Three teams in the past three years have felt the sting of Dwight Howard angst. The only thing the Magic and Lakers and Rockets had in common was their sudden tilt into mediocrity and the ensuing irrelevance that brings. The NBA applauds and deifies winners; losers are ignored. The mental structure of Howard makes it impossible for him to hang on. He lacks the grit of the patient one. He lacks the loyalty of the obedient one. He lacks the discipline of the optimistic one. And so, here he is again, refusing to cling tightly to a sinking ship. Instead, he wants to jump. It is the Dwight Howard way.
No greater team has been more disappointing this year than the Houston Rockets and it started in game one which Howard did not play in, suspended because of flagrant fouls accumulation in the playoffs. In an embarrassment that would be thematic, his team lost to a rebuilt on the fly Nuggets team with a rookie running the show and they decimated the Rockets in every possible way. From that point on it has been runnning uphill with a rock on your back.
The coach, venerated champion Kevin McHale, was the fall guy. The star player, James Harden, was the blame guy. The general manager, Darryl Morey, was the how smart is he really guy? The new point guard, Ty Lawson, was the bench guy. Rest assured, it is a mess in Houston. A mess.
And Dwight Howard doesn’t do messes.
He doesn’t function well in chaos. He is not an adversity player. He’s not the type to rescue troops deep into enemy territory by putting his body in harms way and shielding the innocent, perhaps even taking bullets. When the going gets tough, he looks to go somewhere else. Dwight Howard wants easy. He wants ready made. He wants conflict-free.
Dwight Howard wants to be happy.
The thing about happiness is that it is not an entitlement. No one is required to be happy. Happiness is the conclusion of a built life, something you have nurtured and loved and sacrificed for over time that you now own and you can take pride in.
Howard has jumped around these past three years looking for the same thing and if he has one essential weakness it is the inability to deconstruct the sum from its parts.
He wanted to come to the Lakers even as he had a full understanding of everything that Kobe Bryant was as a competitor. Howard played with him in the Olympics and hated him then. What was going to be different other than in Howard’s imaginary thinking mind Bryant would somehow toss him the torch? Tossing isn’t Bryant’s way. You want it, you have to take it. Bryant respects results. Howard respects easy. If Bryant had been let loose via the amnesty clause, Howard would have stayed. The easy route is Howard’s route.
But winning in the NBA is never easy. You take a lot of lumps. You get hit on the chin. You are knocked down. You suffer first. You sacrifice.
Howard says he wants to make things work in Houston but he said that in Orlando. He opted-in to his contract even though he didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want the fans to dislike him. After his last game in Los Angeles, when he was ejected in a 4-0 San Antonio sweep, he said he’d make it up to the fans knowing full well he was out of there.
Often, history does repeats itself. Often, Dwight Howard mangles the truth.
In the summer of 2013 when Howard said Houston had a better chance at winning a title than the Lakers, and that was why he was leaving, of course Howard was right. But, it didn’t mean that Houston was close to winning anything. Howard is a defensive player with little offensive game. James Harden is an offensive player with little defensive game. It was doomed from the start.
The Rockets look at the fact that they made it to the Western Conference Finals last year as proof of their ability. But what did they really accomplish? They trailed the Clippers 3-1. The Clippers, on cue, went into a coma as they usually do and the Rockets walked through an open door. The Rockets then played the Warriors and were out-classed and decimated; it was a fight that just wasn’t fair.
A bad defensive team with three point shooters who depend entirely on one player isn’t championship worthy. First off, players have to want to play with the star. Secondarily, they have to have fun playing. Thirdly, they must stop the other team from scoring.
Phil Jackson’s rule holds firm. You know who a team is after 20 games. After 20 games the Rockets are fighting for the 8th seed. But, Dwight Howard doesn’t do fighting. He was going to opt-out of his contract at the end of the year anyway to take advantage of the big payday looming. Why not go now? Why not exit this sinking Rockets ship with James Harden that is no different than a sinking Lakers ship with Kobe Bryant that was no different than a sinking Magic ship with Stan Van Gundy. Why drown? Why not be happy somewhere else?
Dwight Howard is chasing something and it isn’t a NBA ring.
photo via llananba