EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) - In words and deeds, the Los Angeles Lakers are making it clear how they feel about Dwight Howard.
The Lakers took the unusual step earlier this week of putting up billboards around the LA area with a large photo of the center and the word ``Stay.'' General manager Mitch Kupchak also addressed his feelings late Thursday night after the NBA draft.
``The message is simple: we care about you and we want you to stay,'' Kupchak said.
Howard's impending free agency has been prominent in the Lakers' minds since their season ended in a first-round playoff sweep.
Howard, a seven-time All-Star, has vowed to make his decision in his own best interests, giving no indication he favored the Lakers over any other team. The free agency period begins at 9:01 p.m. PDT Sunday.
Kupchak used the word ``optimistic'' to describe his feelings about what Howard might do. The Lakers can offer a maximum of $118 million over five seasons, and other teams can offer $88 million over four years.
Kupchak believes that's one reason for Howard to re-sign in Los Angeles.
``I don't think anything dramatic is going to happen on June 30th at 9:01 regarding Dwight,'' Kupchak said. ``My understanding is there are several other teams that have great interest, and he's going to have a process that I understand to be pretty deliberate that he's going to go through. We'll be involved in that process and we'll see how it plays out.''
Kupchak said any talk of Howard's dissatisfaction with coach Mike D'Antoni or his offensive game plan was simply a byproduct of a season that ended with a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
``At the end of a losing season, nobody's happy,'' Kupchak said. ``It's as simple as that.''

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