Dwight Howard, in what is probably not his last home game in Orlando (Getty Images)
With one day left before the NBA's trade deadline, it seems as if everyone is sick of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and the rumors swirling around him. Ironic, because the driving force behind Howard's wishy-washy attempt to dance around his obvious interest in signing with the New Jersey Nets this summer is the big man's hope of retaining his good-guy status. He wants to be liked, so badly, and the fallout is making him one of the league's least-liked players.
He's one of the best, though, which is why we can't stop talking about him. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski came through with the perfect summation of Howard's plans on Tuesday, pointing out that he truly doesn't want a deal between Orlando and New Jersey because Howard doesn't want to cost the Nets assets that he'd prefer to play alongside. So much so that he'd give back in a potential sign-and-trade deal in order to save the Nets a few players this summer. That's a commitment to winning that, frankly, we applaud. It doesn't mean it hasn't soured just about everyone that's associated with Dwight, though, or made Orlando's successful season a living hell.
And the obvious is leaking into the work of those, on deadline, that are shaping the way we view the NBA. ESPN's mobile application called Orlando's overtime win over Miami on Tuesday Howard's "home finale," while the NBA store already started selling Nets jerseys with Dwight Howard's name on them before quickly stopping that practice. Meanwhile, the Magic's coaching staff is beyond frayed -- they want Dwight gone, not because the team would be any better in the short term, but because they'd like to gather some assets to work with beyond this season. And the whole affair -- and Howard's public disingenuous -- has become rather disheartening.
A bit of a bummer, for what is supposed to be a goofy time of year with plenty of rumors and wild trades to laugh at and/or get excited over.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports found the Nets shirt with Howard's name on it last night, a ridiculous notion for all involved. Not only is Dwight not going to be traded to the Nets before the trade deadline, he'll never be a "New Jersey Net," and he'll never wear those colors as the Nets change their team name and logo heading into Brooklyn in 2012-13. To have such poor oversight of your team's online apparel that potentially pre-printed shirts are going live on your official website is wrong in so many ways. To have it up even though it's been said for months that Howard likely isn't going to be shipped to New Jersey before the deadline is a major gaffe on the team's part.
Meanwhile, despite the poor personnel planning that has Howard wanting a fresh start with the Nets, the Magic have established themselves as a clear No. 3 in the Eastern Conference despite Dwight's sometimes diminished play and an iffy supporting cast. Coach Stan Van Gundy has done a brilliant job minimizing the team's flaws, but his exasperation is growing by the day.
Clearly sick of the whole affair, Van Gundy went on record before Tuesday night's win as not caring whether he's the coach of the Orlando Magic moving forward. Or, more specifically, that he doesn't "give a damn about getting fired."
He's not saying this to force a deal, and the sentiment isn't totally fueled by frustration. Van Gundy knows, as one of the league's ace coaches, he would have his pick of potential coaching options in the summer. Or, after taking a year off to recharge, a nice TV gig for a spell (who wouldn't love a double-Van Gundy pairing with his brother Jeff to call NBA games?) before watching teams obviously clear the room midseason in hopes of wooing him during the 2013 offseason.
And who would want to work for Magic GM Otis Smith -- the man that deals for Gilbert Arenas and signs Glen Davis and Jason Richardson to poor contracts -- as he oversees a rebuilding plan that would have to start with a series of unneeded veterans on big deals already littering the roster? Especially when it's becoming possible that Howard is going to leave the Magic without gifting them any assets in return? I fully expect Van Gundy to coach the first game of the playoffs in a Superman outfit with no pants. With the boots, though.
All this because Dwight Howard is making a sound basketball move in wishing to give back potential salary earnings to join a well-coached team in the Nets with an All-Star point guard already in place.
In a vacuum, he's absolutely doing the right thing. The Magic have played beyond their potential, helpers like Hedo Turkoglu and Richardson are only going to get worse, and there were never any real moves on the horizon to give Howard a better teammate to work with moving forward.
If anything is swung between now and Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline that's a clear winning move for the Magic, that sees them adding a significant part alongside Howard, it will be because another team screwed up. That's what Howard is left to hope for, and this is why he's leaving. And we certainly don't blame him for not wanting to cost his eventual team assets and play out the string in Newark with the Nets for the rest of 2011-12.
In his quest to be liked, though, to decline any talks of trades on record, and his hope to hibernate until July 1 (the day he can sign with the Nets), Howard has shot his goodwill to pieces. He's torn the Magic into two camps and set up all manner of annoying screwups (like the mobile app or the T-shirt nonsense) along the way. And he's opened up the NBA, to all sorts of criticism regarding player influence -- even though Howard is well within his rights to be wary of Orlando's personnel moves as he chooses his employer following the end of his contract.
The hope is that a successful run with the Nets, full of good intentions and plenty of wins, will help erase what really hasn't been a fun time to behold in 2011-12. But as we've seen in the wake of LeBron James and Chris Bosh giving up money to chase the ring in Miami, it's going to take a whole lot of wins to make up for the indelicate move from one team to another. No amount of big smiles on big-city billboards will make up for the stink of this swamp.
- Dwight Howard
- Orlando Magic
- New Jersey Nets