LOS ANGELES — As the Los Angeles Lakers finalized the pitch they will make to Dwight Howard Tuesday afternoon, the free-agent center met with his hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks, Monday afternoon and met with the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and new coach Mike Budenholzer met with Howard in Los Angeles. Ferry had no comment except to tell ESPN’s Shelley Smith the meeting went “well.”
The Warriors are considered a longshot in the Howard sweepstakes as they would need to do a sign-and-trade with the Lakers to be able to sign Howard to a maximum four-year, $88 million contract, something sources have previously told ESPN the Lakers are not inclined to do. The Warriors group that met with Howard included owner Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Myers, head coach Mark Jackson and special consultant Jerry West.
Howard began meeting with a Mavericks contingent led by team owner Mark Cuban and star Dirk Nowitzki on Tuesday afternoon in Beverly Hills, according to ESPN’s Shelley Smith. While the Mavs do not have young stars such as Houston or Golden State, they are seen as a wild card in this race because they were on Howard’s initial list of preferred teams last season in Orlando, and because of the close relationship between Cuban and Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan.
Howard had a nearly three-hour meeting with the Houston Rockets shortly after the NBA’s free-agent period opened at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday — Sunday night in Los Angeles. But that didn’t happen before Howard had a quick meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. The Lakers won’t be the only ones with a television element to their pitch. According to a source familiar with Houston’s meeting with Howard, part of the Rockets’ presentation revolved around TV opportunities for Howard with Comcast SportsNet Houston. The Rockets own more than 30 percent of the network.
The Rockets’ contingent that met with Howard included players James Harden, Chandler Parsons, coach Kevin McHale, general manager Daryl Morey, owner Les Alexander and Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Yao Ming talked with Howard via Skype from China, and according to the Houston Chronicle, Dikembe Mutombo recorded a video message for Howard.
Yao told KRIV-TV in Houston that when he was contacted by Rockets CEO Tad Brown and Morey to join the team’s pitch to Howard, he told them he “would love to help.”
Yao, who spoke to KRIV-TV in a telephone interview from Beijing, said he spoke to Howard via Skype and told him the Rockets “have a young team, a talented team that has ability to reach championship level with you.”
Yao said he will be in Houston on July 11 and hopes to meet with Howard.
Kupchak’s message to Howard: “Quick hello and good luck,” said a source with knowledge of the conversation.
Kupchak also met with Howard for a face-to-face meeting Saturday morning, a source confirmed.
Lakers president Jeanie Buss tweeted a message to Howard on Tuesday. “@DwightHoward Lakers offer 1) best opportunities for your playing & post-playing career 2) have BEST fans 3) I’m here for you #STAYD12”
Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will be a part of the Lakers’ pitch to Howard on Tuesday afternoon. The Lakers are still finalizing the roster of people who will be a part of their pitch, but the delegation will also include executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and representatives from Time Warner Cable. The Lakers signed a record television contract in 2012 with the cable giant that could be worth $5 billion over 25 years.
The NBA does not have a problem with Lakers broadcast partner Time Warner Cable SportsNet being part of the pitch for Howard, according to a league source. If TWC was to offer further compensation, that would be a violation of league rules. However, simply being present for the sitdown is in no way a breach of league etiquette.
“They could simply be presenting ideas about how they plan to cover Howard and the Lakers in the future,” said the source. “That is allowed.”
Nash tweeted he was flying from New York to Los Angeles on Monday morning. @SteveNash
“Flying from NYC to LA. @DwightHoward we’re coming for you. You’re going to love the statue we build for you outside Staples in 20yrs!”
After a late-night hotel dinner, Morey tweeted that it was “great” meeting with Howard and “obvious” how he and Harden could be “the next great big/wing combo.”
“Dwight is focused on winning championships,” Morey told KRIV-TV. “So are we.”
The Rockets entered their dinner with Howard with the ability to offer him a four-year, $88 million contract after agreeing in principle to trade forward Thomas Robinson to Portland for two future second-round picks and the rights to two European players, a source confirmed to ESPN. Houston also waived veterans Aaron Brooks and Carlos Delfino earlier on Sunday to clear more salary-cap space.
According to the Chronicle, Houston planned to emphasize the “marketing potential” the Rockets continue to hold in China, thanks to being Yao’s former team. They also planned to appeal to the 27-year-old Howard by touting the youth and togetherness their current roster has, mixed with the appeal of McHale, the team’s coach who is considered one of the greatest big men ever to play the game. The Lakers, meanwhile, can outbid the Rockets and any other potential suitor by offering a five-year, $118 million contract.
Part of what the Lakers intend to sell to Howard, according to a source with knowledge of L.A.’s thinking, is that they will be able to make the necessary personnel moves to surround Howard with shooters and allow the center to showcase his game down low with proper floor spacing.
To that point, a large portion of the initial wave of free agents the Lakers made inquiries about fit that description.
But Howard is the big fish they’re after, with a Lakers source saying the team was feeling “optimistic” about its chances as of Sunday night and promising a few “surprises” for its meeting with Howard.
One person who will not be there is former coach Phil Jackson, who left for his summer home in Montana on Sunday, according to sources.
Jackson, though, delivered a message to Howard via Twitter before he hit the road.
“While i’m there I expect to see you get on board,” Jackson tweeted to Howard. “tis ur place.”
Information from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Jeff Goodman, ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi and ESPNNewYork.com’s Jared Zwerling was used in this report.
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