Ryan Kelly, who is 6 feet 11, averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds for Duke… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )
The Lakers drafted Duke forward Ryan Kelly with the 48th overall pick Thursday, but everybody at their training facility was more interested in what General Manager Mitch Kupchak had to say.
About Dwight Howard, not Kelly.
After another uneventful draft in the Lakers' books — they haven't kept their first-round pick since 2007 — all attention turns to Howard, who becomes an unrestricted free agent Sunday at 9:01 p.m.
Kupchak remained upbeat about Howard returning to the team.
"There's a realistic possibility that he won't be back, but I'm optimistic that he will," Kupchak said.
Neither Howard nor his representatives have complained to Kupchak about Coach Mike D'Antoni or the offense run by the Lakers, Kupchak said.
"No," he said. "For the last 28 to 30 games of the season, we played some of the best basketball [that] anybody played in the NBA, and I think at that point everybody was very happy with the offense and what we were doing offensively."
The Lakers have been told they'll be the final team to meet with Howard, who begins taking visits with at least three other teams next week — Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
Kupchak has been meeting regularly with Howard's representatives since the Lakers' season ended abruptly in late April.
During those meetings, Kupchak has reaffirmed the Lakers' interest in signing Howard to a five-year, $118-million contract. Other teams can offer four years and $88 million.
Besides Kupchak's private backing of Howard, the Lakers have started a public campaign to keep him with the team, unveiling billboards that show action shots of him with a simple all-capitals phrase "STAY."
"From our point of view, we wanted to be as aggressive and proactive as possible, yet do it with what we thought was the right way without going overboard," Kupchak said. "The message is simple: We care about you and want you to stay."
Howard, 27, averaged 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds in his only season with the Lakers.
Meanwhile, the Lakers took a stretch power forward with their lone draft pick.
Kelly, listed at 6 feet 11, averaged 12.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots as a senior while shooting 42% from three-point range.
He is still recovering from surgery in April to repair a screw that was initially inserted in his right foot for a broken bone in March 2012.
Kupchak said he was not worried about Kelly's foot.
"We've done some research. We're very familiar with the injury," he said.
Kelly probably will not play on the Lakers' summer-league team in two weeks, Kupchak said. As a second-round pick, Kelly does not have a guaranteed contract.
The Lakers traded their first-round pick to Cleveland as part of last year's Ramon Sessions trade. The Cavaliers took Russian forward-guard Sergey Karasev with the 19th overall selection.