Dwight Howard knows how all the attention surrounding his exit from the Orlando Magic created a "Dwightmare" situation for everyone involved and he wants to avoid the negative spotlight with his free agency decision looming in Los Angeles.
"I'm not a crybaby," Howard told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith on SportsCenter on Monday. "I didn't try to cry my way out of Orlando. That was never my intention, or not what I did at all. And I understand everybody thought it was that way because of what was being put out there. I'm not indecisive. I love this game. You know I play it because it inspires me; it inspires millions of kids around me, adults and all. And, I'm going to have fun while I do it."
Howard becomes a free agent July 1 but wants to live in the present, sticking to his goal of winning the first championship of his nine-year career this season, no matter how unlikely it may seem with the Los Angeles Lakers getting off to a 22-26 start more than three months into the season.
"Right now, my only focus is to get us into the playoffs and win the championship," Howard said. "Nothing else matters at this point."
Coming into Tuesday, the Lakers trailed the Houston Rockets by 3½ games for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Lakers have made it clear that they want Howard to be a keystone for the franchise moving forward, with general manager Mitch Kupchak telling Newsday late last month the center will not be traded. But Howard does not want to focus on the future just yet.
"I understand, you know, what the Lakers want," Howard said. "And I also understand that right now, there's no need for all the circus, and all the stuff that happened last year to start back up. I don't want it, my team doesn't need it, I don't need it, and frankly, our fans don't need it neither."
What the fans do need is to see more of Howard looking like the player who became the first person in league history to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. First he needs to be on the court to do so.
Howard is considered a game-time decision when the Lakers play the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday because of a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, but coach Mike D'Antoni said Tuesday that his center is "probably not going to play." Howard, who has missed four games this season because of his shoulder but has not missed any time from complications stemming from offseason back surgery, said he continues to battle with his health.
"Well with my back you know, it's not all the way there, 75 percent," Howard said. "And with my shoulder, it's day to day. This is the first year recovering off of a back surgery. I really don't think people understand the severity of the surgery and the injury, and how long it takes to recover. Even sitting down in this chair right now is causing my legs to go numb, and just having this tingling sensation all the way down my legs. So, that happens when I'm playing. That happens when I'm just sitting on the bench for a couple minutes. It's not easy."
Howard, who is averaging just 16.5 points per game -- his lowest scoring output since his second season in the league -- said he is slowly coming to terms with playing alongside Kobe Bryant, who averages 21.1 shots per game to Howard's 10.3.
"You play with Kobe Bryant you know, he's going to get them up," Howard said. "But, at the same time, I have to find ways to still be effective. I can't allow that to affect how I play. There were a lot of times early in the season where I would get upset you know, because I felt like he shot the ball a lot. And you know, I wanted some touches down low. Do I want touches, yeah. But, whatever I have to do to help this team win, I have to keep my mind in that area."
The Lakers have gone 5-1 in their last six games as Bryant has taken on a more pass-first approach, averaging 10.2 assists against 14 shot attempts per game during the stretch.
One statistical category that Howard and the Lakers continue to struggle with is free throw shooting. Howard is shooting just 49.6 percent from the line this season, significantly lower than his 58.2 percent career mark. As the result, the Lakers rank 29th in the league from the line, shooting 69.0 percent as a team.
"It's mental," Howard said. "When I step up to the line in games, and I think so much about missing because everybody saying I can't shoot free throws. And it's just going up there and shooting it. When I do have those games when I go up there and shoot it, they're good. So my thing it's all mental. In high school I was 90 percent from the line."
Despite all of the challenges the Lakers season has presented – a coaching change, injuries, losing streaks, etc. – Howard said he has the same expectations now that he did when he was first traded to the team in August.
"Getting to the playoffs, and winning to the championship," Howard said. "They haven't changed. It's made it a little tougher, but it hasn't changed."