Dwight Howard: Contract decision centered on ‘right to be happy’

"I'll do what's going to be best for myself, what's going to make me happy," Dwight Howard said of choosing where he'll play next season. "I can't control who likes me, who dislikes me, but I have the right to be happy."
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Dwight Howard will take some time away from basketball as he contemplates his future.

“I’m going to take my time, get away from the game, my phones and everything and just clear my head,” Howard said Tuesday after his exit meeting at the Lakers’ El Segundo practice facility.

A free agent as of July 1, Howard can re-sign for up to five years with the Lakers or move on to another team for no more than four.


“I’ll do what’s going to be best for myself, what’s going to make me happy,” he said. “I can’t control who likes me, who dislikes me, but I have the right to be happy.”

Howard acknowledged it’s been difficult carrying the weight of his decision, given he can’t please everyone, whatever the choice may be.

“I’m a happy-go-lucky person who likes to see people smile. You want people to like you but a lot of people don’t understand the business of basketball,” Howard said. “It’s been tough all year but I’ve just tried to stay as strong as possible.”

After his meeting with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday, Howard said he and the team finished the season on good terms, despite his contract uncertainty.

“I just don’t want any pressure from anybody,” Howard said. “Mitch said he’s not going to pressure me. He’s going to let me make that decision and we’re in a good place.”

The Lakers had a difficult season, falling eight games below .500 before finishing in seventh place in the Western Conference at 45-37. Injuries were a constant issue from the second game of season to the sweep by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

“This was a tough season for everybody. It was really like a nightmare,” Howard said. “Every game it felt like a struggle for us.”

It wasn’t an easy year for Howard individually, playing through a shoulder injury and recovering from back surgery, but he said he’s grown from the experience.

“I learned so much this year, dealing with injuries -- playing with guys like Kobe [Bryant], Pau [Gasol], Steve [Nash] and [Antawn Jamison],” Howard said.

Just returning to the court after a summer laid up after a serious back injury was the greatest moment of the year for Howard.

“I was so happy to be playing basketball again. I will never forget that moment,” he continued. “The season in general. The ups and downs, fake fights with me and Kobe -- all that stuff. It was a season that made us all stronger.”

Of course, his teammates took advantage of Howard’s enthusiasm on opening night.

“My first game back, coming off of back surgery, I was just filled with joy,” Howard said. “I ran out there and I looked back at my teammates [who were still waiting in the corridor], who were playing a prank on me that they usually play on the rookies -- and they got me.”

He also noted that dealing with The Times’ T.J. Simers for the first time at Howard’s debut press conference, following his trade from the Orlando Magic, was a highlight.

“There was that guy, [I had] never seen in my life, he was just, ‘Arrr arrr arrr arrr,’” Howard said. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to stay calm.’ That one thing was a big moment when I got here.”

Overall, Howard had mixed feelings about his time with the Lakers.

“Some days it’s good, when I have a good game. Some days it’s not so good,” Howard said. “It’s the best place to be when you win. When you’re losing it’s not so good. L.A. loves their Lakers.”

“Some of that you can’t really understand until you experience it,” he added.

How will that weigh on his decision in the future? Howard remained tight-lipped.

A new contract between the Lakers and Howard cannot be agreed to and signed until July.


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