By Ben Golliver
Dwight Howard has apologized to Orlando for his behavior during a two-year free agency drama that culminated in a trade to the Lakers last summer. The apology comes just days before the Lakers' first trip to the city where Howard was selected No. 1 overall in the 2004 NBA draft and where he spent the first eight seasons of his career.
USA Today Sports reports that Howard is sorry for how he behaved during the so-called "Dwightmare," which stretched over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. The saga saw Howard vacillate on whether he would re-sign in Orlando, meet with management about replacing former coach Stan Van Gundy, and publicly request a trade. Ultimately, Van Gundy and former GM Otis Smith lost their jobs before Howard was shipped to Los Angeles in a four-team blockbuster deal.
"In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way," he said, sitting at his kitchen table. "If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.
"I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me."
"I'm becoming a better man because of the stuff that has happened to me this last year and a half. Everybody goes through stuff like this. Even though I'm going through it where everybody in the world can see it, I'm happy that it's happening. If it didn't happen, I'd be stuck in my ways. I would never change, and then it would be a lot worse. For all this stuff to happen, for me to sit back and see and evaluate myself and what I could've done better and realize that I needed to make a change, I'm getting better. I'm growing up. I'm maturing."
The Lakers are set to make their only visit to Orlando's Amway Center on Tuesday night.
Howard's apology will fall on mostly deaf ears in Central Florida. While Howard hasn't quite reached "LeBron James returns to Cleveland after The Decision" levels of hatred, he's sure to be treated like Public Enemy No. 1 in his return to Orlando, where the Magic are 18-46 this season and staring down the barrel of a lengthy rebuilding effort.
This week, the Orlando Sentinel posted a video entitled, "Forget you Dwight Howard," in which cartoon caricatures of various Magic players sing about moving on from their former All-Star teammate. The video comes just days after a number of Howard's former teammates, including Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick, took offense to Howard saying that his Magic teams were "full of people who nobody wanted."
“At some point, when are you gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Nelson asked the Sentinel.
Redick, now with the Bucks, told ESPNLA.com: "I'm not surprised by it. I would be more surprised when Dwight starts taking responsibility. That would be the most negative thing I can say, but that's the truth."
Howard has since clarified that he simply meant that his Magic teams were full of underrated players.
Meanwhile, the Kamenetzky Brothers reported Kobe Bryant's advice for Howard during his return, which included the one-liner: "Boos don't block dunks."
"I'll talk to him about it. Personally, I think he's gonna go out there and play his game. There's nothing he can do say that's gonna alter what they're gonna do. So why bother? The best thing to do is to just go out there, stay focused what we're trying to accomplish, what we're trying to do, and not worry about what happened in Orlando. That's water under the bridge."
The good news for Howard is that the Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season. The Lakers re-entered the Western Conference playoff picture by beating the Bulls
on Sunday, which marked their eighth win in their last 10 games.