Dwight Howard insists he wasn’t disrespecting former Orlando teammates

NEW ORLEANS — There’s more drama surrounding Dwight Howard, and for once it doesn’t involve his injuries, Kobe Bryant, or the heightened expectations with the Lakers.

Instead, it all centers around last year’s soap opera surrounding his intentions on if he’d stay with the Orlando Magic.

“My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted,” Howard in CBS2/KCAL9. “I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face.”

Former Magic teammates took offense to Howard’s comments considering his eight year tenure (2004-2012) entailed five playoff stints, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2009 against the Lakers.

“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?” Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel. “We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it. For him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that’s up to him.”

“It’s disrespectful more than anything. We helped Dwight become the player he was,” said Rashard Lewis, who’s currently with the Miami Heat. “Look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them… Everybody should get a little piece of the credit.”

Howard insists that “a lot of people” overreated to his comments.

“I never meant disrespect to none of my former teammates. My statement was to say the team we played with in Orlando were the underdogs,” Howard said after the Lakers’ 108-102 win Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets. “Nobody really talked about our team and it was underrated. Everybody overlooked us the time I was there in Orlando. I hated that. We hated that. We all thrived off that. My comments were never said to be disrespectful to those guys. They were my teammates for years. They’ve helped me become the player I am today.”

Howard said he’s tried in recent days to reach out to Lewis and Nelson to clarify his sentiments. He hopes he’s able to make amends before the Lakers play Tuesday in Orlando, marking Howard’s first return there since leaving in a four-team, 12-player trade.

“I know 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. “I have nothing but love for that city and I have nothing but love for the fans in Orlando and nothing but love for the teammates I played with. My whole statement was based on everybody saying we were underrated. Nobody talked to us when we went to the Finals. It was about Cleveland and no one else. It pisssed us off and we used that as motivation. It was not anything to disprectp those guys.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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