Via Larry Brown Sports:
Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard may have had a contentious relationship during the regular season, but make no mistake about it: Kobe understands the importance of Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.
During an interview with 710/ESPN Radio LA on Wednesday, Bryant was asked if he has talked to Howard about free agency. Bryant said he had, and then he explained why it is imperative for the Lakers to bring back Howard, who will be a free agent this summer.
“It’s not like you have guys like Dwight Howard walking around every day,” Bryant told hosts John Ireland and Mike Trudell. “Those guys are hard to find. They don’t grow on trees. I think when you have somebody like that with his talent level, you have to be able keep him and lock him in with this franchise.”
The Lakers have had some of the best centers in history play for the franchise. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal have all worn the purple and gold. Bryant believes Howard would be the next great center in the franchise’s lineage.
“The history this franchise has with having great centers, in my opinion, this would be a great spot for him,” said Bryant.
[Related: Mitch Kupchak: Dwight Howard will have statue someday]
Kobe said earlier this month that he would let Howard shop around and explore the free agency process. He said that he just wanted the last word with Dwight. But Bryant says he has spoken to the center somewhat recently.
“I spoke to him maybe a couple of weeks ago, just to check in with him, see what he was up to, see how his summer was going,” said Bryant. “But I haven’t spoken to him since. I know he’s got a big decision to make and I’m sure he’s going to make the visits and talk to the players from the teams that he’s considering. We’ll touch base with him a lot more.”
[Related: Kobe Bryant confronted Dwight Howard in team meeting]
The Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, and Atlanta Hawks all are expected to pursue Howard in free agency. Houston reportedly believes they have a good shot of landing the center. Despite that, the Lakers can offer Dwight over $30 million more than any other team and therefore have a strong chance of retaining the big man.
What’s notable here is that despite all the fighting Bryant and Howard did during the season, Bryant’s opinion of Howard as a player has not changed. The question is, will Bryant’s words be enough to change the opinion of Lakers fans who grew tired of Howard during the season? Regardless, Kobe emphasizing Howard’s importance to the team should only increase the center’s chances of returning to LA.