Wednesday, Kobe Bryant joined John Ireland and Mike Trudell on ESPNLA 710. They covered all sorts of ground, from Kobe's rehab to his thoughts on the Finals to who gets more attention walking into a restaurant, him or Jack Nicholson. (“Out of the danger of sounding too egotistical, I’m going to go with myself just because I can’t blend in,” he said. “You don’t see too many 6-foot-6 black dudes walking into a very upscale restaurant.”)
Read the full transcript, here. Naturally, Bryant was also asked about Dwight Howard, and why it's important for the Lakers to hold on to him:
“It’s not like you have guys like Dwight Howard walking around every day. Those guys are hard to find. They don’t grow on trees. When you have somebody like that with his talent level, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise. With the history this franchise has with great centers, this, in my opinion, would be the perfect spot for him,” Bryant said.
It's not the first time Kobe has lobbied for Howard's return, going back to the regular season and into his exit interview. This despite being cut from (put mildly) very different cloths, personality wise. A cynical interpretation says Bryant is expressing support simply so he's not perceived as having run Howard out of town, particularly now that it's clear he might play a couple more seasons at least. (Which, as I've written, might motivate Howard to go.) The more likely explanation? Howard is really good, can't be replaced if he goes — not quickly, at least — and the Lakers are likely to be much, much worse next season if he does.* Badness is not something Kobe wants to suffer through in his golden years.
For all the talk of building through free agency with cap space next summer, it's important to remember who the Lakers can chase.
It starts — maybe — with LeBron. From there, if you put Dwight on that offseason's list of available UFA's, assuming he returns fully to form this year (I believe he will), like virtually every team in the league the Lakers would spend their time courting him, throwing whatever money they had available in his direction. Assuming you buy the idea Howard is elite — I do, and the Lakers clearly agree — If you have a access to a guy fitting the bill, it's much easier to keep him than find another.
If Howard wants to go, so be it. The scenario doesn't automatically mean long term disaster. But the Lakers, Kobe included, understand what's lost should it happen.
*There's a line of thinking the Lakers are better off being atrocious next year, because it improves their position in a draft everyone says is stacked — their only first rounder in the next three. I get it, and if Dwight goes I'm all for stripping things down to the studs, because there will be no shot at a title in 2013-14. But still, in the aggregate they're better off with a star talent still in his prime and a lesser pick. What they really need for a proper, speedy rebuild are more picks… hence last week's post on Pau Gasol.