If there is a point to prove, Dwight Howard has no intention of proving it in one night. He won’t make that statement tonight against the Clippers at Staples Center or Thursday in Houston against the Lakers team he spurned to join the Rockets.
The goal he had in mind cannot be achieved in a night or two in November.
“Our goal is to win the championship, not just one game,” Howard said after the Rockets shoot-around at UCLA. “You’re not going to prove anything by winning one game. It’s what we do at the end of the season, if we’re holding up the trophy. That’s the best thing to show other people, ‘Hey, he made a decision and look what happened.’ That’s what I want to do. It’s not about beating one team. I want to win the whole thing.”
As Los Angeles continued to struggle to understand his decision, to comprehend how he or anyone could leave the Lakers, Howard repeated the explanation that he offered from the beginning. He said again he wanted to be happy.
“It’s over with,” Howard said of his decision to leave the Lakers as a free agent after one disappointing season. “I mean, there’s no need to talk about it. Things happen. It wasn’t the best situation for anybody. I made a decision to move on with my life. I’m in a much better place than I was last season mentally, physically. I think I made the best decision for Dwight.
“I’m in a very good place. These guys have been great since Day 1. Kevin (McHale has been amazing.) I’m happy. I’m really happy.”
McHale said his instructions for dealing with the attention sure to come with Thursday’s first meeting of the season with the Lakers would be a simple “Just play.” He said he has seen players get caught up in the moment on occasions like these, but said it was well down his list of concerns.
Howard does have experience under these circumstances with last season’s return to Orlando. But he laughed at a comparison between returning to Los Angles and Orlando where he was heartily booed.
“This is a totally different situation,” Howard said. “I was in Orlando for eight years. That was my home. I grew up in Orlando. Going back home was tough for me. It was tough for a lot of the fans there. The situation was completely different. I never tried to do anything to hurt these people in LA. I understand they’re passionate about their team. You do something that is best for you, everybody might not like it. They tend to react in crazy ways.
“I’ve seen the jerseys getting burned and the Coward jerseys, all that stuff. That’s just fans being passionate about their team. It’s totally understandable. I have nothing bad to say about those people.”
The biggest difference could just be how Howard feels, having spent the summer training in ways he could not before his season with the Lakers while rehabilitating from back surgery. Though McHale cited Howard’s influence on the Rockets’ play on both ends, and cited the players that had turned away from the lane when Howard was defending it, the greatest change came before Howard took the court.
“His health is 100 percent different,” McHale said. “When we did a physical after we signed him, I sat down with our training staff and they were like, ‘Oh boy.’ He had a huge discrepancy between the strength in his right leg and left leg. His glutes and his hamstrings were really weak. His flexibility was really funky. He spent a lot of time this summer getting right.”
“I don’t know,” Howard said. ‘Fans are very passionate about their team and fortunately, the Lakers have the most fans in the world so it’s a tough thing to let go. The way the season was last year, people don’t really know what happened on the court or in the locker room. They just know what was being fed to them. They just made their decision off of that. I’m pretty sure if any of those people had to make a decision off of the whole world, they wouldn’t know how to react or how to do it. It was a tough decision to make.”