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Mitch Kupchak expects Dwight Howard to explore opportunities

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak suggested he doesn’t expect to get an early commitment from impending free agent Dwight Howard.

“It’s my understanding that he’ll be a free agent on July 1,” said Kupchak to Maggie Gray of SI.com last week at the Brooklyn Nets training facility for a pre-draft combine. “He’ll have opportunities that he’ll look at and hopefully we’ll be in the running or we’ll be at the top in the very end.”

After the Lakers completed exit meetings following their four-game sweep by the San Antonio Spurs, Kupchak stressed the importance of getting early notice from Howard, which would enable to team to start building around him before July (near the NBA Draft in June).

“I think he understands that the sooner he makes a decision, the better it is for everybody,” Kupchak said in April. “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.”

A number of teams are expected to pursue Howard this summer, including the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks.

“I have confidence in what we’re providing him, for him to make a decision — playing in Los Angeles, having the resources to build around him in the future, opportunities off the court business-wise, lifestyle,” Kupchak told SI.com. “So that gives us confidence, but he’s earned the right to be become a free agent.”

The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118-million contract. No other franchise can give the veteran center more than four years. Of course, Howard may sign a contract with the confidence than in four years he signs another massive deal.

Although a four-year deal with the Lakers would be $91.3 million, an $88-million contract in Dallas or Houston would have tax advantages that might put the Mavericks or Rockets on even footing with the Lakers.

“Obviously, we’d like to sign him back and have him in the fold for many years and retire as a Laker,” Kupchak said of Howard.

The Lakers finished with a 45-37 record, seventh in the Western Conference. Injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks led to an abbreviated off-season and the playoff sweep by the Spurs.

“We got beaten in the first round and that’s not our goal,” Kupchak said. “We’ve got some work to do. We’ve have some challenges in the off-season. We look forward to it and we think we’re going to have a good team next year.”

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Former Lakers executive Ronnie Lester joins Suns’ front office

Lakers to make sixth appearance in Las Vegas NBA Summer League

Metta World Peace releases children’s book, ‘Metta’s Bedtime Stories’

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.


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