For all the flak we’ve given Dwight Howard over the last year and change about the way he weaseled out of Orlando, it’s time to give the Los Angeles Lakers center some credit for admitting some culpability in this annoying mess. With the Lakers set to visit Orlando on Tuesday, and Howard coming off yet another embarrassing misstep (insulting the quality of players he worked with in Orlando, then attempting to qualify that designation and failing badly), Howard did well to, for once and for all, actually say a negative thing about himself on record.
In sitting down with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Howard offered this mild but needed mea culpa:
"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."
Save for the part about whining over the media (all we do is write down what you say and do, Dwight, there’s not a lot of guesswork and fabrication involved), none of this is anything new – all these feelings were obvious early in 2011-12, when Dwight set to work with a not-so-great roster that former Magic GM Otis Smith constructed. For that and this season, most NBA fans outside of Orlando completely understood why Howard would want to leave the team for greener pastures, even if it didn’t include the ability to join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
In trying to please everyone, though, Howard defaulted on an inability to make the certain kill. He picked up his player option for 2012-13 in Orlando when it was certain to all that Howard wanted nothing to do with playing for the team during this season. He couldn’t find it in himself to come clean when his coach told the media that Dwight had told the team’s front office that he wanted the coach fired. He showed no remorse when dealt to Los Angeles.
And if he was misconstrued during that television interview from last week, well, it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy that chose the words he did in a staged fluff piece meant to show off his new shoe commercial.
Major change, and the pressures that come with it, is hard. Howard started from an understandable place and turned into a heel. For all the many ways LeBron James botched his free agent decision in 2010, he at least went on national television to inadvertently put on the black hat.
For now, Dwight and his Lakers have a playoff seed to chase down, a road-heavy (eight of their next ten contests are away from Los Angeles) schedule to work through, and a game on Tuesday against an amped-up Orlando Magic team. Magic guard Jameer Nelson, the second-best player on Howard’s lone trip to the Finals in 2009, expects it to be like a “playoff atmosphere;” and crazier close ones have happened.
Kobe Bryant, as you’d expect, couldn’t be bothered. When asked about his attitude toward Dwight’s attitude as Howard entered Tuesday’s game, Kobe was Kobe, as relayed by Pro Basketball Talk’s Brett Pollakoff:
Bryant seemed incredulous when told that Howard said his return on Tuesday would be “emotional,” and laughed off the idea while providing his teammate with some words of wisdom in advance of the team’s visit.
“Emotional?! I’ll talk to him,” Bryant said, while seeming a bit exasperated. “Just go out there and bust they ass. Show them what they’re missing.”
This was followed by big laughs all around, because it was clear by Bryant’s expression that he couldn’t relate at all to that sentiment.
“Save the emotional s— for when you retire,” he added.
Bryant was asked how he’d handle a similar situation, and he answered just as we’ve come to expect.
“I’d tear ‘em up,” he said. “It’s like me going back to Philadelphia for the Finals [in 2001]. They hated me for it, but it is what it is, you know what I mean? They’ll appreciate him at the end of his career when it’s all said and done. But right now, no matter what he says, they’re going to boo him and they’re not going to like him right now.”
That’s fair, save for the point where the Philadelphia franchise actually had the opportunity to draft Kobe Bryant in 1996, and passed. And five years had gone by since that move, and the 2001 Finals. Not quite the same as forcing a trade out of a team you didn’t like, and dismissing that team’s players just a week before your first game back seven months later.
In all, it’s an uncomfortable situation as you’d expect. At least Dwight is making it better this time around by admitting to what was obvious: You wanted out, but didn’t want to be thought of as a bad guy. We get it, Dwight.