Breaking up is hard to do, and Dwight Howard is still feeling the lingering effects of the trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2012.
This season, Howard has dealt with a shoulder, and a reoccurring back injury. In addition to these problems, concerns about where he will sign long term have reemerged due to his complicated relationship with Kobe Bryant and his relationship with Head Coach Mike D’Antoni.
Where have we heard this before? Does Stan Van Gundy and the most awkward shoot-around in history ring a bell?
During the “Dwightmare” saga, Howard managed to alienate the people of Orlando to heights not seen since LeBron James made his decision. The only difference between James’ decision and Howard’s indecision is that James made his choice and lived with the choice he made. Howard, however, has changed his mind multiple times during the 2011-2012 season, and his body language suggests that either he is going to leave L.A. this off-season, or another coach (D’Antoni) will fall victim to his coach-killer status that he has obtained.
As Howard makes his return to the place that made him a six-time All-Star and a multiple-time defensive player of the year, he is going through many emotions. He is going to a locker room he isn’t familiar with – the visiting team’s locker room. Since leaving the Orlando Magic, Howard hasn’t done much to mend the broken fences he left behind. During a recent interview with the Los Angeles area CBS affiliate, Howard was asked about his former teammates in Orlando.
“I always tell people, hey, my team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted, and I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face,” Howard proclaimed.
That sentiment, as well as his past statements, wishing to play alongside point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams, created friction with his former teammates, including Magic captain Jameer Nelson. The Magic and Lakers have played each other once already this season; Orlando won that battle 113-103. Howard and his former teammates Nelson, Glen Davis and J.J. Redick, barely spoke to each other during that game.
“He’s (Howard) my opponent and that’s it,” Nelson boldly said.
They say you can always come back home, but in Howard’s case, he isn’t welcomed in Orlando anymore. You can expect Amway Center to be filled with a chorus of boos directed at Howard from the time he enters the arena for pregame warm ups, through introductions, and throughout the actual game.
“I’m happy,” Howard modestly said. “I’m at a better place than I was in the beginning of the season. It’s going to be hard to go back because people will say we hate you and all that stuff. It’s going to hurt just to hear that. I am sorry how everything happened; some things I could have handled a lot better. I never intended to hurt those people, but at the same time, I needed a change in my life. I needed everything to happen to become a stronger man, and a stronger person”.
Howard’s sentiments aren’t exactly felt by the local fans in Orlando. Some still love him, but the majority of the fans hate him.
“Dwight left this franchise for dead. We had a contending team, a great coach, and with a few tweaks at the roster, I felt this team would have been back in the NBA Finals,” one anonymous season ticket holder said.
Since Howard’s departure, the local economy in downtown Orlando has suffered. The Magic is the only professional team in Orlando, a lot of the local bars depend on people going to and from games to generate revenue.
The Magic franchise value has also decreased. According to Forbes, in 2012, the Magic was worth 385 million but now they are valued at 380 million.
In addition to this, the attendance at Amway Center has drastically fallen this season as well. Last season, they were ranked in the top 10 in league attendance, but this season, that number has fallen.They are currently ranked 14th in the NBA.
In the end, Howard had his good times in Orlando. The Magic can always look back and say they had Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers behind his 40 points and 14-rebound effort.
How about Game 3 of the 2009 NBA Finals, where Howard led the Magic to their first NBA-Finals victory by defeating his current team, the Lakers,108-104.
Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that Howard is the greatest player in the Orlando’s franchise history. Whether the fans boo or cheer him during introductions, they must admit that even though last season was a rough patch for Howard, they had more good times than bad.
Before these two teams tip off, it should be noted that the Lakers trail the season series with Orlando 0-1 after dropping their lone game against the Magic last season. The Magic and Lakers have met 47 times in the regular season, with the Lakers holding a 32-13 advantage in the all-time series. The Lakers are 3-7 in their last 10 overall meetings against Orlando. At Staples Center, the Lakers are 10-3 all-time against the Magic in regular season meetings. In Orlando, the Lakers have lost their last four and are 0-2 in the new Amway Center. In 28 games against Orlando, Kobe Bryant is averaging 25.5 points per game. Bryant’s Magic-Lakers career high in points is 41, which he scored on November 14, 2004. The Magic are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and has lost 4 of their last 5 overall.
Given the jabs between Howard and his former teammates, this game will have tons of emotion; and win or lose,expect both teams to play their best ball of the season. The Magic are playing for pride and respect, while Howard and his Lakers are playing for a playoff position in the Western Conference.