"I played here. People are upset I left so they're going to boo," Howard said, per the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. "They’re going to let their frustrations out. That’s totally understandable. I appreciate all the fans that did cheer. The reason I left had nothing to do with the fans."
The 28-year-old former No. 1 overall pick forced a trade out of Orlando after eight seasons. The Magic sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a four-team deal; he stayed in Los Angeles for just one roller-coaster season before signing in Houston as a free agent last summer.
Although the video tribute was a classy move from the Magic organization, Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports Pro Basketball Talk believes that not enough time had past for fans in Orlando:
It was too soon to pay tribute to Howard in this way, despite the fact that the team has done it for every past player that’s returned to Orlando during this anniversary season. Howard was bigger than all of them, and the fans are going to need much more than a season or two to get over the unprofessional and petulant way he abandoned the Magic franchise.
Although Howard didn't help his league-wide popularity by forcing his superstar hand, it's hard to argue that he didn't wind up in the best situation from a basketball perspective.
The Rockets sport a 42-19 record (third-best in the Western Conference), have won three straight and are a league-best 21-6 since the new year.
The veteran center is averaging 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest. He has yet to miss a game due to injury.
Through all the criticism, Howard maintains that his ultimate goal is winning an NBA title.
Houston provides him with an opportunity to do just that as long as he doesn't let doubters distract him from his goal.
Howard may never be universally loved in Orlando again—or around the NBA, for that matter—so at least he's come to terms with boo birds who choose to vent their frustrations.