In a sign that Dwight Howard’s aspirations to stay with the Lakers aren’t as clear cut as they had hoped, a banner emerged outside of Staples Center pleading for the star center to continue wearing purple and gold.
“Stay,” the banner read with a photo of Howard donning a Lakers uniform. The banner also included the hashtag, “StayD12.”
In recent weeks, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has increased his vocal support for Howard on various topics. He reiterated his season-wide stance that Howard didn’t receive enough credit for laboring through offseasn back surgery and a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Kupchak has touted Howard as a Hall of Fame player and the Lakers’ future. Kupchak hasn’t said he will fire Mike D’Antoni or ensure Howard has a bigger role than Kobe Bryant. But Kupchak has made it painstakingly clear he’s a Howard fan.
Meanwhile, the Lakers divulged last week that Phil Jackson has had an unofficial role that Kupchak has described as a “consultant of sorts.” Jackson doesn’t have an exact title and his conversations solely rest with President and fiance Jeanie Buss and occasional conversations with Kupchak. But during that time, Jackson suggested his conversations partly centered on Howard’s future.
“I’m just supporting Jeanie and the decisions for the ballclub to make, whatever that is,” Jackson said. “I’m backing her and trying to find a way to bring the team back to prominence through getting a contract resolution going and signing the people they have to sign and find ways where they’re mobile enough to have the talent that they have to have soon.”
But will this strategy work?
Howard plans on exploring free agency beginning on July 1, talking and visiting with a number of teams that could include the Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors. Howard could sign with the Lakers for five years worth $118 million, as opposed to four years worth $87.6 million with any other teams. But it’s conceivable Howard could still offset that cost difference with another max contract and if he plays in Texas since there’s no state income tax.
Plenty of things plagued Howard in his first season with the Lakers, ranging from injuries (back, right shoulder), reduced offensive role, increased media scrutiny and frustration at times with both Bryant and D’Antoni.
Hence, the Lakers are stepping up their support for Howard, including displaying a sign pleading for him to stay.
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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com