Over the course of last week’s exit interviews, many of Dwight Howard’s teammates plus general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Mike D’Antoni weighed in on the big man’s season, adding their thoughts on the impending free agent’s future.
As relayed by Kupchak, the Lakers understand why Howard will wait until July to discuss his future, as will nearly every free-agent-to-be; that’s to be expected with the way things are set up in the NBA.
With that said, there’s no question that both players and management are hoping Howard decides to re-sign with Los Angeles. Here are some of the quotes about Howard that stood out:
Q: On why he’s hopeful Howard will re-sign with the Lakers:
Kupchak: 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. Obviously, I’m hopeful and optimistic. From what I understand, our players that came in today were very supportive of him returning. If you just look at the opportunity, which is to play for this franchise in this city, with what this franchise has meant to this city and its accomplishments, that’s probably the most any team can offer a player. Certainly, some players might not prefer to play on a stage like in Los Angeles, but I do know that this franchise will continue to be run as a model franchise. This is a very desirable place for players to play. What it comes down to is being comfortable selling the Los Angeles Lakers, and that’s where my confidence lies the most.
Q: On standing up for Howard around the All-Star break in a Lakers.com piece (among other places) when he thought Howard was being criticized unfairly, and how Howard responded:
Kupchak: I think it helped that people recognized what he was going through. Once again, the expectations leading into the season were just so high and so off the charts that any kind of sub performance would result in negative feedback, and that’s what took place. When you’re not performing to the level of expectations, people look for – and rightfully so – reasons why, and for some reason, he seemed to get most of the criticism. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he was here on a one-year deal, and for business reasons, he has to wait until this summer, but nobody understands that … I don’t think people understand it’s been about a year since he had surgery. Here’s a guy that had surgery last April and here it is a full NBA season later, and he played a full slate of games. I asked everybody here to look back at his March performance (17.9 points, 15.2 rebounds), and understandably, people aren’t going to say: “He’s not playing as well as he could because he had back surgery.” When you’re on the court in this league, it means you’re ready to play. I feel as if he’s not been given his due credit and he’s been under appreciated.
Q: On Howard wanting to take his time in making a decision regarding his free agency:
D’Antoni: We’ll just have to go on what he says. I don’t have any insight other than what he said. He will take his time and make a good decision. As everybody said, and everybody knows, and hopes what the right place is. But that’s something he has to come to, and he will … You want everybody to be happy and show them what it could be like. He knows. He’ll take that information and sort it out.
Q: On his feelings whether Howard will re-sign with the Lakers:
Bryant: I hope he does. It’s just a matter of what he feels in his heart what and he wants to do. He’s reached a crossroads of his career and I think Los Angeles is the perfect spot for him to assert himself, to put his foot down and have his career really take off. There’s no greater place for centers to play than here in Los Angeles … I’ll talk to him, bring him out to the house, chill with him a little bit, watch a cartoon movie or something and we’ll have a good time.
Q: On Howard’s emergence later in the season and prospects for 2013-14: Bryant: You look at what he’s done in the second half of the season, it’s been pretty impressive – coming off of back surgery as well. This summer, he has all summer to get himself in tip top form and next year I think he’ll be unbelievable.
Q: On if the team realized what it had this past season, and if they can achieve their goal next season if the core group of players returns:
Bryant: We understood, but we didn’t have a chance to develop it because of injury after injury after injury. It was crazy. It was a constant process for us, but we finally figured it out. It’s great to bring the group back because we know what to do, and we know how lethal we can be.
Q: On how potentially keeping Howard would impact the Spaniard:
Gasol: I don’t think it’s 100 percent attached to that. I think the franchise would like to keep Dwight, will do what it takes to keep Dwight here. But that doesn’t mean that if he’s here, I’m automatically gone, at least as I understand.
Q: On the season, and how the team had to adjust to each other over the course of the year:
Gasol: In the beginning, we struggled more because everybody wanted to assert themselves and establish themselves. Things didn’t work out that well from the beginning. The coaching change had a big role into it, but we progressed as the season went on and put our individual desires aside and found what worked. We finished the season playing the right way as far as a balance.
Q: On his feelings on Howard’s decision this offseason:
Nash: I’m very hopeful that Dwight will be back. I think this is the place for him. He’s in the prime of his career, and he has his best years ahead of him. He can play for one of the greatest franchises in sports in an amazing city. I’m hopeful he sees it that way.
Q: On elite players coming together in a short time with no training camp in a systsem:
Nash: We have a lot of guys who have had great careers, great success that have done it in their way. But when you come together you can’t do it in four or five different ways. I think that was really difficult for everyone, for the players, and particularly for the coach. We can make a long list of what (D’Antoni) faced this year: coming in late, the craziest injury situation I’ve ever seen, guys playing when they’re not themselves. It’s hard to find an identity when guys aren’t what they’re going to be in a week, or out of the lineup in a week.
Q: On his relationship with Howard and whether he believes he’ll re-sign in Los Angeles:
Meeks: I know he loves this city and this team. We got pretty close as friends. I can’t say exactly what he’s going to do, but I know he likes (Los Angeles).
Q: On if he sensed playing with Howard in Orlando and Los Angeles if he learned anything this season:
Clark: Once he came to L.A., he realized media here is very different. Here, there’s more pressure and a lot of people are coming to see you. I think he felt more pressure of being in an organization where losing is not an option. I think it was good for his career. I think this summer he’ll continue to work on his game, and get better. L.A. is good for Dwight, and he has a challenge here. I think he’ll answer it and bring a championship here.