Lakers hopeful Howard will pick free-agent return

Updated: 2013-05-02 05:02

By Associated Press in El Segundo, California (China Daily)

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Even after every disappointment in the Los Angeles Lakers' lost season, Kobe Bryant still wants to keep their roster together.

Pau Gasol agrees, although he knows he might be out.

And Dwight Howard is in no hurry to decide whether he'll rejoin this talent-loaded group that didn't meet its expectations.

Howard's impending free agency was prominent in the Lakers' minds as they headed into the offseason on Tuesday with their exit interviews. General Manager Mitch Kupchak said he's "hopeful" and "optimistic" Howard will re-sign with Los Angeles after his first season ended in a first-round sweep.

But Howard, the seven-time All-Star center, wrapped up his first season in Los Angeles by vowing to make his decision in his own best interests, giving no indication he favored the Lakers over any other team.

"I'm going to take my time, get away from the game, get away from my phones and everything, just clear my head," Howard said. "I think I deserve that right, so that's what I want to do ... I do what's going to be best for myself, what's going to make me happy. At the end of the day, I can't control who likes me, who dislikes me, but I have the right to be happy. That's what I'm going to do."

Lakers hopeful Howard will pick free-agent return

Howard was ambivalent about his first season on the West Coast, although he expressed love for Los Angeles when pressed.

Howard said he returned from offseason back surgery several months earlier than expected because he wanted to win with Bryant and the Lakers, only to watch their season dissolve with an early season coaching change and major injuries to almost every player in their rotation.

Howard isn't saying where he wants to play, but the Lakers will court him aggressively and confidently.

"I know in my heart that this is the place where I think he should be," Kupchak said. "We have a great legacy, a great history of great players in this city dating back to when the franchise came here in 1960, and he certainly fits the mold. But I don't want to get ahead of the game and take anything for granted ... He's earned the right to make an informed and calm decision."

Howard could re-sign with the Lakers for five years and $118 million, or sign with another team for four years and $88 million. Bryant joked he'll invite the boyish big man to his home in Orange County to watch cartoons.

"He's at a crossroads in his career," Bryant said. "I think Los Angeles is the perfect spot for him to assert himself and put his foot down and have his career really take off and be what it should be. There's no greater place for a center to play than Los Angeles."

The Lakers have several other decisions to make this summer, but coach Mike D'Antoni's future looks secure. Kupchak gave another vote of confidence to his first-year coach, saying "nothing has changed" from his declaration two weeks ago that D'Antoni is expected to return in the fall.

If he's in charge in autumn, D'Antoni thinks the Lakers will play much the same style in which they finished the regular season, assuming the same players return. The Lakers improved significantly late in the season during their 28-12 run to the playoffs, with Gasol and Howard finding remarkable chemistry at times.