EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Kobe Bryant rolled into the media workroom at the Lakers’ practice facility on a scooter, protecting his surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
Then, following his exit meeting, he proceeded to run over all of Dwight Howard’s critics — the ones who say the team should cut ties with the game’s best big man and let Howard walk as a free agent.
“Los Angeles is the best place for him,” said Bryant, who continues to predict he’ll be healed and ready to play in the 2013-14 season opener. “It’s the perfect spot for him to assert himself and have his career really take off and be what it should be. There’s no greater place for centers to play than in Los Angeles.”
Bryant is convinced that after a few weeks of reflection, Howard will re-up with the Lakers for five years and $118 million. To sign with another team, Howard’s max deal would be $88 million over four years, leaving $30 million in some team’s coffers.
Kobe says common sense tells you that Howard is most likely coming back.
“We all like to consider ourselves businessmen somewhat,” said Bryant, who will be entering the final year of his contract. “It just makes more sense — contractually and perception-wise. It’s just a great place — an incredible market.
“If you win (in Los Angeles) a lot of things go well for you.”
From Howard’s point of view, things can only get better — individually and team-wise.
“I keep saying it,” Howard told the gathered media Tuesday, “that this year was a nightmare. It was a bad dream you couldn’t wake up from. We tried but the bad people in the nightmare would never leave us alone. It was a really tough year.
”But one positive thing was that we got through the year, all the injuries and still made the playoffs.”
If you take Howard at his word, the dark season won’t have any impact on whether he re-signs with the Lakers or moves elsewhere.
“None at all,” Howard said, adding he’ll spend a few weeks “decompressing” from the rigors of the season and all its attending pressures.
“I deserve it and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said, clinging to his season-long mantra that he won’t talk about next season until he’s made up his mind on where he’s going to play.
“I need to clear my head and just not think about anything — just relax. Once I do that I’ll have plenty of time to think about everything and make a decision.”
Howard wanted to make sure everyone understands that despite the troubling season and early playoff departure, he loves L.A. and the Lakers organization.
“I came back early from serious back surgery because I wanted to win so badly for the team and the fans,” Howard said. “I could have sat out another six months and that would have been the timetable they gave me for recovery.
“I knew this team needed me and that we had a chance to win a championship, so I made the choice to push myself, and I’m glad I did. I learned a lot about my body and myself by doing it that way. But it was a slow process with the back and the (torn shoulder) labrum, and all the injuries just crushed us.”
Howard says he’ll see a shoulder specialist Wednesday and “hope I don’t have to have to have any more surgery. But we’ll see.”
Also waiting will be Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who said he would not pressure Howard for a fast answer about re-signing or moving on.
“I’ve told him that from the day we traded for him,” Kupchak said, “and nothing’s changed. I also told Dwight that I truly believe this is the best place for him to win championships and build his legacy, but he has to make up his mind about what he wants to accomplish and who he wants to play with.”
Kupchak says that Howard has been very positive about his Los Angeles experience, and that if there’s something the Lakers are missing as they court Howard, “I’m not aware of it.”
Pau Gasol says there’s nothing new on his status, and that Kupchak admitted that the team might have to trade him or amnesty him to provide some luxury tax relief for the team next season.
Talking to reporters following his session with the Lakers’ GM, Gasol was calm and understanding, saying he accepts the realities of the situation and will respect whatever decision the team makes. A few minutes later, though, Gasol looked a bit more shaken as he talked with a reporter in the players’ parking lot.
“Hey, I love it here,” the Spaniard said. “I don’t want to play for any other organization. But it’s out of my hands.
“I’m not happy how it’s turned out and hopefully I’ll be here next year. But they’re going to do what’s best for the organization, so I just have to wait and see what they do.”
If it’s up to Bryant, Gasol will be back in purple and gold next season.
“To me,” Bryant said, “it’s a no-brainer. We’ve won championships with (Pau) and we need him to get where we want to go. I don’t cut the checks, though. All I can do is voice my opinion.