LOS ANGELES >> Dwight Howard says he is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers with a new outlook on basketball and his place in it.
The veteran center hopes the Lakers fans— and a couple of retired Lakers superstars — who learned to loathe the old Dwight over the past six years will give him another chance.
Howard called it “a very big blessing” today to re-sign with the Lakers, who chose him as the improbable replacement for injured center DeMarcus Cousins.
The 33-year-old Howard spent the eventful 2012-13 season with the Lakers before abruptly leaving as a free agent. After six up-and-down seasons away from LA and a self-described difficult offseason in his personal life, Howard is energized by the chance to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a familiar jersey.
“Not too often in life do you get second chances,” Howard said on a conference call in his first public comments about the reunion. “This is an awesome experience. I’m just looking forward to being the best teammate, the best person in the community I can be. … Six years ago doesn’t seem like a long time, but a lot of things have happened. I’m just excited.”
Howard realizes that some Lakers fans may be less excited: He has been booed every time he stepped foot in Staples Center over the past six years — even by Clippers fans. He hopes everyone will recognize he’s ready to repair his relationship with Los Angeles.
“I never had any ill will toward the fans in LA,” Howard said. “I loved this city from the moment I started playing here. … It was just a decision I made. I love this city. I loved playing in LA. None of that stuff even matters to me anymore. I think we all have a fresh start. I’m big on new beginnings, and this is the time to start up a new time. I’m just looking forward to having a fresh start with the fans and show them my only dedication is to put another banner up here in Los Angeles.”
Howard also said he is eager to go back to work after a rough 12 months in his personal life. He hasn’t played a game since November after getting injured early in his only season with Washington, and he didn’t go into detail about off-court problems he has previously described as “rock bottom.”
“It was just stuff in my personal life,” Howard said. “Mentally, physically and spiritually. It had nothing to do with me as a basketball player or anything like that. It was just personal things that I had to deal with which made me stronger.”
Howard said he has repaired his mental state through meditation, reading and introspection. That might be why he didn’t seem to be bothered by the criticism he received online last week from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers greats had a brief disagreement on social media before they united in publicly making fun of Howard, who clashed with the businesslike Bryant during their season together in LA.
“Shaq and Kobe are some of the greatest players ever to play this game,” Howard said. “I have nothing but love and respect for those guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish. … My job is to come here and help this team win. It’s not to get into any fights or arguments with Shaq or Kobe or anybody. I won’t let anything distract me from winning a championship.”
Howard wasn’t the Lakers’ first choice to play alongside JaVale McGee and Davis at center, but he won over both big men and team leader Rajon Rondo while trying out for the Lakers’ top brass last month. Howard said he vowed to be a supportive teammate dedicated to team goals, but he realizes public declarations are cheap.
“I’d rather show you guys than say it,” Howard said. “I’d rather my actions be something that you guys can critique instead of my words. I’ve always said a lot of words, but I’d just rather show you guys.”