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Ball Don't Lie

Before he leaves, Dwight Howard would like the Magic to stop being awful

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Dwight Howard, so angry (Getty Images)

Driving endlessly over the weekend and bored with the six-disc changer, I decided to take in a fair bit of sports talk radio as I dashed across the Midwest on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And because there's a week off from football, and because talking about actual in-game action is boring, Dwight Howard's obvious displeasure with the way that his Orlando Magic team has been playing recently was a source of quite a bit of fodder. Dwight even said after Friday's embarrassing Magic loss to the Hornets that he wasn't entirely enthused about taking the court with his lethargic Orlando squad after the mid-game break, telling reporters following the game that he "told [his teammates] at halftime, `If you don't want to play, just stay in the locker room, because it don't make sense for a team who we should beat to just demolish us."'

And, to the media, this served as some sort of re-issue of his trade demand, especially considering the fact that the Magic have lost four of five following a promising start to dip down to a 12-8 record. And especially because Howard has continually rejected Orlando's attempts to sign him to a contract extension before he hits the free-agent market this summer. And especially because Dwight Howard is an NBA All-Star, and all NBA All-Stars want to play in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Even if this All-Star doesn't want to play in Chicago. And even though the All-Star game is in Orlando this year. And even though some of the biggest names in sports strangely (I'm sorry, Florida) keep summer homes in Orlando.

It can't just be because the Magic have absolutely made a stink of things, of late, with Howard somewhat excluded. This isn't another trade demand. This is, finally, an in-the-moment Howard ripping on the poor play of his teammates. And he's well within his rights to do, even if he's "only" averaging about 20 points and 13 rebounds a contest during this swoon.

That's not going to stop the callers and radio show gasbags, who act as if Howard's teammates, coaching staff and the Orlando front office had no idea that Dwight would have preferred a trade before Friday's thrashing at the hands of the Hornets. To them, this is some weird way of telling a team he wants out -- even though Dwight has already, y'know, asked out. And actually given his current team a list of new teams to trade him to. That's sort of what happens when you put the football down long enough to see what else is out there.

Once again, Dwight Howard is angry because his team isn't any good. Or, more specific to the last week or so, because his team isn't playing very well. He's angry because he works for perhaps the worst GM in the NBA in Otis Smith, who is paying an average of about $12.5 million a year for the right to employ Jason Richardson and Glen Davis until 2015 mainly because they have names that a sports talk show caller recognizes. He's upset that Jameer Nelson, just three years removed from a fantastic All-Star level season, has regressed to a point where his Player Efficiency Rating rivals that of the terrible Chris Duhon.

He sees no reason to go on with this lot, which is why he wants out. Which is in stark contrast to the promise he saw in the Magic back in July of 2007, when he signed a contract extension with that small-market squad.

That's the point of the trade demand. The point of the frustration? The Magic aren't playing well. Guys in New York and Los Angeles spew the same invective; but it doesn't mean it's the re-issuing of a trade demand.

Nelson has been awful this year. Perhaps the league's biggest disappointment in the non-injury realm, and that's even considering the time he's about to spend on the bench following a knock to the head during Friday's loss to New Orleans. Richardson, already 31, has played well below average ball offensively and still can be taken advantage of by all manner of perimeter performers defensively. Glen Davis, who plays in what we call the "frontcourt," is shooting 36 percent from the floor. The front of the floor. Ryan Anderson has shot miserably (38 percent) over the last week as he struggles to overcome a calf injury, and Quentin Richardson still has to play 16 minutes a game mainly because coach Stan Van Gundy only has Larry Hughes in reserve.

Any consistent thread you're noticing throughout this? These are all guys you've heard of. These are players who have been counted on, save for Anderson, to act as a third or even second name on a nationally televised team. This is what Otis Smith does. When Van Gundy throws up his hands and walks away from this mess, point your dart at the most famous coach available. That'll be the guy that Otis Smith hires. Then he'll work a sign-and-trade for O.J. Mayo because, well … O.J. Mayo!

It's been nine days since Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that the Magic were too good to trade Howard. He was right before he wrote it, and he's right on Jan. 30. The Magic still have a chance with an MVP-level talent playing at the NBA's most important position, and with all that potential surrounding him in the form of Nelson, who is literally playing half as well as he should. Half. Not off slightly. Half as well. Add in the abject lack of trading partners and/or suitable packages in return for Howard, and you have a clear verdict. No trade, please. Not even Otis Smith would pull a deal right now.

This team is wasting something pretty important right now. I don't care if they know that they'll be working through a Howard-less existence come July. That's been in the cards for ages. What's also just as obvious is the idea that the Magic, even with someone like Otis Smith at the helm, won't be dealing Howard before February's trade deadline. This is the team, from now until however long they decide to play this spring over even this summer. To blame Howard's lack of permanence -- even as immaturely as he's handled this whole mess -- is an excuse of the highest order.

You have the guy, Orlando. He's on your team and he's dominating your paint on both ends. You also have an East with Boston fading, the Knicks failing, and Miami/Chicago duking it out and focused on only red and black. Come May and possibly June you'll have seven-game series where all previous records and accomplishments are tossed out the window. And, again, a 6-11 guy with all-world skills jumping tip.

This is the time for the martyr act, because it's mid-winter and everybody's thinkin' 'bout The Big Game on Sunday. Get it over with, though, and get back to establishing yourself as a proper number three in back of Chicago and Miami. And the next time Dwight Howard points to a 3-10 night from the floor and no penetration from any of his guards, don't slough it off as some sort of trade demand. It's quite possible that your barely engaged big man might still be more engaged than you are.

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