LOS ANGELES — Anyone who thinks they know where Dwight Howard will be playing next season knows more than the player himself.
Eleven days before the start of free agency, Howard said he has not decided which uniform he will be wearing when training camps open. It’s not a decision he takes lightly.
“This is my chance to choose my own destiny instead of letting someone else choose it,” Howard said during a rare two-hour interview at the Hotel Bel-Air. “So I’m going to really sit down and think about what is best for me as far as basketball and what is going to make me happy.
“I will sit down with these teams and hear what they have to say, see if their plans and my plans fit and go with the best option that will help my game expand, and get to where I want to get to.”
Translation: an NBA title.
Howard wouldn’t say whether the Lakers fit that bill, or whether General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Kobe Bryant or Metta World Peace can do anything more to convince him to stay. Bryant and World Peace reiterated this week their desire for Howard to stay.
“Those guys are hard to find, they don’t grow on trees,” Bryant said in a radio interview Wednesday. “When you have someone like that with his talent level, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise.
“I know he’s got a big decision to make and I’m sure he’ll take the visits and talk to the players on the teams he’s considering. We’ll touch base a lot more.”
Howard, 27, can earn $30 million more if he signs a four- or five-year deal with the Lakers over other teams. The decision will be his alone to make.
“There’s nothing one team can say to sway me away from another team,” he said. “It’s just going to be what’s best for me basketball-wise. That’s how I’m going to approach it.”
Howard said he finds the summer-time rumors amusing. One week he’s headed for Atlanta, the next he’s joining Chris Paul and the Clippers. Some have reported he’s staying with the Lakers, while others say he will play alongside James Harden in Houston.
“It’s funny,” he said. “That’s why I don’t pay attention. Next thing you know somebody is talking about me going to this team, me talking to this guy, to this team. I had dinner with this guy so that means I’m doing this (signing with that team.)
“I can’t control the rumors so it doesn’t make sense for me to try to shush it. It takes away from who I am and enjoying myself.”
That is exactly what Howard did in the weeks after the Lakers were eliminated by San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. Howard spent time with friends, went fishing and mountain biking, did some acting (he will be the voice of Cold Turkey in the upcoming animated movie “Free Birds”) and went to the movies.
He said he has averaged four movies a week, even seeing “Man of Steel” twice, once at the premiere and again with his father.
But now he’s back in the gym every morning and at the rehab center nearly every afternoon. He is working with trainer Idan Ravin, known in basketball circles as the “Hoops Whisperer.”
Ravin has worked with some of NBA’s biggest stars, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Bryant and Paul. Howard called the 90-minute sessions “intense.”
“I’m trying to get back to the way I played coming into the league, the way I started playing basketball,” Howard said. “I’m pressing the re-set button, trying to get back to the way I played before. He’s been good for me. He’s great. He pushes you mentally and physically.”
Howard expects his surgically repaired back to be 100 percent healthy by training camp. He had surgery last July and returned to the court six months later, a move criticized by some and applauded by others.
“I’m not surprised people didn’t cut me any slack,” he said. “I think they expected a lot and I understand the expectations because of what I’ve done in the past. But coming off major surgery, I don’t think everyone understood the severity of what happens in back surgery.”
Although Howard had several sub-par games last season, he finished the regular season averaging 17.1 points, a league-high 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 57.8 field-goal percentage.
“Some people said it was dumb for me to come back like I did, as early as I did, that I should have waited,” Howard said. “But I would argue with them, saying that it was the best thing I did because I developed tougher skin coming back from what I had to come from and hear people say certain things.
“I found a way to fight through all that, those tough times. But I’m glad I went through them because I believe if I had sat out, I would never have developed the tough skin that I developed in order to be where I want to be.”