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Dwight Howard is saying all the right things, which is not good for Orlando

Jan 15, 2011, 4:35 PM EDT

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Bobcats, Game 3 AP

Free agency and the years prior to it will never be the same after “The Decision.”  We heard LeBron James say all the right things. “I love Cleveland.” “I love our fans.” “I would love to win a championship here.” But what was missing was James ever giving the words that would bind him to Cleveland. He said almost everything. But he never said the words which would lock him publicly to Cleveland. And that’s the formula. You heard it from Dwyane Wade, you’ve heard it from Carmelo Anthony, and you’re hearing it now from Dwight Howard, with his free agency a full year and a half away.

From an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein this weekend:

Stein: When you walk around town, do people ever ask you if you’re going to leave town someday like Shaq did? How often do people ask those kinds of questions? Can you feel that people in Orlando are worried about history repeating itself?

Howard: I want to win a championship. And I’m going to do whatever I can to win the championship here in Orlando. This is where I started my career and I would love to finish my career here.

via Weekend Dime: Howard Q&A – ESPN.

So Howard gave the positive words you want to hear as a Magic fan without telling you “Yes, I will re-sign here” or even “I intend to re-sign here but if we don’t win a championship I’m gone.” Just saying what he’s supposed to say via his agent, and not saying what he would need to say to end the questions. He has the ability to end the questions that apparently he doesn’t like. But he won’t. Because this is the new reality.

And here is where we depart from the linear narrative.

There is a question here of responsibility.

The constant refrain is “I want to win a championship.” Every player is heeding the words of Kevin Garnett, who feels he wasted his time in Minnesota on losing teams. Never mind the legions of fans in Minnesota who supported him and desperately need him to win a championship there versus the Boston Celtics who needed to throw another trophy in the gigantic trophy room they swim in like Scrooge McDuck.  Garnett felt that he wasted his best years not contending, and now all players are trying to accomplish multiple titles in their prime, not when they’re aging veterans. And so this new crop pursues it, without ever considering the responsibility for championships rests not only on the teams who employ them, but on everyone else.

It’s ego. Ego that drives players to believe that no matter what, no matter how many free throws they miss, the blame for failing to win a championship should fall on all other members of the organization and not themselves. Ego that causes them to overlook and shrug off the responsibility that comes with being a franchise player, being the player teams build around, being the player teams depend on. Instead they listen to agents and handlers tell them that a shrinking field goal percentage and a modified jumper is enough, that it’s the failure of the team to construct a good enough supporting cast. This, despite the enormous amount of luck it takes to win a championship, never mind the complexity of obtaining truly great talent by a contending team. Instead, they simply look at what Paul Pierce has had handed to him (after nearly a decade of struggle as the only real star), what Kobe Bryant was granted (despite the ridiculous circumstances that landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles), and decide that’s what they want.

It’s fine to want help. Fine to feel that your supporting cast is not worthy of you. LeBron James’ next best player was Mo Williams, for crying out loud. Danny Ferry was mercifully released before the circus popped its tent up, and so was spared the agony of public exhumation of his moves, which included trades for Ben Wallace, Wally Sczerbiak, Williams, and Antawn Jamison among the list of attempts toward truly great team composition. But Howard? Howard has no such excuse. Gilbert Arenas is not what he once was, but is still a good player, especially on the Magic, and is their sixth man. Jason Richardson was acquired. Brandon Bass brought in. Hedo Turkoglu. Marcin Gortat was re-signed to provide help so Howard wasn’t the only real center on the roster (as he is now). The Magic have made good faith efforts to win a championship, and those efforts brought them as close as you can get without winning as the Eastern Conference Finals.  But there are more factors in play here. Health, like that of Jameer Nelson or Kevin Garnett in 2009. Matchups, team chemistry, when teams get hot or get cold, over-confidence, the list goes on and on.  Should the Magic fail to win a championship in the next two seasons (provided there is a second season), the responsibility will ultimately be Otis Smith’s and Stan Van Gundy’s. But it will also be Howard’s. He is the one they have built around, the one who they consider the talents of with every personnel move we make.

It’s up to Dwight Howard to win a championship. Not solely him. The burden is not all his. But to shrug off the responsibility and make the excuse that a title is why you would skip town for a bigger market, burning Orlando for the second time in recent history at the same position in the same manner, possibly to the same city, that’s not what a team leader does. Some guys get it. Kevin Durant seems to. Derrick Rose seems to. Many players seem to. But Howard? He’s learned from those in the class above him. Watched them make their play to have their cake and eat it, too.

And given the history of the league, it’s fair to suggest the best way to win a title is to play in Los Angeles or Boston. But at the end of the day, these players still have a responsibility to the team that’s drafted them, has put these players on the pedestal, paid those players and trusted them to win the franchise a title. All the other parts are in place to help that player win a title. That’s the burden. Maybe Howard will realize that and sign an extension. But the modern approach is not to take responsibility for the franchise of which you are the franchise player. It’s to smile, say the right things, and demand championships on your way out of town.

Otis Smith isn’t just fighting 29 other teams. He’s fighting 29 teams and one team of agents and handlers.

The modern NBA management battlefield, and after such battles? Sometimes the battlefield is left barren, bleak, and depressing.

Just ask Minnesota.

Just ask Cleveland.


  1. seantempe - Jan 15, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    Great article. And were I a betting man, Boston seems a likely destination. Habitual contention/championships, solid young nucleus (Rondo, Perkins, Davis), Pierce still under contract through 2013, and OH YEAH $40 MILLION PLUS COMING OFF THE BOOKS VS CAP IN 2012. New CBA will obviously play a role but on the surface it makes sense. Lakers have many commitments that extend beyond Howard’s FA eligibility.

  2. jstrizzle - Jan 15, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    In Minnesota, Garnett was in the playoffs for like 8 straight years and once was a high seed. That was contending if you ask me. He generally was known as a guy who played hard but could never hit the big shot.

  3. leearmon - Jan 16, 2011 at 3:05 AM

    This article is foolish, I have no idea to suggest this, but it seems as if you are a fan who has seen one of his favorite stars leave town. You mean to tell me if Dwight Howard leaves Orlando he’s not a true leader? Shaq wasn’t a leader??? Steve Nash isn’t a leader?? Clyde Drexler, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who requested a trade out of Milwaukee) the list goes on and on. Also comparing Durant and Rose at this stage of their careers to Dwight is misleading. Just like Rose and Durant, Howard re-signed with the team who drafted him as well, lets see how Kevin and Derrick feel 3 years down the line about their current cities. Dwight is doing what a smart man in his position would do, continue to put pressure on his team’s front office to make sure winning a championship is the ONLY goal. Far too often you see organizations, who look to cut costs, and avoid luxury taxes instead of building the best contender possible. You mention the Magic’s recent moves, and while getting Turkoglu back was smart, they shouldn’t have let him go in the first place! Obviously the Vince Carter era was an awful decision, and a year was wasted becasue of it. Maybe Dwight sees what could have been last year vs the Celtics if he still would have had Hedo and Courtney Lee as apposed to Vince-sanity. I can imagine him being upset, can’t you??. And as someone who lives in Washington D.C. lets not make the acquisition of Gilbert Arenas into something it’s not. He has a HORRIBLE contract, and to call him a shell of his former self does a disservice to the once great “Agent Zero” Yes these players have as you say “a responsibility to the team that drafted them” but let’s not get carried away, you don’t think a team would trade a player they drafted if it didn’t put them in a better position to either win a championship or save some $$$? Of course they would! And in life, just like the NBA business is a two-way street. If Dwight Howard truly wants a championship, he’s not breaking any laws by becoming a free-agent and taking the best opportunity whether its in Orlando or elsewhere. This is America! Home of capitalism, the beauty of our country is you can chase whatever your dreams desire, whether its cash, or success.We can do it without penalty, its what we believe in. You guys have to just grow up and realize this.

  4. dansullivan82 - Jan 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Its a fair question to ask but why ask it if your not going to take him at his word?How could he say unconditionally that he would resign?That would give the magic too much leverage in negotiations.As a fan of Orlando since the Shaq days I hope he stays but that being said hes atleast won a finals game for Orlando when he got them their which is more than you could say for Lebron in cleveland or Shaq for Orlando.

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