NEW ORLEANS -- With Dwight Howard set to return to Orlando next week for the first time since becoming a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, the All-Star center wanted to set the record straight regarding remarks he made on his time with the Magic.
Howard told KCAL, a Los Angeles CBS affiliate, in an interview this week: "My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted, and I was the leader, and I led that team with a smile on my face."
Howard clarified those comments Wednesday.
"My statement was just to say that our team that I played with in Orlando, we were the underdogs," Howard said after the Lakers' 108-102 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night. "Nobody really talked about our team. It was underrated. Everybody overlooked us for the whole time I was there in Orlando and I hated that. We all hated that. We thrived off that. My comments were never to say anything disrespectful to those guys. Those were my teammates for years. They helped me become the player that I am today and we all got to the Finals because of that.
"I would never say anything disrespectful to those guys and I think a lot of people took that and ran with it, twisted it into a negative thing. I love those guys. We've had some great memories and we thrived off people saying that we weren't going to make it to the Finals, we weren't going to be a good team. That's what pushed us."
That characterization of a Magic team that went to the NBA Finals in 2009 hasn't sat well with his former teammates, including Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis, who both were named to the All-Star team while playing alongside Howard.
J.J. Redick, another former teammate, wasn't pleased, either.
"I'm not surprised by it," Redick told ESPNLosAngeles.com Wednesday evening before his Milwaukee Bucks played the Los Angeles Clippers. "I would be more surprised when Dwight starts taking responsibility. That would be the most negative thing I can say, but that's the truth.
"You can't take all the credit and not accept any of the blame."
In the two days since the interview aired, Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel that he was "disappointed" in Howard's comments, while Lewis said Howard's comments were "disrespectful."
"We helped Dwight become the player he was," Lewis, now a member of the Miami Heat, told the Sentinel on Wednesday.
"We made a good run. Hell, look at those (conference and division) banners hanging in the stands. They don't say Dwight Howard on them
Howard said "a lot of people overreacted" to his comments.
"It was never intended to disrespect or downgrade any of those guys," he said. "I would always tell them I wouldn't trade them for the world. That's how I viewed it. For the most part, those guys know that. They know who I am and they probably just heard something and people twisted it and turned it in different ways. I'm not that kind of guy. I would never disrespect those guys. It just kind of got blown out of proportion."
While Howard may not have wanted his teammates traded, it is widely known that he sought a trade for himself this past summer that ended his career with the Magic after eight seasons.
Nelson, who was once one of Howard's closest friends on the Magic, said he was disappointed in Howard's comments.
"At some point, when are you as a man, going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner," Nelson told the Sentinel.
"I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates. We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it (reaching the 2009 Finals) and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that's up to him.
"That's his opinion. If that's how he feels, that's how he feels."
Howard said he has tried to reach out to both Nelson and Lewis to "let them know my thoughts" and is "upset" by their reactions.
"I know that we're going back to Orlando and they're trying to stir up as much stuff as they can as I head back there," Howard said about the Lakers' road game against the Magic on Tuesday. "But, I have nothing but love for that city. I have nothing but love for the fans that were there in Orlando. Nothing but love for all of my teammates that I played with and my whole statement, like I said, was based on everybody saying we were underrated. Nobody talked about us when we went to the Finals. It was all about Cleveland or whoever else, and it kind of pissed us off and we used that as motivation. Like I said, it was not anything to disrespect those guys."