Denton: Howard Makes His Anticipated Return to Orlando

By John Denton
March 12, 2013

ORLANDO -- Dwight Howard returned to Orlando’s Amway Center on Tuesday and spoke of his love for the fans of the Orlando Magic and his desire that his good times in Orlando not be forgotten.

Howard knows that many of those same fans will boo him tonight when his former team, the Magic, face his new team, the Lakers, at the Amway Center at 7 p.m. Howard said his hope is that eventually fans will remember him more for his good times in Orlando than his messy divorce from the Magic last summer.

``We had a lot of great memories here and that will never be taken away from me or from the people who supported us. I think I had eight great years here and we did a lot of great things,’’ said Howard, who was surrounded by approximately 100 media members on Tuesday morning. ``I saw a city go from a team where it was like nobody in the stands to getting a new arena and there being a packed house every night to see our team play. So it was great to see that. Me and (Magic point guard) Jameer (Nelson) accomplished a lot here. Our goal was to get people to come and support us and we did that.’’

Howard, the first overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft as a skinny 18-year-old project, helped the Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. He made the NBA All-Star team six times, was an All-NBA selection five times and he won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards while in an Orlando jersey.

But much of that figures to be overshadowed tonight when scored Magic fans boo him for deserting the franchise last season. Howard asked for a trade last December, missed the final month of last season because of back surgery and never returned from Los Angeles. He was dealt to the Lakers in a massive four-team, 12-player transaction that centered around his all-star talents.

Howard said that he would be attempting to keep the game and the time in Orlando – where he still owns a mansion that he slept in Monday night – as normal as possible. But clearly the emotions of being in Orlando were already getting to him a bit on Tuesday morning.

``I’m just thinking about all of the things that we did here, in Orlando, as a team. It’s fun coming back here, seeing the building. It’s great,’’ he said. ``I just come in and do what I do. That’s the only thing I can do. I haven’t been here since my surgery. I’m happy to come back and see my house, go to the Waffle House for a meal. That was fun.’’

Howard’s overriding message on Tuesday was that he was thankful to the fans for supporting him during his eight years in Orlando. He said he met a couple of fans at The Waffle House in suburban Orlando on Monday night and they were cordial. But he knows the treatment will be different come Tuesday night.

``I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but like I said I had eight great years here and nothing can take away my accomplishments we had here as a team and what we went through with the ups and downs,’’ Howard said. ``I’ve said it plenty of times – I have nothing but love for the fans here. They made me into the player that I am today and I’ll always be thankful for that. I came here a boy and left a man and that’s made me a better person. So thank you to all of the fans who supported me – even throughout all of the bad times. There is a lot of people here who supported me.’’

The Magic shocked the Lakers 113-103 back on Dec. 2 in Los Angeles. Howard had 21 points and 15 rebounds that night, but his Lakers lost in the fourth quarter when Orlando intentionally fouled him to expose his free throw shooting weaknesses.

Howard missed 10 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter and hit just nine of 21 shots from the stripe in the game.

Howard said that his surgically repaired back was still giving him troubles when he last faced the Magic and he is much better prepared to play well tonight.

``I’m in a lot better shape, which is great. The first time we played them I wasn’t in good shape,’’ Howard said. ``I was looking forward to coming back here in better shape.’’

Howard was asked several times if he wanted to clear up his acrimonious defection from the Magic or his recent comments that the Orlando roster was full of ``guys that nobody wanted,’’ but he declined. Howard said his focus will remain on the future – namely the immediate future of facing the Magic at 7 p.m.

``There’s no need to go back and forth with it. I said what I needed to say. Like I’ve said, I have nothing but love for the fans here. They were great to me and we had eight great years. Nobody can take that away. It didn’t end the way that we wanted it to end, but it’s over with,’’ he said. ``All of that stuff is over with now. Today is a new day. Whatever happened in the past I’m going to leave it behind me. Like I said, I have nothing but love for the fans here. They treated me well, but it didn’t end right and didn’t end the way we wanted it to end. But I’m in a better place and everyone has to move on.’’

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