Dwight Howard has been coy about his upcoming free-agent status, often dodging reporters' questions about it, but he provided his latest insights Wednesday.
Does he see himself as the Lakers' cornerstone after Kobe Bryant's career ends?
"Yeah, I do. That's what we've always talked about since the first day I got here," he said.
So he's signing with the Lakers when free agency starts in July?
Not quite. He backed off slightly.
"The only thing that matters is right now. Nobody can control what happens this off-season," Howard said. "There's no need for me to make the decision right now to where I'm going to be in the future, but my goal hasn't changed. I want to win a championship and I want to win one here. I'm here right now."
The question for the Lakers: Will he be here next season?
He can sign a five-year, $118-million contract to stay with them or a four-year, $87.6-million deal with another team.
For now, he knows the Lakers expect better of him.
"I could be more. It starts with me," he said, adding that he needed to get in better shape while battling back and shoulder injuries.
"I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me but it is tough. It's not as easy as I was expecting it to be, but I did come back early. ... I'm going to do whatever I can to really get my body, my mind and my spirit in the right place to help this team."
Howard had surgery in April for a herniated disk in his back. He played in the Lakers' season opener Oct. 30.
Howard was lively in the Lakers' 113-99 victory Wednesday over Boston, scoring 24 points and taking 12 rebounds.
He said he wouldn't let public criticism bother him.
"I'm not going to allow that to change who I am and put me in a shell. I'm not going to let it defeat who I am as a person," he said. "I've always been the same person — fun loving, I don't have a bad bone in my body."
But this is Los Angeles. And the always-driven Bryant is a teammate. Not to mention the through-the-roof expectations of Lakers fans.
"The spotlight is always on. I totally understand that and I knew what I was getting into when I got here. This is a great learning experience for me. This has made me a better person, a better man, and I'm looking forward to continuing to grow."
Buss memorial service
A notable list of former and current Lakers players will be speaking at the memorial service for Jerry Buss on Thursday at Nokia Theatre.
The event is by invitation and will be emceed by broadcaster Jim Hill. Time Warner Cable SportsNet will televise it live at 3 p.m.
The list of speakers: AEG executive Tim Leiweke, Johnny Buss, Buss business associate Frank Mariani, David Stern, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol, Pat Riley, Bryant and Magic Johnson.
There will be musical interludes by Randy Newman, Davis Gaines and USC's marching band.
Buss died Monday at 80 after a lengthy battle with cancer.