He can opt out of his current deal in the summer of 2012 and that means if he wants he can put the Orlando Magic in the same spot the Denver Nuggets were with Carmelo Anthony last season. There is talk — real talk — coming out of Howard’s camp and from other teams around the league about where the best center walking the planet may want to play next.
Howard is trying to quell all that and let people know that Orlando is where he wants to be. That’s what he told the Orlando Sentinel at a Memorial Day barbeque for Magic fans.
“I’m not trying to run behind nobody like Shaq or be behind somebody else,” Howard said, referencing Shaquille O’Neal’s decision to leave the Magic following the 1995-96 season and sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“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….
“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.”
Howard should not question if the city is behind him. He is revered in Orlando. He is a legend. He is the biggest sporting name in the city. He is the BMOC, the rock star. The fans in Orlando love him and want to keep him.
Now, needing the right teammates, that’s another issue. Orlando didn’t have a championship caliber team around Howard at the start of last season, so they made a big move that both made the team worse and locked in more payroll long term. Building a team around Howard will not be easy.
That is why Howard has yet to sign an extension, he wants the leverage to push the Magic to rework the roster. (However, Howard does not get to keep that leverage then say there should not be speculation about where he will play next. Sorry.)
Now Howard and Orlando must wait for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The terms of his extension, how they team can be rebuilt, all of it hinges on whatever terms are reached after the lockout.
Until then, the barbeques are a nice touch. No question that if things work out Howard would sign to stay in Orlando. The question is if things will work out. Until then the speculation will continue.