By Eric Pincus
10:00 PM EDT, June 5, 2013
The Lakers are trying to prepare for Dwight Howard's free-agency decision, whether he chooses to stay with the team long term or leave for another franchise.
"It's the one decision we have to wait on," said General Manager Mitch Kupchak in an interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. "Then we will try to have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C depending on what happens."
The Lakers hope Howard chooses to re-sign for what could be a $118-million, five-year contract.
"I think this is the best city to live in with the best fans in the NBA," said Kupchak. "There are certain things that you remind [Howard] of or talk to him about, and you hope that it plays in your favor."
In the meantime, the Lakers can prepare for the draft on June 27 and free agency on July 1, but there's only so much to be done until they know Howard's decision.
"It moves quickly, so it's not like you can go to a Plan B with certainty. There will be 29 other teams looking to improve their teams on July 1," he said. "We spend a lot of time on those what-ifs, contingency plans."
The team doesn't have a first-round pick (drafting at No. 48) and little spending power in July as a taxpayer.
"You're not going to get really good, productive young players at a minimum salary," said Kupchak. "You'll end up getting the older player who's had a good career that's looking to contend for a championship, like Antawn Jamison last season."
The Lakers will have about $3.1 million to spend via their taxpayer midlevel exception. Naturally, the target will shift if Howard chooses to leave for another team.
Kupchak said the Lakers haven't decided if they'll waive a player using their one-time amnesty provision, which would allow the Lakers to remove a single player from their salary cap-luxury tax computation.
The only Lakers eligible for the amnesty window in July are Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake. Bryant is recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon but hopes he'll be ready for the season's opener.
The Lakers would like to improve this summer but may have a better chance of rebuilding the franchise over the summer of 2014 when the team projects to have significant cap room.
"It's something we did intentionally, where we have a lot of flexibility for that season," said Kupchak. "It can be used a lot of different ways. You don't have to focus on free agency; you can take a contract. If a player doesn't fit into someone's roster from a salary perspective -- maybe due to the repeater tax, for example -- maybe you can find a guy that way. There are a lot of ways you can use that space that we will have, and we're looking forward to having that flexibility."
In the face of uncertainty, the Lakers will rely on Coach Mike D'Antoni to guide the team next season.
"Now that he has a feel of our players and their talent level, I'm confident that Mike will be flexible and get the most out of them next year," said Kupchak.
With the status of both Howard and Bryant up in the air, just who D'Antoni will be coaching on opening night remains a mystery -- at least until July, when Howard makes his decision.
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