Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak expressed confidence in re-signing… (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)
The busiest man on the Lakers' payroll this off-season will be, as usual, General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
And the most pressing question will be Dwight Howard. Will he or won't he sign with the Lakers when free agency begins July 1 -- if not sooner?
Kupchak initially said Tuesday it was "hard for me to say" whether Howard would return.
Later, though, he expressed confidence in re-signing Howard and "selling the Los Angeles Lakers" to him.
"I think he has complete faith in the organization. I think he does like living here. I think it's all good, which leads me to why I'm optimistic," Kupchak said. "But if there's something here that we're lacking, I don't know what it is."
Howard can't visit other teams until July, with Dallas, Houston and Atlanta among other leading possibilities. But if he signs with the Lakers before then, it helps them for numerous reasons.
"I think he understands that the sooner he makes a decision, the better it is for everybody," Kupchak said. "I don't know if that means a week, a month or seven weeks. It allows us to plan and it allows him to start putting down roots in the city. People can no longer say, 'I wonder what he's going to do. Is he going to be gone?' We're hoping that he chooses to stay in Los Angeles."
Kupchak didn't think the Lakers' coach would make a difference in Howard's decision.
"I think he's fine with Mike D'Antoni," Kupchak said.
The Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by San Antonio, dragged down by injuries and ineffectiveness, symptoms really of their entire season. Kupchak, however, pointed to the team's 28-12 record in its last 40 games as a sign of progress.
"That would indicate that this team can contend for a championship. I don't see any reason why we can’t be in the hunt," he said.
At the same time, though, Kupchak didn't guarantee anybody's job security when asked about Pau Gasol.
"When you lose, everything is in play. This is the third year in a row that you could argue we didn't meet up to or play up to expectations, so everybody's in play," Kupchak said.
Kupchak used humor to deflect a question about the Lakers' likely use of the amnesty provision in July.
"Can I refer this to Marc Cuban? He's our amnesty expert," Kupchak said.
The Lakers can waive one of four players during a one-week window in July: Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake. They would still have to pay the player's salary but would not have to pay accompanying luxury taxes.
Kupchak also didn't have high hopes for the Lakers' off-season prospects for free agency. The team is too far over the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold to sign any big-name players other than their own.
"The collective-bargaining agreement really limits how we can add to the team. We get a limited number of exceptions," Kupchak said. "Probably the most widely used exception would be the veteran's minimum. It's hard to find a young player that would do that because if it's a younger player, he's probably not going to take the veteran's minimum. And if he did, he's probably not good enough to play.
"As much as I'd love to sit here and say we're going to get young, athletic players that can really shoot the ball at the veteran's minimum and they’re going to be 24, 25 years old, it's probably not realistic. You're probably going to end up looking at a veteran player who's older and maybe has a high level of skill and a higher level of basketball IQ but he may not be as athletic as he once was."