Dwight Howard's long-awaited return to Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers is nearly upon us. The Houston Rockets will travel to L.A. Wednesday, and Lakers fans will get their first crack at "welcoming" their former center back to Southern California.
Howard is bracing himself for the verbal blows that will undoubtedly rain down on him Wednesday night, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. After the Rockets practiced at UCLA on Tuesday, Howard said:
I'm going to get a lot of boos.I know I'm going to hear it the whole game -- 'Coward,' whatever. There's not anything I can do about it. Just go out there and play.
Thank God, this year I've been through it a lot in every city. There's Lakers fans everywhere. So I think I'm a little bit prepared for it.
Howard, of course, spent a single season with the Lakers after forcing his way out of Orlando. Last summer, he left $30 million on the table by taking Houston's max offer instead of Los Angeles'.
Dwight's decision may have taken Lakers fans by surprise—once the franchise nails down their star via free agency or trade, very seldom do those players seek an escape route. Especially after just a single, largely unsuccessful year.
In 2012-13, with the purple and gold, Howard suffered through his worst season since his inaugural NBA years. Battling through back and shoulder issues all season long, hopeful fans—initially enamored by the star-studded starting lineup of Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol—were left with nothing at season's end.
He averaged his worst points total since he was 20 years old and, despite leading the NBA with 12.4 rebounds a night, it was his worst season average since 2006-07. The 49.2 free-throw percentage was just a shade off a career-worst, too.
On top of the physical ailments, there was a constant struggle to fit into the offense with Kobe Bryant as the focal point. Howard even managed to turn Nash against him in the locker room last season. Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles (h/t ProBasketballTalk):
Nash told “The Mason & Ireland Show” on ESPN LA 710 radio on Tuesday.'Ultimately, I think Dwight wasn’t comfortable here and didn’t want to be here and I think if he didn’t want to be here, there’s no point for anyone in him being here. So, we wish him the best and move on. He didn’t seem like he really wanted to do a pick-and-roll offense, maybe because he had run one in Orlando for so long and he wanted to get in the post more.
"A lot of things that [fans] were accustomed to me doing, I couldn't do them," Howard said, per Bresnahan of the above mentioned LA Times article. "I think people were upset about that."
Howard has bounced back this year with the Rockets, averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest. He's fit relatively seamlessly into Houston's offense, even with James Harden carrying most of the scoring load.
Lakers fans have no doubt realized their former star's marked improvement since skipping town. Dwight, like the rest of the basketball world, is expecting the worst from a packed-out Staples on Wednesday.