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Monday, April 29, 2013
Metta: Too much pressure on Dwight

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Just before 1 a.m. on Monday morning, a few hours after leaving Staples Center following the Los Angeles Lakers' season-ending loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Dwight Howard addressed his murky future with the team.

"I hope I get the chance to make it up to you! Thank u la," Howard posted on Twitter.

Whether that means Howard will indeed sign a five-year, $118 million contract extension when he becomes a free agent come July 1 and remain a Laker remains to be seen.

Howard will be able to explain what he meant by the tweet when he addresses the media following his exit interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday, much like some of his teammates did Monday, including Metta World Peace, who said too much was put on Howard's shoulders this season.

"I think we put a little too much pressure on Dwight and as responsible leaders, we gave him a little too much responsibility," said World Peace.

"Kobe (Bryant), Pau (Gasol) and myself, we weren't responsible enough. We should have been louder voices. So, I take a lot of responsibility and I'm sure Kobe and Pau do also. So next year, we definitely will. We have to be the voice in the locker room consistently."

That is, if World Peace is back with the Lakers next year.

The 14-year veteran has a player option worth approximately $7.7 million for next season. If World Peace opts into it, he could become a target for the Lakers' one-time amnesty clause, allowing the team to waive the 33-year-old and take his salary off its cap and avoid luxury tax penalties.

"You never know," said World Peace, who added he would leave it in the hands of his agent, Sam Cornstein. "Anything can happen. You never know. Right now for me it's just all about next year, about winning, coming back next year and winning."

Another Lakers starter weighed in on Howard's future. Steve Nash, who revealed his plans to dive right into rehabilitation on his right hip and hamstring that have required four epidural injections and a cortisone shot in the last two weeks and kept him out of the Lakers' final two games against the Spurs, wants to be sharing the court with Howard next season.

"I'm very hopeful that Dwight will be back," Nash said Monday. "I think this is the place for him. He's in the prime of his career. He's got his best years ahead of him. He can play for one of the greatest franchises in sports and an amazing city. This has got to be the place for him and I'm hopeful that he sees it that way."

Nash, 39, has two years and $19 million remaining on his Lakers contract.

"I'm definitely going to prepare better than I ever have to try to make this year a distant memory and next year a phenomenal experience," said Nash, who estimated his body should be back to "100 percent" playing shape in a month.

There are plenty of things about the 2012-13 season that the Lakers will want to forget.

"The thing that we didn't do, we didn't establish our identity this year," said Chris Duhon, who is unlikely to return next season with the Lakers about to buy out his $3.9 million contract for approximately $1.5 million. "We have to have an identity of what type of team we're going to be."

That identity was muddled by a constant string of injuries to just about every player on the roster, as well as a coaching change from Mike Brown to Mike D'Antoni early in the season.

"I thought Mike Brown was a great coach, but I don't think we let him coach at times," said World Peace. "Then we brought in Coach D'Antoni and I think Coach D'Antoni is a really good coach and sometimes we didn't let him coach."

Despite the disappointment of a $100 million payroll and the letdown of an early playoff exit, Nash said that there is reason for optimism that the team could have continued success next season if kept intact as evidenced by its 28-12 finish to the regular season.

"I think the core pieces, with this season under our belt and the disappointment of this season as well, I think we could come back and form something special," Nash said. "So, a lot to play for, a lot to work for. I think as we saw this year, it's not a perfect fit but that doesn't mean that we don't have great pieces and we have terrific players that can find a way to make this work."