The Dwight Howard Explain Myself tour continued with a sit down convo with ESPN.com and unlike his interview with Inside the NBA studio hosts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, Howard wasn’t passive about stepping into mine fields. He was candid and yet still held something back. To give Howard credit though, his biggest criticism is that he doesn’t say exactly what he feels, he takes the path of least resistance. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne tells the story that the first thing Howard does after a NBA game (the Lakers year being her sample size) is to check his social media feed. It’s not a secret Howard cares how he is being portrayed, viewing it as a reflection he needs to absorb. Howard has a new agent this year (Perry Rodgers) and this new verbose Howard, in a possible free agent summer, comes off as petulant and a little spoiled, confused and hopeful but- and this is the largest takeaway- he doesn’t understand his own liabilities, even if what he is saying is grounded in the truth of his own insecurity. Will all this Howard unplugged help him snag a huge payday this summer?
For the first time Howard talks of a rift between himself and Rockets GM Darryl Morey.
When Howard was with the Lakers, at the very end, he came back to thank Mitch Kupchak. Despite the Howard theatrics, Kupchak wanted Howard to return to the Lakers. However, there will be no thank you notes to Morey from Howard, who wasn’t shy about portraying the GM as an anti-Howard, clueless, organizational strategist. Ironically, it was Morey who want all-in on Howard in the summer of 2013 and it was Morey who Howard was appreciative of once he signed the max deal.
“I went to Darryl and said ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect for what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'”
Howard is right. Despite the never ending sport of throwing shade his way, Howard can be a dominant rebounder and a force in the paint when he is engaged and therein is the Howard paradox. He is imprisoned by the emotional moment. Instead of parking his emotional burdens at the door, he brings it with him into play which means you don’t know who Howard is going to be on any given night. It’s why Howard clings around his neck the label of soft.
“My friends kept telling me, ‘Even if you are not getting shots, there are so many other things you can control while you are on the floor.’ And they were right. I allowed not getting the ball to affect me. That’s on me.”
In the same interview, Howard self-identified himself as being “young.” Howard will be 31 in December. He is not young. 25 year old Hassan Whiteside is young. It’s what makes everyone a little bit skeptical when it comes to Howard’s self analysis. He doesn’t have the ability to see the picture of himself accurately. His reflection in the mirror is of a past self he hasn’t realized has faded in the distance. The truth is, Howard is in the last few miles of his career. This upcoming season is number 13.
Because Howard is such a chameleon, he throws out things that make you think he gets it. “I need to get locked into the mental part of the game.” It sounds easy enough to say but executing it is something altogether different. At first glance, Howard can change this one simple thing. But sensitivity is innate, you are born with it. Overcoming it is a lifelong dedication Howard has to be aggressive about changing. One other thing. Is all this laying himself on the cross his strategy to prove to teams that he has a healthy sense of his past and he wants to change. Better yet, as a perspective organization, would you want to give max money to a player who repeatedly confesses he struggles with mental toughness? Is that the kind of investment that will bring a return?
Before he came to Houston in the fall of 2013, Howard thought of James Harden reverentially, as a hybrid Kobe. Howard envisioned himself as a Shaq lite companion. Another Howard illusion. Forget the Harden-Kobe similarities. Howard has never been the scorer Shaq was and he never was the leader Shaq was and he never was tough like Shaq was and he never took the challenge of being punked and then destroying whoever thought they were better than him like Shaq often did and he didn’t have Shaq’s f**k you confidence nor Shaq’s ability to create the dramatic.
When Howard says he doesn’t know what happened with his relationship with Harden, I believe him. His ability to deconstruct behavior, his own and his teammates, is elementary school level. I believe he is confused. I think he struggles understanding people who don’t view the world and basketball the way he does. The question remains: does he understand he has issues with dominant shooting guards? First Kobe, then Harden.
“I let my emotions get the better of me. It bothers me when I hear certain things. Like when people call me a ‘cancer’. I know I’m not that person. I want my team to be close. When I got to L.A. they told me, ‘You don’t need team chemistry. You just need to be able to play basketball together.’ So which is it? It’s confusing.”
His brutal Lakers experience was translated through one event that continues to haunt. Mike D’Antoni had Howard in the game even as they were trailing by 30. After the game, a fan threw Howard’s jersey in his face. It hurt Howard so much so that he never forgot it and never forgave the organization which was the textural issue of Howard in L.A. Los Angeles fans are brutal towards anyone they think is underpeforming. Shaq was booed. Kobe was booed. Magic was booed. It’s the culture. Howard’s entitlement is that he thinks he is special, therefore he thinks he should be treated reverentially, and he thinks that his temporary performance should not be funneled through emotional reactivity of fans who have so much invested.
During the entire ESPN.com interview, Howard’s fragile psyche was the centerpiece. It wasn’t the elephant in the room. It was the entire room itself. There was one point when he recounted a story. While in Olrando Kobe told him to take 1,000 shots a day as a way to improve his game. Dwight did that. But he was afraid to take them in games. He’s afraid of messing up. He’s afraid of jerseys thrown in his face. He’s afraid of being trashed in the media. He’s afraid of failing. And yet that is the thesis of his career, always coming up short. Howard has a sports psychologist which is a step towards accepting that his limitations have hurt his career.
Can he be a new person in Portland or Milwaukee or whoever pays Howard this summer? Do people really change?
Howard has struck out with three teams so what applies here is the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is plain crazy.
photo via llananba