This should have marked the time when Dwight Howard could escape from everything.
He spent last week in Lake Tahoe fishing and riding dune buggies in hopes of clearing his mind before an unpredictable offseason once he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Back in Los Angeles, things hardly seemed settled.
An ESPN report said Howard devoted part of a separate meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak following his formal exit interview three weeks ago to lament how Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni made him feel "marginalized."
Kupchak said that didn't happen.
"Criticism of a coach did not come up," Kupchak said Wednesday in a phone interview. "Our coach did not come up."
Howard still experienced frustration with Kobe Bryant's demanding leadership style and D'Antoni's offense centering less on post play and more on pick-and-rolls.
Howard also labored through a surgically repaired back and a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder. Kupchak argued that largely contributed to Howard averaging 17.1 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds, his lowest numbers since the 2006-07 season.
"Everybody felt the season didn't go the way they wanted," Kupchak said, referring to the Lakers falling in a first-round sweep to San Antonio. "They all felt there are ways to utilize their talent better going forward. That would include Dwight."
None of this dampens Kupchak's belief that Howard will return to the Lakers.
"I'm optimistic," Kupchak said. "Just look at what we have to offer."
Kupchak then ticked off the Lakers' championship history, the team's fan base and the "lifestyle" Los Angeles affords. He also alluded to the Lakers' financial leverage.
Howard can sign with the Lakers for five years and $118 million or go somewhere else for four years and $88 million. The NBA's labor deal devised five-year deals to boast annual raises worth 7.5 percent of the first-year's salary, as opposed to four-year deals that have 4.5 percent raises.
Kupchak also believes Howard will co-exist with D'Antoni, whom Kupchak has said will return next season.
"I have absolute and complete confidence," Kupchak said. "Players don't have to like coaches. They just have to play hard. In L.A., our coaches get evaluated on wins and losses and not whether our players like them or don't like them."
Kupchak won't have clarity on Howard's future anytime soon.
A source familiar with Howard's thinking says he plans to test free agency and has considered the Lakers, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Golden State.
Nothing remains binding, though. The source added Howard's main concern involves "what team he feels has the best chance to win championships, has the best team and system around him." The source also stressed Howard has not and will not ask the Lakers to make any moves on his behalf.
Kupchak acknowledged the team has made unspecified contingency plans in case Howard leaves. Either way, Howard can't officially re-sign until July 10 when a moratorium on NBA business is lifted
"The sooner he makes his mind up, the better for everybody," Kupchak said. "But I told him when he first got here, 'I'm not going to bug you. I believe this is the place for you. When you make your mind up, let me know.' "
After all, Kupchak believes Howard will end his NBA career with a Lakers retired jersey and a statue. Assuming, Howard continues wearing purple and gold, of course.
Said Kupchak: "He's going to have a great year next year."