Howard says fans will determine future

Dwight Howard, in his first public comments regarding his future, told the Orlando Sentinel the fans would have a big say in how long he plays with the Magic.

"You know what? I'll be here as long as the fans want me to be here," he said, according to the Sentinel.

Howard, an All-Star center who in April was named the league's defensive player of the year, has been with the Magic since he entered the league in the 2004-05 season. He has four years left on an $85 million contract.

"I tell my friends this: I want to stay here. It will be based upon the city. We want the support of our fans. That's what carries us, that's what inspires us, that's what keeps us motivated," Howard told the Sentinel.

"You want to feel loved. That's the biggest thing. I show my love to the community. I show my love to this city by stepping on the floor every night and playing as hard as I can. That's all we want back."

Howard, 23, is cognizant of the wake left by Shaquille O'Neal, who began his NBA career in 1992 with Orlando and dumped the Magic in 1996 for the Los Angeles Lakers, a year after leading the Magic to the NBA Finals.

Howard said he also understood what LeBron James faces, as the Cleveland Cavaliers star approaches free agency in 2010.

"You just don't want to say something. You want to wait and weigh your options," Howard said in the Sentinel. "Everybody can say that LeBron should stay in Cleveland. That's where he's from. But you have to think about what's best for you and your family."

The Magic, for their part, will need to get the necessary personnel to remain a contender -- something Howard called a "championship mentality."

"My responsibility is to my family first, then the organization and then my city. I will never turn my back on this city as long as they don't turn their back on me," Howard told the Sentinel.

"I've always wanted to see Orlando on top because we've always been overlooked -- not just as a basketball franchise -- but as a city. I do a lot for the community, especially in the African-American community, because of what goes on. I try to do my best. One thing I said [before being drafted in 2004], whatever city I go to, I'd always try to do my best to change it.

"So I love this place. I want to stay here."