Without the reassuring voice of Jerry Buss, the late Lakers owner whose eleventh-hour phone call prevented Kobe Bryant from going to the Clippers in 2004, the Lakers are turning to two veterans to help keep Dwight Howard in Los Angeles.


Bryant and Steve Nash will be part of the Lakers' delegation that meets Tuesday with Howard to try to persuade him to sign a five-year, $118-million contract.

They'll be joined by Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike D'Antoni. Team executives Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss are also expected to attend the meeting at an undisclosed Los Angeles location.

Bryant has been in the shadows, recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon and not courting Howard as aggressively as Houston's James Harden and, to a lesser degree, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki.

But Bryant is stepping up his involvement by helping out with the Lakers' pitch Tuesday, the second full day of free agency. He wants Howard to return, thinking the center is key to the future championship hopes.

The Lakers' prevailing theme will be simple — they possess a time-tested championship pedigree that has led to 16 titles. And they'll be flush with spending cash in exactly one year, when Nash will be the only player currently under contract, a concept Kupchak recently referred to as a time of “an enormous amount of financial flexibility.”

The Lakers made a point of contacting Howard when free agency began at 9:01 p.m. Sunday.

Kupchak met with Howard briefly in person shortly after free agency began, said a person with knowledge of the situation. It was unclear what they discussed, but the Lakers continued to line up Tuesday as their big day … they hope.

They are battling two other teams, Houston and Dallas, each with its own distinct drawing cards.

Dallas' intrigue is its owner, Mark Cuban, whose payroll is often among the NBA's highest and whose coach, Rick Carlisle, guided the Mavericks to a championship just two years ago.