Kobe Bryant says it's imperative that the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard. (Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Just days ahead of Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard's impending free agency, Kobe Bryant strongly advocated for the team to "lock him up."
"Those guys are hard to find, they don't grow on trees," Bryant told ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. 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."
Bryant said earlier this month that he would like to have "the final word" with Howard before he makes a final decision. He said he plans to be in touch more frequently in the coming days and weeks.
"I've spoken to him maybe a couple of weeks ago, just to check in with him," Bryant said. "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."
Where Howard will go has quickly become anyone’s guess. He is reportedly intrigued by the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, and Atlanta Hawks, at least some of whom he is expected to meet with
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.