Dwight Howard has had a resurgent year with the Los Angeles Lakers, splitting time at center with JaVale McGee to give the team a solid pair of big men to protect the rim and crash the boards.
Ahead of the start of the NBA Finals, which will see the Lakers face off against the Miami Heat, Howard told Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium of his belief that he was being pushed out of the league before signing with L.A. last offseason:
"No doubt. I believe that. I've seen it with my own eyes and I've seen it with other players. I could tell that it was happening to me. But I stuck with the plan and I didn't allow that negative stuff to affect me. It would've been easy to give up and say I'll do something else. I just had to clear the noise out and stay laser focused on the mission. And that's a championship."
The 34-year-old has been something of a journeyman in the NBA after spending his first eight seasons with the Orlando Magic. He had an ill-fated year with the Lakers, three seasons with the Houston Rockets and a season apiece with the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards thereafter.
He's taken on a much smaller role with Los Angeles than he has had in the past, averaging 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 18.9 minutes per game during the regular season. But the Lakers haven't needed him to be a star, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis covering that base. They have instead needed him to play a specific role and blend in with other veteran players like Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and McGee.
He's done just that, even if returning to Los Angeles wasn't the easiest decision to make.
Howard told Charania he couldn't envision going back to the Lakers after his tumultuous campaign with the team in 2012-13 but said the "power of forgiveness" allowed him to return this season:
"When I left L.A. the first time, I said I can't see myself going back to that team. I was so mad and upset about how things went and how I was perceived, that I was like, 'I'm done with L.A. I can't. I don't want to play for the Lakers. I don't want to hear the Lakers. I don't want to hear about nothing dealing with LA.' And then I had to really understand the power of forgiveness and that's something every human being struggles with is forgiving. Whether you are in the wrong or someone else is in the wrong—forgiving. Not until I let go of that resentment and hurt that I had in my heart toward how I thought that this situation went the first time time... it wasn't until I let all that go and I was able to be at peace with it. I really had to learn how to let go, and that's the hardest part. To let go and let situations happen the way they're supposed to happen."
Now he's on the brink of winning a title in purple and gold. The eight-time All-Star isn't the dominant player he once was, but he seems happy just to contribute to a team that's four wins away from claiming the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
"Every year, you're supposed to grow," he added. "If you stay the same, what's the point of going through this journey? It lit a fire under me to stay locked in no matter what, to do whatever it takes to be whatever this team needs me to be. Whatever anybody needs me to be—be that person. Just be Dwight. Be the best version of Dwight that I could possibly be."