EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — So many times in recent years, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has had the answers.
Not right now, and maybe not in the next week or two.
"I probably don't have any more information than anybody in this room does," Kupchak told a group of reporters at the Lakers' offices in El Segundo after the NBA draft late Thursday night. "I'm aware of a lot of the stuff that's flying back and forth, a lot of the rumors, so there's a realistic possibility that he won't be back. But I'm optimistic that he will."
Dwight Howard holds all the power right now, and he will go hear lively, promise-filled presentations from other NBA teams next week before coming back to the Lakers to see how he feels about them then.
It appears Howard, an unrestricted free agent whom the Lakers traded Andrew Bynum to acquire last year, might be on his way to Houston or Dallas or even Atlanta.
Kupchak and Lakers co-owner Jim Buss will be left to sweat it out, starting Sunday night, much like Kupchak and then-Lakers owner Jerry Buss did when Kobe Bryant nearly signed with the Clippers in 2004.
"Very similar. Scary close," Kupchak said. "Kobe visited with teams — more than one team, there were several. I remember we were on pins and needles. We'd just gotten beaten (by Detroit in the NBA Finals) and Phil (Jackson) left for the first time and we traded Shaquille (O'Neal), and there was a lot of uncertainty about what Kobe would do."
Asked if the monumental importance of Howard's decision in dictating the Lakers' future is a period of time that he can look forward to or view as exciting, Kupchak shook his head.
"It's not the most fun time of year, to be honest with you," Kupchak said.
"But there's a lot of anticipation. And your mind is racing. At some level, it's challenging. You have to try to figure it out and plan."
Kupchak said the Lakers have a Plan A and Plan B: "Plan A is always better than Plan B."
The public advertising the Lakers have done to urge Howard to stay is part of Plan A.
"You have to be aggressive," Kupchak said. "You can't take chances that you're not doing enough, and from our point of view, we wanted to be as aggressive and as proactive as possible yet do it with what we felt was the right way without going overboard. The message is simple: We care about you, and we want you to stay. It's that simple."
But if Howard simply believes he fits in better in Houston with a former fellow post player as head coach in Kevin McHale and a young perimeter star in James Harden, the Lakers will be left with nothing to do but take those signs down quickly. Howard's departure would not mean the Lakers could spend money earmarked for him on others, though they could agree to a sign-and-trade deal to get him a bigger contract and some pieces or picks back from his new employer.
Working under the assumption that Howard signs somewhere soon after free agents are first allowed at 9 p.m. PDT on July 9, the Lakers can proceed with waiving either Metta World Peace (if Howard leaves) or Pau Gasol (if Howard stays) before the NBA's July 16 deadline to use the one-time amnesty provision for luxury-tax savings.
In the meantime, Kupchak will be looking to add one quality free agent using the mini-mid-level salary-cap exception with a starting salary of $3.09 million, plus others for minimum salaries. The Lakers are looking for more speed all over the court for the coming season, but don't want to commit salary to future years as they preserve payroll for major free-agent proposals in 2014-15.
"We think no matter what happens we'll be competitive next year," Kupchak said. "Our future is bright in terms of having flexibility."