On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant emphasized how important it is for the Lakers to re-sign free-agent center Dwight Howard this summer
“Those guys are hard to find, they don’t grow on trees,” Bryant said on 710 ESPN Los Angeles. “When you have someone like that with his talent level, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise.”
Howard is expected to talk with other teams, such as the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Atlanta Hawks (among others), before signing a four- or five-year deal.
“I’ve spoken to him maybe a couple of weeks ago, just to check in with him,” said Bryant. “I haven’t spoken to him since. I know he’s got a big decision to make and I’m sure he’ll take the visits and talk to the players on the teams he’s considering. We’ll touch base a lot more.”
Bryant said it’s important as a free agent to make the decision from a business perspective while finding the best chance to win a championship.
“It’s hard because a lot of times those two things don’t align,” he said. “With the history that this franchise has of having great centers, this would, in my opinion, be the perfect spot for him.”
It was the late Jerry Buss who convinced Bryant to re-sign with the Lakers in 2004.
“I bet on Dr. Buss being able to do what he said he could,” said Bryant. “Ultimately, that was it. ... I would have been a fool to go anyplace else.”
Meanwhile, Bryant is trying to get back to health after April surgery on his left Achilles’ tendon.
“I’ve been rehabbing now for about a month, almost a month and a half,” Bryant said. “At the beginning stages, it’s really boring stuff. It’s really just trying to get out the inflammation, break up the scar tissue [and] make sure your toes are working.”
“Now I’m starting to do a little more,” he continued. “Walking on the AlterG [weight-bearing treadmill], doing a little bit of the elliptical, doing some strength work, like calf raises and things like that.”
Bryant is optimistic that he’ll return to form, although he suggested he won’t be back until November or December.
“I think it’s going to be fine. I think it’s going to be more than fine,” Bryant said.
The All-Star guard missed the team’s first-round sweep by the San Antonio Spurs.
“I look at it as a missed opportunity,” Bryant said. “I know we’re not far off. I really believe we would have given the Spurs a serious run for their money at a minimum. It makes me excited for next year.”
The Spurs will play the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
“We saw what we were able to do in the second half of the season, going 28-12, how well we played,” Bryant said. “I still think we need a little bit more length on the perimeter, defensively — guys who can cover ground.”
“Shutting down penetration and then being able to close out on the shooters, that was very tough for us to do,” he continued. “When you have guys that have that kind of length, and those young legs to be able to do that — all of a sudden you wind up shrinking the floor, making things very difficult for your opposition.”
Of course that assumes Howard returns to anchor the team’s defense.
Bryant also said he expects the big-name free agents like Chris Paul and Howard to stay with their teams.
“There’s always so much talk going on, especially with big-name guys going here, going there, but that happens once in a blue moon,” Bryant said. “I think at the end of the day, everybody stays.”
Bryant also touched on a few other subjects:
— He wouldn’t have fouled against the Heat on Tuesday in the closing seconds of Game 6 with the San Antonio Spurs up three; although he would have after Miami collected the offensive rebound. He had flashbacks to a playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns.
— Bryant said the most fun he’s had in the NBA Finals was Game 7 against the Boston Celtics. “I mean, you’re looking the lion in the face. ... That’s gut-check time. That’s probably the best feeling.”
— While primarily bedridden after surgery he watched a lot of Disney programs with his children. He also caught up with shows like “Modern Family,” “DaVinci’s Demons” and “Game of Thrones.”
— Bryant on the Clippers’ tabled trade with the Boston Celtics (that might have ultimately landed Coach Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Los Angeles): “It would have made them substantially better and substantially older at the same time. ... They’d have been older than us. At least we’d be the fast-breaking team in the city.”
— Bryant also named his all-time starting five team: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.