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Steve Nash makes Lakers’ case: ‘This is the place’ for Dwight Howard

Lakers' Steve Nash, right, hopes to have Dwight Howard back on the team next season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Steve Nash couldn’t finish this season because of injuries, but he knew where to start next season.

With Dwight Howard.

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Nash was “very hopeful” the soon-to-be free-agent center would return to the Lakers.

“I think this is the place for him,” Nash said Monday. “He’s in the prime of his career. He’s got his best years ahead of him. He can play for one of the greatest franchises in sports and an amazing city. This has got to be the place for him and I’m hopeful that he sees it that way.”

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Howard, 27, can sign a five-year, $118-million deal with the Lakers in July or a four-year, $88-million deal with another team.

Reserve guard Jodie Meeks, who built a solid bond with Howard during their first season with the Lakers, also seemed to think a reunion would be best.

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“I know he loves this city. I know he loves the team,” Meeks said. “We got pretty close this year as friends — from the same hometown [Atlanta]. I can’t really say exactly what he’s going to do, but I know he likes the city.”

Nash was the highlighted name on the first day of Lakers season-ending interviews. He met with General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike D’Antoni at the team training facility and then swore his resolve to reporters, none of whom predicted such a flat season for him or the Lakers’ playoff exit before May.

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The bigger names — Howard, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant — will meet Tuesday with Kupchak and D’Antoni.

Reserve forward Antawn Jamison, however, skipped his Monday meeting after an up-and-down time with the Lakers that will end with his having wrist surgery Tuesday, the team said. He will not return to the Lakers next season.

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Nash, 39, doesn’t have as much freedom as Howard. Nor do the Lakers, really. They will be together again despite Nash’s injury-riddled season, in which he sat out 24 games because of a fractured leg and 10 more because of hip and hamstring injuries, including the Lakers’ last two playoff games.

Nash has two more seasons and $19 million remaining on his Lakers contract. His trade value has never been lower thanks to age, injuries and stats — he averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 assists in only 50 regular- season games. He had four epidural shots in his back this month because of preexisting nerve issues that caused pain in his hip and weakness in his hamstring.

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He called this season the most frustrating of his 17-year career. “I’m definitely going to prepare better than I ever had to try to make this year a distant memory and next year a phenomenal experience,” he said.

Nash said it would probably take a month for his injuries to feel better.

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“I don’t have any concern and I haven’t gotten wind from anyone on the medical staff that there’s any concern for long-term issues or for next season to be in jeopardy,” he said.

Metta World gone?

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Metta World Peace wore a blue Cookie Monster T-shirt for his end-of-season meeting with Kupchak and D’Antoni.

In unrelated news, if the Lakers don’t use their amnesty provision on Gasol in July, World Peace is their next option.

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He is due to make $7.7 million next season, assuming World Peace exercises a player option in June, a no-brainer.

“You never know. Anything can happen,” he said.

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Then he spoke as if he would be back.

“This year has been pretty tough for the organization, players, coaches, fans. We have to do anything in this power individually to not let this happen again,” he said. “We’ve got the players to win.”

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World Peace, 33, was erratic this season, averaging 12.4 points and shooting 40.3%. He underwent surgery for torn knee cartilage, returned only 12 days later and then sat out the Lakers’ final playoff game almost three weeks later because of a cyst in the same knee.

His name was…?

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Earl Clark was in line for a substantial pay raise after breaking free of an otherwise mundane four-year career. Then came March and April.

He lost his spot in the starting lineup when Gasol returned from a foot injury and also lost his scoring touch. Clark averaged only 3.5 points in four playoff games, including a spot start in Game 4 after World Peace was unable to play.

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Clark, 25, made $1.2 million this season and would return to the Lakers as a free agent if he didn’t want too much of a raise.

“I want to be a Laker,” he said Monday. “I had a lot of fun this season. It’s the first season I got an opportunity to play and just show people, the world, what I can do. I hope everything works out and I come back. I definitely don’t want to leave here being on one of the worst Laker teams in history. I don’t want to be a part of that.”

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Clark averaged 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in January and February but dropped to 5.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in March and April.

Jackson’s cancer

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Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson revealed in his new book that he told his players he was diagnosed with prostate cancer while the team was in the 2011 playoffs.

An emotional Jackson considered stepping down from the team but was convinced by doctors he could delay surgery until after the season.

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The Lakers were swept by Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals. Jackson retired from coaching afterward.

His book, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” is on sale May 21.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.


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