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Kobe Bryant: I want to have the 'final word' with Dwight Howard in free agency

Kobe Bryant wants to have the "last word" with Dwight Howard before the free agent decides on his next move. (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images) Kobe Bryant wants to have the "final word" with Dwight Howard before the free agent decides on his next move. (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant isn't sure whether soon to be free-agent center Dwight Howard is aiming to return to the team for another run at a championship. But he does want to make sure that he has the "final word" with Howard before he makes his ultimate decision.

"For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be," Bryant said in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin.

"We all want him here. But then that's when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don't start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.

"I'll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word."

Along with Bryant's own health in his road back from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg, Howard's status is the biggest question facing the Lakers heading into the offseason.

Where Howard will go has quickly become anyone's guess. He is reportedly intrigued by the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Golden State Warriors.

One advantage the Lakers have in upcoming negotiations with Howard is the ability to offer him more money to stay in Los Angeles. Under the collective bargaining agreement, Howard can sign a five-year, $118 million contract to stay with the Lakers, or a four-year, $87.6 million deal with another team. The Lakers, however, will be hamstrung in any attempt to improve their roster if they re-sign Howard.

As for Bryant's health, though, he hopes that is less of a question. He is aiming to play in the Lakers' season-opener later this year.

"I hope so," Bryant told ESPN.com "That's the challenge. With the tendon, there's really only but so much you can do."
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