by Marcel Mutoni @ marcel_mutoni

On Tuesday night, Dwight Howard will make his long-awaited return to Orlando. He will undoubtedly be serenaded by boos and much more offensive language by the Magic faithful, and he seems a tad nervous about the circus that awaits him.

In a rare stroke of positive PR for the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, he offered up a sincere apology to the folks in his old stomping grounds. The 27 year-old acknowledges that he completely bungled his exit out of town last summer.

Per USA Today:

“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media. I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”

“There are a lot of things about me that have changed,” said Howard. “I’m becoming a better man because of the stuff that has happened to me this last year and a half. Everybody goes through stuff like this. Even though I’m going through it where everybody in the world can see it, I’m happy that it’s happening. If it didn’t happen, I’d be stuck in my ways. I would never change, and then it would be a lot worse. For all this stuff to happen, for me to sit back and see and evaluate myself and what I could’ve done better and realize that I needed to make a change, I’m getting better. I’m growing up. I’m maturing.”

Howard says the change in his outlook and approach to basketball and life began at the NBA All-Star break last month — he has adopted a new diet (a severe reduction in sweets), the center has grudgingly accepted his role as a defensive and rebounding monster for the Lakers, and against all oods, he seems to be getting along with Kobe Bryant (in addition to marveling at his teammate’s work ethic.) Of course, it helps that the Lakers are on a roll, and have at last entered the Playoff picture.

Dwight doesn’t know how he will handle the “crazy” atmosphere in Orlando tomorrow night.

As you might expect, Kobe has no such qualms about walking into hostile, enemy territory: “Emotional? Man, I’ll talk to him,” a plainly unemotional Bryant said Sunday. “Just go out there and bust their [rear]. Show them what they’re missing. Save the emotional [stuff] for when you retire.”