Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard will return to Orlando on Tuesday for the first time since being traded, and he's sure to get a less than warm reception. But in an attempt to mend some of the fences in his old city, Howard apologized to Orlando in an exclusive interview with USA Today's Sam Amick.
Howard admitted that he screwed up handling his situation in Orlando, saying that he tried too hard to please everybody:
"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."
Any NBA fan of course remembers the "Dwightmare" last season, with Howard constantly flip-flopping on what he wanted for his future. One moment he was expressing his love for Orlando, only to be followed by reports of potential trade destinations. And how could we forget the awkward moment when Howard hugged ex-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy at a press conference just moments after Van Gundy told reporters that the big man wanted him fired?
Howard wound up waiving his early termination option for this season, leading some to believe that he actually was going to finish out his contract in Orlando. But the Magic decided to make a move anyway, dealing Howard to the Lakers in a four-team blockbuster.
Things certainly did not start out smoothly for Howard in Los Angeles, as he struggled to regain his form after back surgery. The Lakers as a team scuttled along through the first half of the season, and a shoulder injury left Howard even more limited. Throw in a feud with Kobe Bryant, and questions again began to arise about whether Howard would stay in Los Angeles past this season.
But Howard and the Lakers have come around of late, finally moving into the playoff picture with a win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. Howard says that he has changed due to everything that has happened over the past year or so, and that he will be a better man moving forward because of it:
"There are a lot of things about me that have changed," said Howard, a 27-year-old Atlanta native who was drafted first overall out of high school in 2004. "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."
Whether Howard is truly maturing remains to be seen, and things still could go south for the Lakers if they are not able to keep up their run of solid play. And if that happened, the questions surrounding Howard's future would likely once again come to the forefront.
But Howard at least deserves some credit for finally manning up and admitting the error of his ways. It may be coming a bit late, but better late than never.