Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak probably didn't expect to conduct exit interviews so early in the postseason, but even after a subpar season L.A.'s GM is still publicly stepping up to defend soon-to-be free agent Dwight Howard and embattled head coach Mike D'Antoni. A rumor has surfaced that Howard spent a portion of his exit interview complaining about D'Antoni, but Kupchak unequivocally refuted the report when speaking with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, saying:
"Criticism of a coach did not come up. Our coach did not come up."
"Everybody felt the season didn't go the way they wanted. They all felt there are ways to utilize their talent better going forward. That would include Dwight."
When Howard hits free agency this summer the Lakers can offer him more years and more money on his next contract than any other team, which is part of the reason why Kupchak is still "optimistic" about Dwight signing with L.A. The refutation of the report fights the perception that the Lakers' front office will have a decision dictated to them by a player with regards to the coaching situation, and it helps to protect everyone involved. In other words, a firm denial was probably Kupchak's best move under the circumstances.
Medina's report suggests that Howard is considering the Lakers, Mavericks, Rockets, Hawks and Warriors as potential landing spots and that he's looking for "the best chance to win championships" with the team with the "best system around him." All Kupchak and the Lakers can do now is wait for a decision:
"The sooner he makes his mind up, the better for everybody," Kupchak said. "But I told him when he first got here, 'I'm not going to bug you. I believe this is the place for you. When you make your mind up, let me know.' "
The Lakers can't officially sign Howard until July 10, so expect the rumors and whispers trying to peg his intentions to continue for at least another month.