Kobe Bryant doesn't want to see major changes to the Lakers' roster for next season. (AP)
LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant wants Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol back with the Los Angeles Lakers next season. He says he "would really love" to see that happen and believes there will be a title reward in the end.
"I'm sure I'll talk to Jimmy and I'm sure I'll talk to Jeanie as well, the Buss family, and figure out what we need to do," Bryant told reporters Tuesday. "It's obviously a lot on the table for them with the [financial] penalties and so forth. It's a tough call to make. But then again, it's one more year, one more year. That's how I look at it.
"One more year. I don't know how I'm going to suit up and my contract is up after next year. Pau is done after next year. Hopefully, we get Dwight locked up so he's here for a while so the future is kind of set and take a crack at this thing."
Bryant's wishes are easier said than done.
Howard will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and is expected to be courted by the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Gasol said that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told him during his exit meeting Tuesday that he could be moved in the offseason. ("I'd prefer to stay, but I'm prepared if I'm not," Gasol said.) Bryant will be returning from a torn left Achilles injury that cut his season short, and expects to be ready for the season-opener.
The Lakers have potentially seven free agents in Howard, forwards Metta World Peace (player option) Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison and Devin Ebanks, and guards Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris. The Lakers also have an amnesty provision available.
"Yes, it's true that Kobe would like to keep the team together," Kupchak said. "But a lot of the players are free agents. They are going to have a say in this as well. Whatever we choose to do, if a player decides to go somewhere else that's not possible."
The Lakers entered the season with championship dreams after adding Howard and Steve Nash, but it went downhill from almost the start. Los Angeles endured an early season coaching change, the death of its owner, bad chemistry, struggles with coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, poor defense and major injuries to every starter. The Lakers finished the regular season 45-37 record, but were 20-8 after the All-Star game. Los Angeles earned the Western Conference's seventh playoff seed before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Howard declined to address if a pay cut would play in his free agency decision. The Lakers can pay Howard more than anyone else with a five-year, maximum $117.9 million contract. He would take a pay cut with a four-year, $87.6 million max deal if he went elsewhere.
Howard said he loved the city of Los Angeles, but added it can be difficult to be a Laker when things are bad. He asked that his ability to make a free-agent decision be respected without pressure, a curious request considering Bryant said he will lobby Howard to stay long term. No major Lakers free agent has ever departed.
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"I'm just going to get away," Howard said. "I think that I should be a professional and not let anybody make the decision because this decision is for myself, and myself only. Making a decision like this, you don't want to make it off emotion or what other people are saying."
Bryant predicts a Howard return.
"I hope he [returns]," Bryant said. "It's just a matter of what he feels in his heart and what he wants to do. He kind of has reached a crossroads in his career. I think Los Angeles is a perfect spot for him to assert himself and put his foot down and have his career really take off and be what it should be. There is no better place for centers to be than Los Angeles.
"I will talk to him. Bring him out to the house, chill with him a little bit and watch another cartoon movie or something. We'll have a good time."
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