NEW ORLEANS — Dwight Howard's big return to Orlando isn't until next Tuesday, but, sure, let's start the fighting now.
Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson took offense to Howard's interview with CBS2/KCAL9 in which he said, "My team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted, and I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face."
No, Howard's teammate in Orlando for eight seasons did not like that one bit.
"At some point, when are you gonna, as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?" Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday. "I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates. We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that's up to him."
Nelson probably took the comments particularly hard. He and Howard were drafted the same year. Nelson is still with Orlando, which is 17-45, though the Magic beat the Lakers back in December.
Another former Orlando teammate also didn't like the perceived dig.
"It's just strange. If anything he should be focused on playing for the Lakers and making the playoffs," Miami forward Rashard Lewis, who played with Howard for 3½ seasons, told the Sentinel. "It's disrespectful more than anything. We helped Dwight become the player he was. They built that team to make him the player he was. Not trying to be rude or disrespectful to Dwight, but I think sometimes you have to focus on what's going on now, not what [happens] in the past. Very disappointing."
Lewis wasn't done, referencing the Eastern Conference banner the Magic earned in 2009.
"We made a good run," he said. "Hell, look at those banners hanging in the stands. They don't say Dwight Howard on them. ... "
Howard, however, later said Nelson and Lewis misinterpreted his comment because the media "twisted it into a negative thing" while relating his words to Orlando players.
"I never meant any disrespect to none of my former teammates," Howard said after the Lakers' 108-102 victory Wednesday over New Orleans. "My statement was just to say that our team that I played with in Orlando, we were the underdogs. Nobody really talked about our team. Everybody overlooked us for the whole time I was there in Orlando and I hated that. We all hated that.
"Those were my teammates for years. They helped me become the player that I am today. We all got to the Finals because of that."
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.