The Dwight Howard Legacy: Coaches Hired, Coaches Fired

Houston 108, Portland 103

Dwight Howard has been denied the Tim Duncan luxury. Not the 5 titles. Not the MVP’s. Not the championship parades. Not the universal admiration and reverence even among those who have always found Duncan’s personality and his game boring. It’s not the 19 years with one franchise Howard would have loved as his biography. No. What Howard has never had that Duncan takes for granted is one head coach in a 19 year career.

But is part of that Howard’s fault?

Howard has had nine head coaches, three of which were interim coaches, two were father and son. So for everyone who says that Howard’s career has been disappointing, there is evidence why he has marginally improved over the course of time, absent a significant post game. And for everyone who says Howard engineered the Kevin McHale departure, there is a long trail of head coaches Howard had beef with that make the case for Howard being an instigator behind the scenes.

The List:

In Howard’s rookie year, he was coached by former NBA point guard Johnny Davis. Davis lasted the first 67 games of Howard’s rookie year. Howard’s first interim coach was Chris Jent, a journeyman guard turned coach. The Magic won 36 games that year.

Then Brian Hill came on board and there was stability, sort of. Hill matched the same amount of wins as the Davis/Jent combo the year before and was thought enough of to bring back for another try. In Howard’s third year, Hill got the team to 40 wins. Progress, but slow. He was fired.

Enter Stan Van Gundy, coach number four. He came into Howard’s life in 2007 and two years later Van Gundy had the Magic in the NBA Finals. The relationship went south in 2011 for a variety of reasons, some of which was Howard’s fault. Like a bored lover, he began to have a roving eye, wanting to go to Brooklyn or play with Chris Paul to satiate his attention addiction. At that point, it was clear Howard wanted an escape route. He wasn’t looking to build something.

Always the sensitive one, Howard was fed up with Van Gundy’s criticsm of him in the press.

And then there was this piece of reality show drama. Stan Van Gundy, in a chat with reporters, said Howard told Orlando management to fire him. A few minutes later, seemingly on cue, Howard happened upon the reporters en masse and tried to smile his way out of it. As a strategy, it was straight out of the Dwight Howard playbook. Pretend. Create an illusion. But the cover-up was a disaster. Howard looked like a backstabber/liar who had been caught trying to bury the knife when everyone could see the blood on his hands. The Howard-Van Gundy parting was anticlimatic.

In 2012, coach number five was Mike Brown. Brown’s brilliant decision to go to the Princeton offense sealed his fate and he was fired after five games. Interim coach number two in Howard’s life was Bernie Bickerstaff.

Coach number seven was Mike D’antoni, a disaster for Howard who wanted Phil Jackson. D’antoni found little use for big men and barely tolerated Howard all season. Once again, Howard’s feelings were hurt. He left for Houston and then D’antoni exhaled.

In Houston, Howard played for Kevin McHale until this morning. Coach number nine, J.B. Bickerstaff, interim coach number three, is the son of coach number six, (interim coach number two), Bernie Bickerstaff, which puts Howard in the middle of a trivia question.

Who is the only player to have played for a father and son? Dwight Howard.

Twelve years into his career and Howard has (almost) had as many coaches. He’s only been to the Finals once, not surprisingly. Howard has never had the benefit of an all time great coach for any length of time. He’s never played for a coach who won a championship as a coach. McHale was as close as he got to a great player. But would a great coach like a Phil Jackson or a Rick Carlisle have kept the immature Howard from running to the front office every time he was unhappy life didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to? Would they have been able to push Howard into maturity when others could not?

Because your reputation is your reputation, and because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, there are some who put the entire McHale debacle at Howard’s feet. Wouldn’t it be like him to use back channels to get what he wants while smiling to the camera about team togetherness?

Howard has a history of not liking coaches. His constant cheeriness in front of the camera is often construed as a cover for behind the scenes negotiating. (Like trying to get the Lakers to amnesty Kobe Bryant and then feigning innocence.)

Howard can opt out of his contract after this year. It wouldn’t be unusual or even a shock that he asserted his power to the front office, offering an ultimatum. That’s the point of power. To be used when necessary. Though sometimes a power play falls flat, embarrassingly so. He failed with the Lakers. Perhaps Houston bit.  Those are the rumors, not facts.

What is fact is that Howard’s twelfth year may in fact mirror his 9th year. Three head coaches, a Bickerstaff in the middle and a first round playoff exit.

photo via llananba