Mitch Kupchak “optimistic” Dwight Howard will return, but admits uncertainties ahead

Time passed in the last 48 hours that entailed Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak listening, asking questions and providing feedback.

On and on the process went in the Lakers’ exit interviews where players ranging from Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol provided both positive and negative feedback surrounding the Lakers’ 2012-13 season. Considering that once-hyped campaign surrounding four future Hall of Famers ended in a tireless list of injuries and a first-round sweep, Kupchak’s work to help restore the Lakers to championship greatness again just begins.

What will he do?

“When you lose everything, is in play,” Kupchak said Tuesday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “”

Yes, this could be a long offseason, and the reasons go beyond the Lakers’ season ending in late April instead of late June. One July 1 hist, the Lakers’ most pressing item on the agenda.

Will Dwight Howard return?

He would earn $117.9 million with a five-year deal if he signed with the Lakers. He would receive $87.9 million over four years if he went elsewhere. But Howard said his thought process goes beyond dollars and centers.

“”I want to do what’s best for myself to make me happy at the end of the day,” Howard said.

Kupchak paused for seven seconds before offering “it’s hard for me to say” on Howard’s intentions. But Kupchak later said he felt “hopeful” and “optimistic” Howard will stay with the Lakers.

“We didn’t spend a lot of time saying what the city doesn’t have to offer or what the organization doesn’t have to offer,” Kupchak said. “He does like living here. That’s why I’m optimistic. If there’s something we’re lacking; I don’t know what it is.”

Yet, Kupchak said he’s going to give Howard the space to make his decision.

“If he says he needs some time, then we’ll give him some time. ”Kupchak said. “But the sooner, the better for everyone.”

The Lakers have far more uncertainty than Howard.

For one, Kupchak maintained Howard’s decision to stay or leave won’t affect the rest of the Lakers’ offseason planning. Namely, the future of Pau Gasol.

“Everybody is in play whether it’s Pau or anybody else,” Kupchak said. We’ll look for ways to improve the team.”

Yet, Kupchak said it’s “in play” to see if the Lakers could keep both Howard and Gasol.

The Lakers, which boast a $100 million payroll, have never shied away from spending money. That’s the legacy owner Jerry Buss left, good enough to win 10 of the Lakers’ 16 championships since 1979 when he purchased the team. But the Lakers are about to encounter steeper luxury taxes this offseason stemmed from the recent labor deal. With Buss’ passing, how will the dynamic work with his children? The Lakers say executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and Lakers executive vice president of business operations Jeanie Buss operate will have the final call on decisions made.

The Lakers will have to consider whether they will exercise the amnesty provision, which include four candidates in Kobe Bryant, ($30.5 million), Gasol ($19.3 million), Metta World Peace ($7.7 million) and Steve Blake ($4 million).

“Can I refer this to Mark Cuban?”” Kupchak joked. “He’s our amnesty expert”

That’s because the Dallas Mavericks owner suggested the Lakers use the amnesty provision on Bryant. The Lakers won’t do that because of his obvious skillset and the public relations fallout that would entail. Using it on Blake wouldn’t result in too many savings.

But the Lakers could waive Gasol or let World Peace go if he exercises his $7.7 million player option.

“I’m still trying to get over the Cookie Monster thing,” Kupchak said, laughing at World Peace’s attire during his exit meeting on Monday. “I liked the shirt.”

Kupchak then added he has “no idea” what World Peace will do.

The only definitive: Kupchak maintained sentiments he expressed two weeks ago that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni will return as the head coach. He has two guaranteed years worth $8 million left on his contract.

Other than that, Kupchak has a busy offseason littered with uncertainties. That starts with whether Howard will remain with the Lakers.