“My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted,” said Howard, who was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in August after eight years with the Magic. “I was the leader, and I led that team with a smile on my face.”
Several former and current Magic players felt slighted.
“At some point, when are you (Dwight) gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, drafted in the same class in 2004, told the Orlando Sentinel.
“I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates. We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that’s up to him. That’s his opinion. If that’s how he feels, that’s how he feels.”
Rashard Lewis, now with the Miami Heat, called it “disrespectful.”
“We helped Dwight become the player he was,” Lewis was quoted by the Orlando Sentinel. “We made a good run. Hell, look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them …”
J.J. Redick, recently traded from Orlando to Milwaukee, said he wasn’t surprised by Howard’s comments.
“I would be more surprised when Dwight starts taking responsibility,” Redick told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “That would be the most negative thing I can say, but that’s the truth. You can’t take all the credit and not accept any of the blame.”
Howard, though, tried to clarify his statement Wednesday, following the Lakers’ victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
“My statement was just to say that our team that I played with in Orlando, we were the underdogs,” Howard told reporters. “Nobody really talked about our team. It was underrated. Everybody overlooked us for the whole time I was there in Orlando, and I hated that. We all hated that. We thrived off that. My comments were never to say anything disrespectful to those guys. Those were my teammates for years. They helped me become the player that I am today, and we all got to the Finals because of that.
“I would never say anything disrespectful to those guys, and I think a lot of people took that and ran with it, twisted it into a negative thing. I love those guys. We’ve had some great memories, and we thrived off people saying that we weren’t going to make it to the Finals, we weren’t going to be a good team. That’s what pushed us.”
Howard is set to return to Orlando on Tuesday for the first time since the trade, though the teams did meet earlier this season in Los Angeles. In that game, Howard had 21 points and 15 rebounds, but the Magic prevailed for a 113-103 win. Howard went 9-for-21 from the free-throw line and left the court without shaking hands with the Magic.
“I know that we’re going back to Orlando, and they’re trying to stir up as much stuff as they can as I head back there,” Howard said.
“But, I have nothing but love for that city. I have nothing but love for the fans that were there in Orlando. Nothing but love for all of my teammates that I played with and my whole statement, like I said, was based on everybody saying we were underrated. Nobody talked about us when we went to the Finals. It was all about Cleveland or whoever else, and it kind of pissed us off and we used that as motivation.”