Dwight Howard battles against the Miami Heat (David Santiago / Associated…)
Dwight Howard doesn't get it.
The Lakers star center correctly senses that fans haven't fully embraced him, but he doesn't see how easy it would be to win them over.
"I understand why they're hesitating," Howard said after the Lakers' 91-85 victory over the Phoenix Suns. "Because I haven't signed a deal."
Howard is in the final year of his contract, but since his opening news conference with the team, he's refused to talk about his plans beyond the season.
"What's needed to be said, I've said," Howard said. "Right now I'm committed to this team, and the only thing that matters is right now. Nothing else matters beyond what we do the next game and what we do for the rest of the season. There's no need for us to go back and forth and cause a circus about anything."
That's his blind spot. The circus exists because he won't talk about life after his current contract.
"I'm here right now, so there's no need for me to have one foot in and one foot out," he said. "I'm here. I'm going to do everything I can to help this team win right now, and that's the only thing that matters."
But it's not the only thing that matters, not to the longtime fans who obsess over the future of their franchise. This season is already looking like a wash, stricken by injuries from the start.
The fans want to know there's a tangible future as Kobe Bryant nears the end of his run. They want to know that Howard is a Laker for life.
That's certainly a big commitment from Howard -- one he can't make yet. That's fair. It's also not the point.
"I expect to finish my career here, but that's a decision for another day," is all it would take -- not that he's uttered those words.
An empty promise would dramatically defuse the tension.
"The focus has to be with us winning games and making it to the playoffs and winning a championship," Howard repeated like a mantra. "It can't be on whether or not I'm going to sign or whatever. My focus, just so I can play free and just be who I am, is to just focus on this moment."
He may be bearing his soul, but he still needs to tweak his stock answer. A white lie in February isn't going to make things better or worse for him in July. The fans will resent him regardless, if he leaves.
Howard emphasized that he's not close to being himself after off-season back surgery.
"I'm nowhere near who I was in Orlando," he said. "In Orlando, I could play 40 minutes and never get tired. Here I give you about 10 minutes."
He certainly doesn't look like the player who helped carry the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. The Lakers need that Howard on the floor.
"I had to lie on my back for four or five months and then had four weeks to train before the season started," he said. "That's not normal. I'm used to training all summer and coming back in tip-top shape. It didn't happen this year, so I'm looking forward to having a full summer and training camp."
Wasn't the summer off limits, him living in the moment and all?
"That's the only part I'm looking forward to, getting my body back," he said.
Well, now he knows how the fans feel: Most want him back, some aren't sure, his lack of commitment pushing them away.
"I have to embrace this moment, embrace this team and push us to victory," he said. "We need everybody to believe just like we believe."
But because Howard doesn't sound like he'll be back, as he regularly dodges the question, fans are having trouble believing. Because he won't answer, the question just keeps getting asked over and over again.
"There shouldn't be no circus," Howard said.
There doesn't have to be, and that's on him.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.