| || ||EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The "Dwightmare" may be over, but on the eve of his first game against his former team, Dwight Howard was in a reflective mood about what happened over those final furious six months with the Magic. |
"I've had a chance to sit back and think about it and there are some things I could've done better. There are some things that could've been done better on both sides," Howard said in a lengthy, wide-ranging interview after Los Angeles Lakers practice on Saturday. "But at the end of the day, we all learn some lessons and we've got to move forward.
"I'm happy here, I'm having a lot of fun. This is a place that I've always prayed that I could be a part of something very special. So I want to take advantage of it."
I've had a chance to sit back and think about it and there are some things I could've done better. There are some things that could've been done better on both sides. But at the end of the day, we all learn some lessons and we've got to move forward.
-- Lakers center Dwight Howard
on trade from Magic
Howard didn't want to elaborate on what he or the Magic could have done differently during the excruciating process that led to his trade to the Lakers in August. Los Angeles hosts Orlando on Sunday night at the Staples Center.
"It doesn't really matter to talk about it now. It's over and done with," he said. "There are a lot of things we both could've done, but at the end of the day, it happened just the way it was supposed to happen. There was a reason behind everything. We might not see it or understand it at the time, but there was a reason why everything happened the way it happened and I think it made both parties stronger."
But Howard stressed that he holds no ill will to the city of Orlando or the Magic's owners, the DeVos family.
"Orlando will always be my home. That's where I grew up, really. The fans were great to me for eight years. I have some unbelievable memories," he said. "But like I told you guys when I got here, this is a new chapter in my life. This is my home now. And I'm looking forward to making a lot of great memories here."
Howard said he's kept in touch with the DeVos family since the trade, calling ailing 86-year-old owner Rich DeVos after he suffered a mild stroke in early September, and staying in contact with his son, Dan DeVos, the team's chairman.
"I will always be grateful. They gave me an opportunity, Rich and the rest of the DeVos family," Howard said. "They wanted me to come in, change the city and we did some great things, despite how everything ended. Our team and the organization, we opened up a lot of doors for fans and businesses around the city, with the new arena and all that stuff. We had some unbelievable years. There's no reason for anybody to hold their heads on what happened in Orlando. At the end of the day, there had to be a business decision."
Howard said he understands why fans in Orlando might have ill will toward him, but hoped with time they could forgive and understand why he requested a trade.
"It's my job to let people know that when you get traded or ask for a trade from a team, it has nothing to do with a city or the fan base," he said. "It's a business decision. Yeah, it may affect people because that's their team that they love and they want to see their team do good, but at the end of the day we only get one shot at this and I have to do what I believe is going to be best for me."
When the subject turned to his new team, Howard's mood noticeably brightened, and he offered his strongest comments to date about the likelihood he'd sign a long-term extension with Los Angeles in the summer.
"From one to 10? I'd give it a good 12. I love it. It's been a lot of fun," Howard said. "Just everything here, from the practices, the motivation of everybody here is championship, that's what we need.
"I like the direction we're headed. We've had some tough losses but we'll learn and we'll grow from it. We're going to stick together."
As for Sunday's game against his former team, Howard admitted it would be "a little weird" but vowed not to let his emotions affect him.
"There's no need for me to go out there and be upset at those guys and pretend like I never knew those guys," Howard said. "There's parts of me that would like to be that way, but at the end of the day, it's not going to make me better or make the situation better. It's just going to put a magnifying glass on the situation and there's no need for all that. It's over. ... Just go out and play."
Howard will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The new collective bargaining agreement allows him to sign a four-year offer with another team or re-sign with the Lakers for five years.
The Lakers have always maintained they expect him to stay with the organization, believing that once he got a taste of the championship culture in the organization and the lifestyle in Los Angeles, he'd want to stay.
But because he cannot sign that six-year extension until the summer, there have so far been no discussions with either Howard or his representatives.
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"That's up to him," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Our objective is to win a championship and make the atmosphere so good here that he wants to be here. That's my job. But that'll be his decision and that'll be about what's best for Dwight Howard."
Lakers point guard Chris Duhon was a teammate of Howard's in Orlando last season and said he's noticed a change in the 26-year-old center since he's been in Los Angeles.
"I think a weight has been lifted off his shoulder with everything," Duhon said. "He's more relaxed. He's having a lot more fun. He's not worried about decisions or whether he will be traded. I think you can tell a lot is off his mind. He's enjoying basketball."
Last year, Duhon said, Howard was "trying to please everybody. And by trying to please everybody, he pleased nobody."
As for Howard's future in Los Angeles, Duhon said he had a good feeling.
"I think he likes it," he said. "He's a guy who wants to act when he's done playing. This is the best spot for him to be where he can network and build his goals for after the season. I think he likes the spotlight here. I think he likes playing in L.A. I think potentially this could be a place he wants to stay.
"It's an organization that their goal every year is championship or bust. It's not building toward a championship. They are going to do whatever it takes to win a championship now. That's something that will persuade him into staying long term."