ORLANDO — Even with Dwight Howard’s hasty departure and the verbal back and forth in the last week, former Magic teammate Jameer Nelson insists the Lakers center “isn’t a bad guy.”
But Nelson made it clear he’s no longer close with Howard, who will face Orlando here at Amway Center for the first time since the Magic traded him this offseason to the Lakers.
“You make friends in the court of your life that’s on the court and off the court,” Nelson said. “Some of them stick with you and some of them don’t. But we have a lot of life to live. Hopefully we can be friends after basketball.”
Nelson hardly faulted Howard with leaving Orlando, though he made it clear he wished the endless soap opera last season never happened.
“I always felt from day one he had to make a decision for himself and his family,” Nelson said. “Whatever that decision was, to stick with it and move forward. I always wished him the best.”
Instead, the relationship strains stems partly from comments Howard made in an interview that aired last week with CBS2/KCAL9 in which he said, “My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted. I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face.”
Nelson wondered aloud to the Orlando Sentinel “when are you (Dwight) going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Nelson, Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick all publicly considered Howard’s comments as undermining their contributions in helping the Magic make two Eastern Conference Finals appearances and advancing to the 2009 NBA Finals through five playoff stints.
Howard said he had texted Nelson to clarify his comments, but hadn’t heard back from him. Nelson declined to go into detail surrounding the exchange.
“I’m not going to get into anything with you guys on anything personal like him reaching out or me reaching out back,” Nelson said. “That’s irrelevant. That’s off the court issues and off the court things.”
But did Howard issue an apology?
“I guess publicly,” Nelson said.
How about personally?
“I’m not looking for an apology,” Nelson said. “I’m trying to prepare myself and do things that I do on game days to prevent myself to be successful tonight with my team.”
That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising if Nelson doesn’t exchange pleasantries with Howard before the game. The Magic guard didn’t do so in the Lakers’ 113-103 loss Dec. 20 Orlando in Los Angeles, though Nelson offered a practical explanation for the perceived snub.
“It wasn’t on purpose,” Nelson said. “You have a time constraint where you have a minute and a half before you throw a ball up. I wans’t out there on time. I didn’t shake anybody’s hand.”
Regardless, Nelson maintains he still holds a nostalgic view surrounding Howard’s eight-year tenure with the Magic. Nelson was drafted by Orlando the same year as Howard in 2004.
“We had way more positive seasons and positive games than what’s been put in the media over the last year or so,” Nelson said. “I just want to go out tonight, have fun and compete. Obviously there’s extra incentive because it’s his first game and what was said in the media about a week ago. It’s a good story for you guys.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org