|Dwight Howard just wanted to be loved. (Getty Images)|
Dwight Howard has seen his career transform over the last year. But not in the traditional sense of going from little-known player to superstar. He's always been the latter. It's just that he used to be an endearing, loveable, goofy and well-liked big man.
Not so much anymore.
After the excruciating saga between him and the Magic which finally resolved by Orlando trading him to the Lakers, Howard's popularity has taken a nosedive. And he knows it. He understands. But as he told ESPN, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I don't have any regrets, you know. I think everything happened the way that it was meant to happen," Howard told ESPN. "I really just wish some of the lies and some of the things being said didn't come out the way it did, you know.
"But I have an opportunity to do something great here in L.A, and I can't look back and think about everything that's behind me."
Obviously Howard has to be uncomfortable in the way things happened. His name has been dragged through the mud, his reputation dashed. But it's been an experience and something Howard won't forget.
"That's one of the lessons that I learned, you know. I can't make everybody happy," Howard said
Howard experienced something new last season: dislike and even hatred. And he wasn't comfortable with it.
"It was a tug of war between my feelings and the fans and everybody else and their feelings and what happened to LeBron. And I saw him -- everybody hated him for leaving Cleveland and what he did," Howard said. "I never wanted anybody to hate me, you know. I wanted everybody to love me, you know, like me, for sticking around and doing what they wanted me to do. And making everybody else happy. And that was a valuable lesson for me, you know.
"I can't make everybody happy," he said. "I just wanted to see that. I felt like if I signed the extension, I did that then everything would be right in the NBA, everything would be right in Orlando. The fans would be happy. But I was forgetting about me."
What was so upsetting wasn't Howard's public persona. It was his two-faced moves that happened behind closed doors. The trade requests, the desire to have Stan Van Gundy fired, the back and forth over the early termination waiver -- all of it added up. Howard might've been thinking about his reputation and trying to please people, but his actions are what spoke loudest. Just weeks after committing to the Magic before the trade deadline, he was back to requesting a trade. That type of stuff is hard to overlook or forget.
The request Howard had though was always to go to the Nets, not the Lakers. But he obviously didn't get his wish.
"That was a team I wanted to go," Howard said of the Nets. "I felt like I could go there and write my own history. I was worried about what people would think. 'If you go to L.A. everybody's going to say you're like Shaq. Everybody's going to say this about you.' And now I'm at the point where, so what, who cares what people say. This is my destiny, this is where I wanted to be, this is what I wanted to do with my life."
That sounds like a man intending to re-sign with the Lakers next summer. Because forgotten in all of this drama is that Howard is still officially set to be a free agent in 2013 and could walk anywhere he wants. But at least by the sounds of it, he seems committed to the Lakers for the long-term.
What of his relationship with Stan Van Gundy, though? There was the awkward press conference where Van Gundy revealed he knew Howard had requested he be fired. It was pretty clear their relationship was damaged.
"Me and Stan," Howard said after pausing for a few seconds, "we've said things in the heat of the moment. We've been upset, we've fought back and forth. But we had the same mission, to win a championship.
"But I didn't have any say so with him being fired," Howard said. "To this day me and Stan talk and we have a relationship and I'm happy about that. We have a mutual respect for each other. We had five great years together. It didn't end right, it didn't end well. But we've moved on and we're happy for each other. One of the first people I talked to when I got traded was Stan, thanking him for helping me get to the level I'm at today."