished and now the decision-making process begins for Dwight Howard.
The NBA's most sought-after free agent completed the last of his five scheduled sit-down meetings with teams vying for his services by meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday afternoon in Beverly Hills, Calif.
A Lakers contingent led by Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, general manager Mitch Kupchak, executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and representatives from both AEG and Time Warner Cable met with Howard for nearly two hours.
"At the meeting, we told him how important he is to the Lakers team, franchise, fans and community, and why we feel this is the best place for him to continue his career," Kupchak said in a statement. "We are hopeful that Dwight decides to remain a Laker."
Howard was reluctant to tip his hand after he was finished huddling with the Lakers, signifying the end of a whirlwind two days of courtship.
"I had a lot of great meetings," said Howard, who was wearing a pinstriped suit jacket and slacks. Howard then made his way to a white Ferrari and drove off with plenty to think about.
Howard was flanked by his agents, Dan Fegan and Happy Walters, for the meetings. The Lakers met in separate groups with Howard: Lakers vice president of business operations Tim Harris and the representatives from Time Warner Cable and AEG; Kupchak and Buss; and Nash, D'Antoni and Bryant.
The coach and players met with him together and had an "honest" discussion about several issues the team dealt with last season. Their message to him was simple: If you want to win championships, stay in L.A. and try to win with players like us who have won before. Let's try it again when all of us -- including Howard, who was recovering from back surgery most of the season -- are healthier.
Howard repeatedly stressed that all he cares about is winning, and that would be the chief factor in his decision.
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A source familiar with the Lakers' pitch told ESPNLosAngeles.com: "The bottom line is will he take the chance to play for the biggest team, biggest fan base and winningest franchise? To me, that's the biggest theme. The Lakers have the track record."
Howard plans to get out of Los Angeles for a "few days," according to a league source, to "weigh everything out." A source close to Howard told ESPN last week that the center expects to be ready to choose his team as soon as the NBA's moratorium on new business is lifted July 10. While Howard cannot officially sign a new contract until the 10th, he could announce his decision after returning from his getaway for the July 4 holiday.
A separate source close to Howard with knowledge of the meeting said "the Lakers were good."
Some of the Lakers that were doing the pitching had more to say.
"I thought it was a very productive meeting," Nash told reporters, including ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne after the sit-down had 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 imparted during the session: "This is the fan base that will embrace him for many years."
Unlike the Houston 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 the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, et al. Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson was also 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.
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"While i'm there I expect to see you get on board," Jackson tweeted to Howard. "tis ur place."
According to a source familiar with the Lakers, their strategy was, "focusing on the present and the future."
That present will include Bryant for at least three more seasons, as the Lakers superstar who is recovering from an Achilles injury, recently told the team's website.
When asked about Bryant's role in the presentation, Nash replied, "Kobe was there. Kobe was great."
There was also a video element to the presentation that included cameos by various Hollywood celebrities and entertainers and the Lakers also presented Howard with an iPad featuring images of him wearing purple and gold, for good measure.
"We've been working on this presentation for dozens and dozens of hours over the course of weeks," said a team source. "We prepared for it in depth."
D'Antoni had a positive outlook.
"Yes, I'm hopeful," D'Antoni told ESPN's Shelley Smith as he exited with Nash. "We all are. We made our presentation. Dwight has to make his choice and we just hope it's us."
Added D'Antoni: "Dwight will make his decision, but hopefully it's the Lakers."
Earlier in the day, the Dallas Mavericks' group featuring owner Mark Cuban, former league and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle, as well as president and general manager Donnie Nelson were the latest to go and finished their three-hour pitch to Howard shortly after 4 p.m. ET.
Mavs trainer, Casey Smith, was also present, according to ESPNDallas.com's Tim McMahon. Smith was the trainer on the 2008 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team that Howard was also a part of.
It's been a 48-hour bonanza for the All-Star center. It all started with a brief face-to-face greeting with Kupchak shortly after 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday morning, when the league's free agency period opened and continued with a dinner featuring a large Rockets welcoming party later that night.
The Lakers requested to be the last team to meet with Howard before the pitch process began. Even though their meeting was a relatively brief two hours, compared to lengthier meetings for both Dallas and Houston, L.A. went into the meeting only expecting it to be "about an hour," according to a team source, because both sides had been in constant dialogue ever since the season ended in late April.
The Lakers were not fazed by their competitor's meetings lasting longer, "out of necessity, [they] had to go over a lot of territory," said a team source.
Lakers president Jeanie Buss was not present, but tweeted a message to Howard on Tuesday morning.
It was her decision not to attend, according to a source.
"Jeanie chose not to," said the source. "She felt ownership was well represented by her brother."
Added the source: "[Dwight] knows how she feels about him."
The Lakers also continued their "#STAYD12" campaign by commissioning a billboard with Howard's likeness to be mounted on the back on a flatbed truck that was seen driving down the 405 freeway in L.A. on Tuesday.
The Lakers can outbid any other potential suitor by offering a five-year, $118 million contract. The most the Rockets, Mavericks, Warriors and Hawks could offer is four years, $88 million.
Information ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon was used in this report.