Howard has Van Gundy's support

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In the war of words between Dwight Howard and his former Orlando Magic teammates, one significant voice weighed in on the side of the Los Angeles Lakers center.

Howard said that his former Magic coach, Stan Van Gundy, reached out to him Thursday to offer support.

"He knows I would never disrespect my teammates," said Howard after Lakers' shootaround Friday in advance of their game against the Toronto Raptors. "He understood exactly what I was saying and that's what he expressed."

Howard expanded on the topic after the Lakers' 118-116 overtime victory over the Raptors, saying, "Both of us, we know how great we were together. I've always told him, if we had a second run together, that would be great.

"I would always tell him what my goal was, I want to be one of the greatest to play and he would always push me to get there. So, I respect him."

Van Gundy believes Howard wasn't trying to bad-mouth any of his former teammates.

"He did not, in my opinion, mean to say 'I didn't play with good players in Orlando,' " Van Gundy, currently an analyst for NBC Sports, told the L.A. Daily News. "The question was about his demeanor. He's been criticized for his demeanor on the court. He was basically trying to defend himself in his demeanor saying he can be smiling and still be serious about winning. What he meant to say is, 'We had an underrated or under the radar team in Orlando and we won a lot of games and I was the best player on that team and this was my demeanor. So what's the problem now?' "

After Howard told KCAL, a Los Angeles CBS affiliate, this week that his former Magic squad was "a team full of people who nobody wanted," former Orlando teammates Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick all shot back with criticism of their own.

"I'm not surprised by it," Redick told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "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."

Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel that he was "disappointed" in Howard's comments, and Lewis said Howard's comments were "disrespectful."

Howard and Van Gundy have been texting on and off all season, and Howard said his relationship with the man who coached him for five seasons in Orlando has not been affected by the fact Van Gundy was fired by the Magic last season in what many viewed as an attempt to appease Howard.

"Me and Stan have a pretty good relationship," Howard said. "We respect each other and we continue to talk to this day. We've kept the business side out of everything that we discuss and he understands how I feel."

Howard first revealed his continued dialogue last month before the Lakers played the Miami Heat.

"We've talked a lot this season," Howard said. "He's been one of my biggest supporters, always telling me to keep playing. He knows that I'm not 100 percent, but just keep working. He knows how hard I work. He's been upset with a lot of stuff that's been said, but he just tells me to stay strong and stay with it.

"Everything that was out was rumors and stuff being said by other people but both of us understand that's the business side of things. People are always going to twist it and turn it when they look at TV and unfortunately me and Stan can't come out and defend ourselves every two minutes. But we have a great relationship. What a lot of people need to understand is that everything that you see on TV or read is not always true. Me and him have a good relationship. Me and Stan are cool."

The Lakers travel to Orlando to play the Magic on Tuesday, marking Howard's first trip to Amway Center since being traded to Los Angeles in August.

"I understand that we're about to play Orlando," Howard said. "They're just trying to get everybody riled up for the game and it's understandable, but I love that city. I had eight great years there. We accomplished a lot, but that's over with. It's in the past. We all have to move forward. I know people are getting upset, but we all have to move forward."

Howard does not anticipate a warm welcome.

"I know things are going to happen," Howard said. "I know a lot of people are upset that I left and the way I left but I always think about, I spent eight great years in Orlando and it was an unbelievable time and it ended on a bad note, but that should never erase the years that we had of happiness. It's over with now."

Is Howard ready to face the music?

"I have no choice but to be ready," Howard said.

He added after Friday's game, "I've thought about wearing some earplugs."