Dwight Howard's long-awaited return to Orlando as a visitor is upon us.
Much like the papal conclave, it's just a waiting game until Howard takes the court for pregame warmups. Let's save the suspense, he's going to get booed and booed and booed.
"I don't know what it's going to be like," Howard said on Tuesday.
Yes, he does.
And Howard deserves every taunt, jeer, barb and unpleasantry that hits his ears.
There will be seminars taught one day about Howard and how not to leave a franchise. That could be the title. He screwed with this organization, city and fan base so much so that everyone will be an Orlando Magic fan on Tuesday night except for Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon. Even the Lakers Girls will secretly be rooting for the Magic.
To sum up, Howard led the team to the NBA Finals in 2009 and lost to the Lakers. Two years later, he demanded a trade, saying the Magic hadn't done enough to build a championship contender. Howard met with team officials and backed off his trade demands.
With things not getting any better and with Howard attempting to get coach Stan Van Gundy fired (according to Van Gundy), the Magic prepared to trade him at last season's deadline, Howard signed an amendment to his contract to stay with Orlando through the 2012-13 season.
"It was a circus every day," guard Jameer Nelson said on Monday.
The Magic still sent him packing in the offseason and now, Howard returns.
"I said what I had to say. I have nothing but love. I came here a boy and I left a man," Howard said.
In his one season with the Lakers, Howard hasn't shied away from still sticking it to the Magic.
In an interview with Los Angeles' KCAL, Howard said, when asked about his bad reputation, which has manifested itself in this tumultuous season with L.A., "my team in Orlando was a team full of people that nobody wanted."
Nelson, a teammate of Howard's for his entire career in Orlando, responded in the Orlando Sentinel by saying, "At some point, when are you (Dwight) gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?"
Left a man, huh?
Rashard Lewis, another member of those Magic teams, and now on the Miami Heat, said Wednesday, "It's disrespectful more than anything. We helped Dwight become the player he was. We made a good run. Hell, look at those banners hanging in the stands. They don't say Dwight Howard on them."
Howard apologized and said he meant his comments to describe his team in more of an underdog role. Apparently, Howard lost command of the English language on camera, but handled things a little better in an interview with USA Today.
"In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way," he told USA Today. "If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.
"I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind - the city, just everything about it."
Howard can apologize all he wants. By taking a shot at the Magic just a week or so ago, he showed he doesn't care about the organization, his former teammates or the fan base.
Free agents are exactly that, they are free to do what they choose. Had Howard just left via free agency, instead of the fiasco he created with trade demands, then wanting to stay, then wanting to go to Brooklyn, Magic fans couldn't be upset with him. He put his time in and earned the right. Sure, there would be booing, but Howard's booing on Tuesday stems from more than just leaving the team.
It's about leaving when you said you'd stay. It's about holding the team hostage with demands, when, at the end of the contract, everyone knew you'd leave. And it's definitely about bad-mouthing a group of hard-working guys who helped Howard throughout his career, as Lewis clearly and correctly stated.
"I'm not mad at him for what he did," Nelson said on Monday, referring to leaving, not insulting his former teammates.
("I reached out to him, but we haven't talked," Howard said of his relationship with Nelson.)
This Magic group doesn't need to get all sweaty about Howard. Nelson was the only one around back then who is still there today. This Magic group, partly constructed from that trade, doesn't hold the grudge the city does.
And that is to Orlando's advantage Tuesday night.
"Today was no different than any other day we prepared for going into a game," head coach Jacque Vaughn said after practice on Monday.
Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo were in different cities when Howard destroyed the Magic. Tobias Harris and Beno Udrih were in different cities when the season started. Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson were trying to pass sociology classes when Howard turned last season into a nightmare.
But the fans know. And the Magic officials know. And Nelson knows.
And Howard knows. And here's what Howard is looking forward to on Tuesday.
"I'm looking forward to seeing my house," Howard said postgame Sunday. "I haven't seen my house since my surgery."
Are you serious, buddy? Thank the Lord he added to his real-estate excitement.
"I'm looking forward to being back in Orlando. It's a place where I spent my life up until now. It's going to be difficult. I'm happy I'm in a better place than I was in the beginning of the season."
Howard deserves everything coming his way Tuesday night for the unnecessary angst he put this team and its fan base through. He will hear it on Tuesday, then it will be back to making the playoffs for Howard and his Lakers and for the Magic, the rebuild continues.
"I had eight great years here," Howard said. "I have nothing but love for the fans here. They made into the player I am today and I'll always be thankful for that."
But Magic fans won't forget what Howard has done to them and what Howard has said. You can not consistently disrespect an organization and not expect to retribution.
- Questioning a man who is injured is tricky. So who did it benefit when the Chicago Bulls announced that Derrick Rose has been medically cleared to play? Rose is clearly not ready. It's probably mental, but he's not ready. This proclamation opens questions about his toughness and passion for the Bulls. Rose's brother opened the door with his ill-advised trade deadline comments about Chicago not doing enough to build around his brother.
- Can we stop discussing any potential MVP race?
- DeAndre Jordan's dunk over the Detroit Pistons Brandon Knight was remarkable. But why would Knight catch guff for his part? He tried to rotate and take a charge. he wasn't going to block a shot or anything. Just don't understand it. Good for you, Brandon. You'll be a YouTube sensation forever.
- With the Miami Heat doing what they're doing, no one talks about the Denver Nuggets' nine-game winning streak or the Memphis Grizzlies winning 12 out of their last 13. Obviously, the Heat's 18-game streak supercedes all, but those two teams also are really peaking at the right time.
- Movie moment - Can anyone think of someone who was spectacular in just one movie and nothing else. I've got mine. Kate Hudson. Re-watched "Almost Famous" and there are zero flaws with the movie. Hudson is great as the center of the movie, but name one other thing she's been good in. I've seen some of the chick flicks. "Bride Wars" is embarrassing. Should be shown as an alternative to capital punishment.
- TV moment - A while back I said Alan Rickman would make a great choice as someone a cable network should hop all over for a series. Well, I nominate someone new - John Malkovich. I'd love to see him play something straight for comedy. Make it something that could mock old-school television like John Malkovich runs a diner, or John Malkovich is a veterinarian. It would work.