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Ball Don't Lie

Does Dwight Howard, the NBA’s best center, know his place?

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Dwight Howard reportedly wants to 'be Kobe Bryant, not be with Kobe Bryant.' (Getty Images)

Dwight Howard? You're a center. Seriously, friend; you're a center.

You're a great one. The most dominant in this league despite clearly taking way more possessions off this year than you have over the last few years. You are marketable, you are amiable. You have a clear presence as the goofball that can also work tactfully under media pressure while changing games on one end and harming opponents on the other. And, to your credit, you have taken the high road again and again in the face of needless potshots from former Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal.

You're also a center, for better or worse. And though you play the NBA's most important position, this is a quicker league than was in place decades ago. Even the best and most dominant (like that Shaq guy we referenced earlier) needed the help of all-world guards to see them through. Centers, no matter how offensively gifted, just aren't first options in today's game.

So why in the world do you, according to what a source told SI.com's Sam Amick, want to work as a first option? Why do you, according to that source, want to "be Kobe Bryant, not be with Kobe Bryant"?

On some levels, and certainly by some people, this is something to be appreciated. Many NBA fans, sick of how LeBron James and Dwyane Wade decided years ago to pair off in Miami, turned to the apparently all-alone Derrick Rose as their new savior in 2010-11, battling the bigs all by himself in Chicago. For Howard to go to the soon to-be Brooklyn Nets, even with the presence of All-Star point guard Deron Williams potentially in place, seems like a welcome move to fly in the face of the litany of franchise players that seemingly only want to play with other franchise players.

And, if you read on in Amick's column, you'll realize that Howard has legitimate and admirable reasons for striking out on his own rather than forcing a deal to Los Angeles, where he would be asked to rebound and play defense and get in line behind Bryant and (likely, because the deal makes no sense if he's gone) Pau Gasol.

Here's Sam:

Though it may pain the purists, it's not just about basketball for Howard. He wants to take his brand global, to leverage the international influence of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov while building his brand as Brooklyn's first star. His wandering eye is enticed not only by the Barclays Center that is set to open next season, but the businesses in the booming area around it that could afford many off-court opportunities.

Nobody, really, should have a problem with that. We skulked around the still-developing blocks surrounding the Barclays last weekend, and while all of your silly stereotypes are true (bangs and skinny jeans and the scent of food trucks), this clearly is a place where you can find your stardom without having the specter of the New York Knicks hanging over you. No team is ever going to top those Knick influences, but if the Mets or Jets can own a town for years at a time, so can the Brooklyn Nets. That isn't a play on words — this city is big enough for a 1A in any sport.

The problem for Howard is that he's not going to turn into Michael Jordan at that position. Even Kobe Bryant couldn't turn into Michael Jordan at that position. LeBron James, known to everyone, isn't turning into MJ. The idea of a singular promotional presence in this league — both in terms of endorsements and actual league promotion — is gone. It's a star-driven league, but this realm is still run by a collective. A Kevin Durant shoe here, a funny Blake Griffin commercial there, a cool Derrick Rose billboard up there.

And Howard, at his position — both in terms of on- and off-court influence — will just have to play his role. At Shaq's absolute peak in 1999-00, he was wearing Shaq-brand shoes made by his own company not because his endorsement power made him too big for any company to handle, but because Reebok declined his option and the other shoe companies decided to throw their money at guards. Nobody but Kris Kross and a few kitschy hipsters in Howard's hopeful hovel in Brooklyn bought Patrick Ewing's shoes, and few kids are using up the moments following practice before the lights are shut off emulating a perfect hedge on a screen and roll or a litany of offensive tip-ins.

It ain't easy being a C.

We're hoping Howard knows this. That he's more smitten with the Nets' potential future as a team with payroll flexibility and an All-Star point guard than he is turned off by Kobe Bryant's warning that Dwight would be a second or third option in Los Angeles. That he's more fearful of Bryant's age and Los Angeles' lack of depth or potential under the salary cap than he is worried about not getting enough touches. That he's looking to leave Orlando for the Nets for all the right reasons (because there are many) rather than the wrong ones.

We're not sure. And we won't find out right away — whether Dwight heads to the Nets between now and the March 15 trade deadline or next July as a free agent. We're not going to find out what Dwight was hoping for until he realizes, on or off the court in a few years, that he's not getting what he'd hoped.

Not because nobody dislikes or doesn't respect him. But because he's a center. Just another burden of the NBA's most important position.

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