LOS ANGELES — Dwight Howard will make his return to Orlando on Tuesday when the Lakers visit to play the Magic, in what will be his first trip back since he tortured the fan base there for essentially the entirety of last season.
The way Howard dealt with his eventual exit from Orlando has been well-documented, and honestly, he couldn’t have handled things any worse.
Howard’s teammates see what’s on the horizon for him, but some are more sympathetic than others.
“It’ll be an interesting atmosphere with Dwight going back there,” Steve Nash said, after the Lakers moved into the playoff picture with a win over the Bulls on Sunday. “I think he’s going to get some rough treatment, but at the same time, it’s good for Dwight to go back and kind of get some closure and maybe take a little bit of a beating. At the same time, people can’t forget what he did for that organization.”
As you might imagine, Kobe Bryant wasn’t exactly as supportive.
Bryant seemed incredulous when told that Howard said his return on Tuesday would be “emotional,” and laughed off the idea while providing his teammate with some words of wisdom in advance of the team’s visit.
“Emotional?! I’ll talk to him,” Bryant said, while seeming a bit exasperated. “Just go out there and bust they ass. Show them what they’re missing.”
This was followed by big laughs all around, because it was clear by Bryant’s expression that he couldn’t relate at all to that sentiment.
“Save the emotional s— for when you retire,” he added.
Bryant was asked how he’d handle a similar situation, and he answered just as we’ve come to expect.
“I’d tear ’em up,” he said. “It’s like me going back to Philadelphia for the Finals [in 2001]. They hated me for it, but it is what it is, you know what I mean? They’ll appreciate him at the end of his career when it’s all said and done. But right now, no matter what he says, they’re going to boo him and they’re not going to like him right now.”
That’s the message Bryant was trying to get across through the media to his most gregarious teammate — you can’t make everyone happy, and no matter what you say, the timing isn’t right for any type of forgiveness.
“There’s nothing that he can say that’s going to alter what they’re going to do,” Bryant said. “So why bother? The best thing to do is to go out there and stay focused on what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do. It’s water under the bridge.”
Bryant relented a bit eventually, and after thinking about Howard’s personality, he seemed to relate — if only for a moment.
“It may be tough for him,” Bryant said. “He’s a very, very nice kid. He wants to say the right things and please as many people as he can. You can’t please everybody, and I’ll talk to him about it a little bit before we get down to Orlando and try to put a little of that a–hole in him for the game.”
Finally, Bryant was reminded of a time when another teammate of his had to return to Orlando after leaving to play for the Lakers, when Shaquille O’Neal did so in 1997. So what was that like?
“Shaq didn’t give a s—,” he said.