Howard had a similar departure from his failed first stint with the Lakers, several seasons ago, and has used this season to mend fences and win the Laker fanbase back, and now, Howard was looking to do the same when the Lakers visited the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” Howard said, according to USA Today Sports’ Sam Amick. “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.
“Orlando was it,” Howard said. “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”
Howard was the Magic’s franchise player after the team used the #1 overall pick in the 2004 draft to add him to the team. Howard propelled the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, and won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards during his tenure with the team.
“I think it takes everybody a while to get over things, but time should heal wounds, and if not, got to let that s— go,” Howard said, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “That’s how — I’m sorry — that’s how I look at it. I’ve let a lot of things go in my heart, things that have kind of held me down. Things that I had towards the Magic and just how the situation ended. How I was treated by the fans and stuff like that. But I had to let that bitterness go. There’s no need to hold on to it. When I let it go, it just made my life a lot better. Just more free.”
“I got blessed to come back and play with the Lakers, and I’m in a really good situation,” Howard said. “I’m pretty sure there were a lot of people here who were super hurt and disappointed that I left. And I’m sorry for that. You know, I apologize if they felt that way. But I never would have been the person I am today if I would have stayed here. So I’m very thankful that everything that has transpired has transpired and it’s made me the best version of Dwight Howard. I never thought this would happen. So, I’m happy that it happened. I know that it broke a lot of people’s hearts. It broke my heart, too. But, man, at the end of the day, I’m free. I feel really good.”
Howard, 34, says that he hit “rock bottom” in his personal life this past summer, and has been working on putting the pieces back together, and has been a bright spot on an impressive Lakers roster this season.
“I was super bitter at a lot of the things that transpired behind closed doors that none of the Magic fans or people really know about,” he said without revealing specifics. “I never said anything about it. I never bashed or talked anything bad about this team. But I did have a lot of bitterness in my heart towards the organization and even the fans of how they treated me when I came back. But I let it go. I was super bitter, but I let it go. And by letting it go, it just dropped all the weight that I had and it just made me a better person.”
“I have nothing to prove to nobody,” Howard said. “I’ve done an amazing job in my career so far, so I’m not out here trying to prove how many points I can score or trying to prove I’m Dwight Howard. I know who I am, know who I represent and know what this team needs in me for us to win.”
His team has been appreciative of what Howard has done for them this season.
“I’m really enjoying my time with him. … He’s really bought into and bringing a seriousness about his business and his approach” Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s been all business. He’s really bought into that defensive-rebounding, lob-threat, roller type of role. It’s a big shift, but he’s really embraced it and excelled in that. He’s been a star in his role.”
“I don’t look at the years that were bad in people’s eyes as, ‘Oh, man, I should have stayed where I was at,’ ” Howard said. “I was very comfortable here in Orlando and I needed to get out of that comfort zone, find out who I am as a person and as a man and it just made me a lot better. So, I’m very thankful for that. And there is times where I thought what would have happened if I would have stayed here and stuff like that, but I’m at the right place at the right time and that’s really the only thing that matters.”
Howard has averaged 6.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game this season for Los Angeles.