Josh Robbins talks about Dwight Howard on the eve of his return to play the Magic in Orlando.

How do Central Floridians feel about Dwight Howard these days?

A definitive answer could come during the first quarter of Wednesday night's game between Howard's Houston Rockets and the Orlando Magic.

As a part of their ongoing 25th-anniversary celebration, the Magic will air a video tribute to Howard on Amway Center's scoreboard during a first-quarter timeout.

The Magic have shown similar video tributes this season for former players and coaches who were visiting with their current teams. In most cases, Orlando's typically disengaged fans have greeted the returnees with little more than polite applause.

Howard likely will inspire a more impassioned reaction. His departure from the Magic was one of the messiest, most bizarre divorces between a player and a franchise in NBA history — a months-long, roller-coaster ride that finally ended on Aug. 10, 2012, when Howard was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade.

Arron Afflalo, one of the players whom the Magic acquired in the Howard trade, understands that Wednesday's game means a lot to some fans.

"I get it," Afflalo said. "Dwight was a fixture here for a long time. But sometimes players have to move on in the best interests of themselves and their family, and he had every right to do that."

Howard has suffered in recent days from muscle spasms in his lower back, and the injury made him a game-time decision for Tuesday night's matchup between the Rockets and the Miami Heat in Houston. Hypothetically, the injury could prevent him from playing Wednesday night against the Magic.

Howard has played once in Orlando since the Magic traded him.

On March 12, 2013, many fans inside Amway Center showered him with boos, and a few courtside hecklers taunted him coarsely. But the level of vitriol was nothing close to the anger that Cleveland Cavaliers fans unleashed on LeBron James when James returned to Cleveland for the first time following his move to the Miami Heat.

In last season's Lakers-Magic game in Orlando, Howard occasionally yelled right back at some of the harshest courtside hecklers, including then-Magic power forward Glen Davis. And, as the Magic repeatedly sent Howard to the free-throw line — infuriating some of Howard's friends and advisers — Howard responded by scoring 39 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

The Lakers won 106-97.

That game was a sellout.

The matchup against the Rockets isn't a sellout. At least not yet. According to Ticketmaster's interactive seat map, hundreds of seats remained for sale on the primary market as of early Tuesday evening. A Magic spokesman said about 3,000 tickets were still available.

The Magic decided to trade Howard after the team's new general manager, Rob Hennigan, met twice with Howard during the summer of 2012 and attempted to build a relationship with Howard.

Howard told Hennigan he had no interest in staying with the Magic.

The second face-to-face meeting took place on July 25, 2012, just days before Jacque Vaughn was hired as the Magic's new coach.

The irony is that Howard almost certainly would've loved playing for Vaughn, who consistently exudes positivity — the trait Howard said he wanted from a coach in the first place.

Howard eventually spurned the Lakers and signed instead with the Rockets, and Howard said he loves his new team and new city. The Rockets could make a deep playoff run this year.

Meanwhile, the Magic are in Year Two of a massive rebuilding project — with no obvious end date — and Jameer Nelson is the only player left on Orlando's roster who once played alongside Howard.

"I think overall we're headed in the right direction, so I think that's the most important thing," Vaughn said. "Our young group is growing. We're creating an atmosphere where guys want to be in our locker room and, at the end of the day, an atmosphere that's built around work. That's what we'll always be about. We'll earn what we get."

jbrobbins@tribune.com

ilding project — with no obvious end date — and Jameer Nelson is the only player left on Orlando's roster who once played alongside Howard.

"I think overall we're headed in the right direction, so I think that's the most important thing," Vaughn said. "Our young group is growing. We're creating an atmosphere where guys want to be in our locker room and, at the end of the day, an atmosphere that's built around work. That's what we'll always be about. We'll earn what we get."

jbrobbins@tribune.com