The moment he enters the unfriendly confines of Amway Arena, it’s likely Dwight Howard will hear Tuesday a collectively bottled up frustration from Magic fans they’ve held for seven months ever since his hasty departure.
Howard admits he’s struggling to process that reality.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said Howard, who played his first eight NBA seasons with the Magic. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.”
But then Howard offered a sneak preview on his sentiments, seeing comparisons to when Miami Heat forward LeBron James visited the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 for the first time since leaving them via free agency.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be very emotional for me,” Howard said. “Even just to talk about it just brings back a lot of emotion but we’ll see how it goes.”
Kobe Bryant didn’t like the sound of that.
“Emotional? Man, I’ll talk to him,” Bryant said. “Just go out there and bust your [behind] man. Show them what they missed in him. Save the emotional [stuff] for when you retire. Please.”
Bryant and Howard have shown stronger chemistry in recent stretches. In the Lakers’ 90-81 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bulls, Bryant set up Howard for plenty of lobs that contributed to his 16 points on 8 of 14 shooting. They’ve also mutually embraced the dynamic setting Bryant up as a scorer and Howard as the defensive anchor.
But it’s clear Bryant wants Howard to adjust to another reality.
“I’d tear them up,” said Bryant, who compared Howard’s situation to when he played his hometown Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. “They hated me before, but it is what it is. They’ll appreciate him at the end when his career is all said and done. I’m sure they’ll appreciate him. But right now, no matter what he says, they’re going to boo him and not going to like him right now. So why bother? Boos don’t block dunks.”
Bryant also reflected on his rookie season when Shaquille O’Neal played at Orlando for the first time since signing with the Lakers via free agency.
“Shaq didn’t give a [damn],” Bryant said.
The Magic hold Howard in low regards for various reasons.
Last season’s dubbed “Dwightmare,” a season-long soap opera, featured plenty of twists surrounding his Magic future. It entailed a trade demand, accusations from former coach Stan Van Gundy that he wanted him fired, a surprise decision to waive his early-termination clause before the trade deadline and a back injury that threatened his career. Howard also drew criticism from Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick for comments made in a CBS2/KCAL-9 interview in which he said, “My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted,” he said. “I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face.”
Yet, Howard maintains he views his time in Orlando with some nostalgia. Howard helped the Magic reach the 2009 the NBA Finals, made five playoff appearances and earned three league Defensive Player of the Year awards. Howard still maintains an Orlando home and said he’s looking forward to eating at Waffle House, a place that he’s struck a friendship with a server named Marsha.
“I wish everybody on that team and everybody in that city luck with whatever they’re doing in life,” Howard said. “But I’m here and I’m committed to helping this team win a championship this year.”
Bryant argued Howard shouldn’t even worry about that.
“I’ve talked to him about it,” Bryant said. “Personally, he’s going to go out there and play his game and not worry about what people think. There’s nothing he can say where people are going to alter what they’re going to do. So why bother? The best thing to do is go out there, stay focused on what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do and not really worry about whatever happens in Orlando. That’s water under the bridge.”
Does Howard understand that?
“It could be very tough for him,” Bryant said. “He’s a very very nice kid and wants to say the right things and please as many people as he can. You can’t please everybody. I’ll talk to him about it a little bit before we get down in Orlando and try to put a little [toughness] in him before the game.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org