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Monday, May 20, 2013
Updated: May 21, 11:32 AM ET
Dwight Howard voiced frustrations

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers do not yet know Dwight Howard's decision for next season, but the All-Star center made his feelings about Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni known before starting his offseason.

Nearly three weeks have passed since Howard had his exit interview with the Lakers and there's been barely a peep out of Howard since.

While he hasn't had anything to say to the press, Howard had a lot to say to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak back before the relative silence, however.

Howard
Howard

Howard was one of several Lakers -- Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol being the most noteworthy -- to have an extended separate meeting with the GM after his exit interview with both Kupchak and D'Antoni, multiple sources confirmed to ESPNLosAngeles.com.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard's frustration with D'Antoni -- particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard's voice.

Every player was afforded the opportunity to meet with Kupchak individually after D'Antoni left the room, but few spent as much time as Howard and Kupchak did together. Antawn Jamison also had a separate meeting with Kupchak without D'Antoni present, but that was because of a scheduling conflict.

Kupchak left the meeting with Howard undeterred, telling reporters he was "hopeful" and "optimistic" that Howard would be back with the Lakers next season and beyond, yet there have been several developments in the last couple weeks that could have an effect on Howard's decision.

D'Antoni chose not to retain assistant coach Chuck Person, a Howard confidant, on his staff for next season. Also, Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who was with Howard in Orlando for five seasons before both of them came to L.A. last year, has become a hot head coaching candidate, interviewing with Milwaukee and receiving interest from Charlotte.

One source described the potential departure of Clifford, coupled with the loss of Person as "removing the buffers," between Howard and D'Antoni, "which is a bad thing."

Howard has not conducted any interviews since the standard exit interview with the press and has only tweeted six times in that span -- one tweet containing a silly tongue twister joke, two tweets from a '50s-style theme restaurant, two sponsored tweet promoting contact lenses and one tweet on Mother's Day -- so there have been no public clues about what decision the pending free agent will make.

Howard is currently on vacation in the meantime as the days tick by on the six weeks remaining until free agency officially begins.

Bryant addressed the uncertainty surrounding Howard on Monday, tweeting, "Interesting off season looming.. Will spend time with d12 #stay and talk with the Buss family in hopes that Pau stays as well #my2cents"

Howard can sign a five-year, $118 million max-level extension to stay in L.A. come July 1. The most he could receive if he were to leave is a four-year deal worth $87.6 million.

The $30.4 million more the Lakers can offer over any other competitor is certainly an advantage L.A. is banking on when it comes time for Howard to choose, however the economics aren't as swayed towards the Lakers as it would appear.

Two of the teams that will covet Howard's services the most this summer -- the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks -- are located in Texas, where there is no income tax. Howard would still have to pay taxes on road games and other taxes, such as property taxes in Texas tend to be higher than in other states, and the endorsement opportunities in Houston could be less than they are in L.A., yet still, the salary difference doesn't seem to bother Howard.

Houston has become an attractive destination for Howard for several other reasons, according to a source. For starters, Howard has gotten to know the Houston area, as well as the history of the franchise, from working out with Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon two summers ago. Furthermore, the 27-year-old Howard is intrigued by the possibility of growing his game alongside a fellow All-Star on the rise in James Harden, who turns 24 in August.

Howard is expected to entertain the free-agency process and hear competing offers from Houston, Dallas and others, multiple sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com. Cleveland and Atlanta are teams that will also be vying for Howard, among other suitors.

The question remains as to how much of a hurdle D'Antoni's presence could prove to be in Howard's chances of remaining a Laker.

"We had to just sell out to whatever he wanted, whether we liked it or not," Howard said of D'Antoni following his exit interview. "We had to do what was going to benefit the team, and being one of the leaders on the team, I had to make sure I kept the guys in line to what the coach wanted us to do."

A source said Howard was very careful with his public comments about D'Antoni after the season, wary of attracting a "coach killer reputation" after how things ended in Orlando with Stan Van Gundy losing his job. Despite the frustration Howard had with D'Antoni last season, there is nothing to suggest the partnership is irreparable. "It's not a, 'It's me or Mike,' situation for Dwight," said a source.

Kupchak did not seem worried about any potential rift between player and coach.

"I think Dwight likes winning, he likes performing at a high level," Kupchak said. "I think he's fine with Mike D'Antoni, but I'm not really concerned if players like a coach, so I don't ask that question. Our coaches are evaluated by wins and losses."

Kupchak was further pressed about the possibility of a coaching change being dictated by a player.

"This organization has a precedent with that kind of a situation and I think we learned our lesson," Kupchak said, referring to when Paul Westhead was fired in the early '80s and the decision was tied to Magic Johnson's wishes. Whether that was the real story or not, both Johnson and the Lakers organization took a hit for how it was perceived.