LOS ANGELES — It’s only an opinion, but it’s Kobe Bryant’s, so we’re listening.
In a radio interview on ESPNLA 710 Wednesday afternoon, Bryant spoke at length about the free-agent sweepstakes raging in Los Angeles this summer. Asked about his teammate, Dwight Howard, and the Clippers’ Chris Paul, Bryant didn’t mince words: “I think at the end of the day, everybody stays,” he said.
Bryant seemed optimistic about the Lakers’ chances next season if they were to bring Howard back, and he said that the team needs more length on the perimeter above all else. He didn’t offer much new information on his own recovery timetable from his April Achilles tear — he’s shooting for November or December, he said — but he added that he’s more mobile than ever and no longer feels stiffness or soreness when he wakes up in the morning.
“I think it’s going to be fine,” Bryant said. “I think it’s going to be more than fine.”
Any talk of next season with the Lakers, though, involves two very large elephants in the room: Bryant’s Achilles and Howard’s presence. On Wednesday, Bryant drew upon his own flirtation with free agency in 2004 in his discussion of the decision Howard faces.
“You just really try to think with two hats on,” Bryant said of the decision. “You have to look at it from a business perspective and from your career’s point of view, in terms of which team you believe you’re going to have the most success with.”
Bryant said that sometimes, those two perspectives don’t align, and he acknowledged that it can be difficult to approach the situation from a business perspective. Players can too often wind up “splitting hairs,” he said, and in the end, it was the Lakers’ history and tradition that led him to re-sign with the team nearly a decade ago.
That all sounds like it should bode well for Howard’s impending decision, but Bryant’s memories of his 2004 decision focus largely on one man who’s no longer a factor: Dr. Jerry Buss, who passed away last winter.
“I bet on Dr. Buss being able to do what he said he could,” Bryant said. “Ultimately, that was it.”
Unfortunately for the Lakers, that won’t be it for Howard, and the team’s front office moves have come under some criticism as power has shifted away from the late owner in recent years.
Bryant said that he spoke to Howard within the past few weeks and that he’ll check in again once the big man has visited other teams and gotten further into the decision process. Players like Howard “don’t grow on trees,” Bryant said, stressing how important it is that the team re-sign him, and he cited the Lakers’ history with good centers as making the team a perfect fit for the free agent.
“You have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise,” Bryant said.