For all the hindsight accompanying another Dwight Howard failure, this is unique sledding for Howard, who has found a way to mess up another opportunity. In his illustrious, often soap opera-ish career, he has never been bought out after a trade. Dwight Howard has never been told, go away and yeah we will pay you to go away. Howard has never been compensated for not joining a NBA team, their choice. As emotionally reactive, selfish, immature, and lighting the fire to his career as is the Dwight resume, he has always had control.
He left Orlando because he felt unloved. He left the Lakers for more money and to escape Kobe. He left Houston because it went rogue on him. Atlanta traded him for a breath of fresh air and he had a good year in Charlotte. But a Dwight good year has little value. He was blindsided by the trade to Brooklyn, after being healthy and producing in North Carolina.
The Brooklyn trade was one in which the Nets didn’t care about Dwight Howard, not one iota, which tells you where he is in his career. 12 rebounds don’t really matter. The Nets wanted to unload the baggage the Lakers threw at them last summer, the particularly stunning Timofey Mozgov contract, executed by the Lakers GM who is now Charlotte’s GM. So it makes perfect sense that Mozgov is in Charlotte and Dwight Howard, after the buyout, is nowhere.
The trade, the buyout, the continuing saga of Dwight Howard drama, is his own shadow. Where he goes, it goes. Muhammad Ali famously said it’s not climbing the mountain you have to worry about, it’s that damn pebble in the shoe. Adulting is figuring out how to manage those small, insufferable details that can really hurt but are tiny enough to be dealt with.
It is what Dwight Howard has never ever grasped. His self awareness is no different today than it was when he left the Lakers. He left the Lakers with his rep in shatters and Kobe battles will do that; you don’t win. For most of that Laker year, he quietly battled the Black Mamba. He was never brave enough or tough enough, he was never the baddest motherf***er in the room to go one on one with Kobe like Shaq did. Dwight fights the passive-aggressive way. Seething but smiling. Sarcasm hiding his rage.
He wanted leadership, he thought he deserved it and then there it was, this grand moment. Kobe Bryant was done, gone, Achilles in shreds and there was Dwight, visible, present. The leadership he claimed he deserved was his, dropped in his lap, and what did he do with it? Nothing.
Dwight leads Dwight and thinks that is enough.
If he was confused by the Charlotte trade, he was the only one. Achievement only matters if you are elite. For 99% of everyone else you have to win the room.
“I thought this season was really good. For one, this is the healthiest I’ve been and two, my stats this season has been one of the best since I’ve been in the NBA.” (Dwight Howard)
Those two sentences Dwight offered said everything a future employer like the Warriors need to know about Dwight, if they are intrigued about signing him. It has always been about him. At the age of 18. And, at the age of 32. It’s never about winning.
How could this year be a good season when the Hornets didn’t make the playoffs? But Dwight feeds his ego by propping up all the things that went well for him and dismissing the wheat and chaff as if he wasn’t a part of all the things he did wrong by not leading the Hornets to the playoffs.
It wasn’t a Dwightmare and he still was traded. He didn’t win the room.
As for winning the room, it occurs to me that Dwight Howard and Donald Trump have this one annoying habit in common. What they say publicly is not what they say privately. As a human cog in the entertainment complex that traffics in wins and losses, heroes and cowards, Dwight is addicted to this public image of himself as is Trump. Either there is not much depth there (for both of them) or they are trying to placate a public that has a low opinion of them in the first place.
One of the reasons we like Joel Embiid, aside from his tremendous skill, is that he is everything Dwight Howard is not. He is real. He says what he is thinking at the time he is thinking it and his talent for wit makes his comments, even the politically incorrect ones, comical. No one would ever accuse Embiid of being a false prophet like they do Howard. Howard is trying to get likes by giving us the plastic answer. Embiid is trying to get likes by making us laugh and being himself. It’s not a surprise who is more popular.
But popularity isn’t coveted like game is coveted. Howard’s gift is rebounding. Next year, Howard will pass Hakeem Olajuwon and Wes Unseld on the all-time rebounders list. He has a shot at bumping Moses Malone and becoming the 5th best rebounder in NBA history. It depends on health and motivation and how the next four years go for him.
His pending free agency will attract a lot of GM’s. If nothing else, Dwight Is a romantic figure which feeds his ego. His size, his body, his rebounding skill, it’s like a moth to a flame and GM’s can’t resist. Until Dwight is in the locker room.
In a recent stand-up routine, Chris Rock compared a marriage to being in a band. He said at some point you have to just play the tambourine. You can’t be the lead singer all the time, nor cool dude on the bass. Stand there and bang that tambourine.
The NBA is like that too. You have to know what your role is and be happy doing what you can do. You are part of a band. It’s all music. Enjoy. Soak it up. Love life. Bang the tambourine.
But if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, Howard has clued all of us in. He just can’t be player number 8 on the roster. He has to be player number one. He has to be seen, talked about. He is that high maintenance hook up who will only go to a certain restaurant, ride in a certain car.
Dwight is an emotional diva and it drains his countrymen. Add in his baggage of not playing hard because he is pouting or mocking teammates and it is all part of the eyeroll when Dwight Howard’s name comes up.
If the Warriors bite the bullet, and I hope they do just for entertainment value, Dwight and Draymond will be priceless. Draymond in Dwight’s face and Dwight trying to pretend it is nothing while he sulks will make another Warriors title run palpable. Dwight standing around pretty useless while Curry is popping off threes will be a comedy show. Dwight not playing for two weeks because of matchups and those camera angles of him sitting on the bench like he’s in a debtor’s prison, jaw like stone and eyes flat and dead, need to lead SportsCenter. Dwight making the mid-level exception money because- what is a rebounder worth these days anyway?- while Curry and Durant are north of $30 million will put a sobering epilogue to the last days of Dwight Howard’s career.
When the Lakers were hopelessly in love with Dwight they had a pitch meeting that Kobe Bryant attended in sweats and gold jewelry. Dwight’s free agency was priority number one for Mitch Kupchak so it was curious that Kobe was there, one of the invited. Kobe wasn’t sentimental or adoring or even friendly. He was succinct in all of his tough love telling Dwight you have to build something. You have to stay somewhere. You have to take the bad years in a career. You can’t hunt for happy. The NBA is only happy for the team that wins it all and even then, to get there, there are issues.
Dwight wasn’t impressed. He left Los Angeles, for Houston. Houston for Atlanta. Atlanta for Charlotte….
And so now, here we are again. Another summer. Another city. Another dream.
But if he is real with himself, if he looks in the mirror, he’ll own up to the fact that after Orlando, Dwight Howard hasn’t built anything in his NBA career, nothing to remember outside of pulling down rebounds. He is still chasing a ghost.