There has been growing speculation that Orlando center Dwight Howard will leave Magic and go by way of Shaquille O’Neal—abandoning Disney World in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the Magic star said Monday that isn't plan at all, according to a story in the Orlando Sentinel. Howard, during an impromptu fan-appreciation cookout Monday, said his desire is for the Magic to improve the team around him and build greater fan support in order to return Orlando to the elite level.
"I'm not trying to run behind nobody like Shaq or be behind somebody else," Howard said to the Orlando Sentinel. "I want to start my own path and I want people to follow my path and not just follow somebody else's path. I want to have my own path, and I want to start that here in Orlando. But I can't do it alone. Not only do I need the right teammates, but I need the city behind me. That's the only way it's going to get done. We can change this small city that we have—this small market that we have—and we can make it a big market."
But like O’Neal, who left the Magic for the Lakers following the 1995-96 season, most believe Orlando isn’t big enough for the enormous young star. Howard remains under contract with the Magic through the 2012-13 season, but he can opt out a year early.
It is widely believed before the Magic would allow Howard to go and get nothing in return, they would consider a trade with Los Angeles that might land them either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol in return.
There is no doubt Howard isn’t happy with the current team, which was bounced out of the first round of the playoffs by Atlanta last month. Just a couple years ago, Orlando looked like the team of the future in the Eastern Conference with Rashard Lewis and Howard as the cornerstones.
There have been some questionable trade decisions in the past couple seasons that have derailed the Magic and put them well behind teams like Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and Boston.
Still, Howard seems to think there are some moves that can made to put some better pieces around him that would make Orlando a force again in the East.
"As of right now, I'm a part of the Orlando Magic and I plan to be here," Howard told the Sentinel. "And I want the Magic to do whatever they can to make sure that we can get our city behind us. That's the only thing that I want to happen: just to have the city behind me and the support of our fans. I never said I was leaving. I never, ever thought about leaving. That's basically where my head is right now. I never said anything to them [the Magic] about what my plans were because that's not what I'm focused on right now."
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)