Lakers’ Howard blessed after hitting ‘rock bottom’


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LOS ANGELES — Before signing with the Lakers in one of the more surprising reunions in NBA history, Dwight Howard said his life away from the court hit rock bottom this summer.

“It didn’t have anything to do with basketball,” Howard said Wednesday during an introductory conference call with reporters. “It was just stuff going [on] in my personal life. Mentally, physically and spiritually. It had nothing to do with me as a basketball player or anything like that. It was just personal things that I had to deal with which made me stronger.”

The Lakers are banking on Howard, 33, strengthening their interior defense and plugging the void left when DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn left ACL during offseason workouts.

Howard has already played one season in L.A. — the disastrous 2012-13 campaign marred by infighting, injuries and the death of longtime Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss — before spurning the franchise to sign with the Houston Rockets as a free agent.

He said that the chance to come back — he tweeted to fans in April 2013 after the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs that “I hope I get the chance to make it up to you” — is “a very big blessing” and an “awesome experience.”

“I never had any ill will toward any of the fans here in L.A.,” Howard said. “I loved this city from the first moment I’ve been here and started playing in the NBA. It was never nothing against anybody here [on] the team or anything like that, it was just a decision I made. I love this city. I love playing in L.A. I’m back here, so none of that stuff in the past even really matters to me anymore. I think we all have a fresh start.”

“It’s been six years, in 2020 it’ll be seven years. … I’m big on numbers. Seven is for new beginnings … I’m looking forward to having a fresh start with the fans and stuff like that. Show them my only dedication is to putting another banner up here in Los Angeles.”

Of course, that was the same song he sang when he left for Houston all those years ago, telling ESPN at the time that he was “betting $30 million” — the amount of money he left on the table from the Lakers’ offer versus the Rockets’ offer he accepted — that he would win a championship in the Bayou City.

He busted on the bet — the Rockets went 13-16 in three postseason appearances with Howard — before bouncing around the league, playing one-off seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards. He was bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies before ever playing a game, facilitating the move back to the Lakers on a non-guaranteed contract, as earlier reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Howard said he tackled his personal strife this summer through reading and meditation exercises to center himself.

“This summer was very important to me as an individual,” he said. “Got a chance to really isolate myself. Not from people but just really isolate, really try to get alone and become one with myself and become more balanced. This summer was really, really important for me.”

But he also made sure to immerse himself in conversation with new teammates — he name-checked Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee — to let them know how serious he is about helping the group.

“Everybody here wants to win, and I want to win, too,” Howard said. “It wasn’t about selling myself. It was just letting them know everything I’m about, and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Several times on the call, Howard, who will wear No. 39 in L.A., was reluctant to make any kind of statement that would cause any eyebrows to raise. “I’ve always said a lot of words, but I’d just rather show you guys,” he said at one point.

He kept that same tact when asked about former Lakers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant trolling him on Twitter last week while they were squashing their latest beef.

“Shaq and Kobe are some of the greatest players to ever play this game of basketball. I have nothing but love and respect for both of those guys, and I think what they’ve been able to accomplish in their lives after basketball has been amazing,” he said. “My job is to come here and help this team win. It’s not to get into any arguments or fights with Shaq or Kobe or anybody. I don’t plan to allow anything to distract me from helping this team win a championship.”



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