Dwight Howard can’t win

What do you want Dwight Howard to do? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m legitimately interested in what the intelligent, charming and attractive NBA fans who read this blog think is Dwight’s best course of action that would keep him in your good books.

These days, it seems like Dwight Howard can’t do anything right in the eyes of most people. When he didn’t speak up in seasons past when the Magic were slumping, he didn’t care about winning. When Dwight lit into his teammates after Friday night’s 26-point loss to the Hornets, he was being self-centered and throwing his teammates under the bus.

If we’re going to take Dwight at his word that he wants to win a championship — and some people won’t even do that — then it’s perfectly understandable that he’s ready to play somewhere else after seven seasons in Orlando. If he finishes this season in a Magic uniform, that will make it eight full seasons in Orlando. How many chances is he supposed to give team management to build a championship-level team around him?

The Magic did make one Finals appearance during the Dwight Howard era, but they weren’t really close to winning a title as the Lakers dispatched them in five games in 2009. You certainly can’t blame Dwight for not pulling his weight in those playoffs — he averaged 20.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and made 60 percent of his field goal attempts. But when the second-best player on your team is Rashard Lewis, you can only go so far before superior talent wins out.

Lewis’ absurd $118 million contract was just the first in a litany of horrible mistakes that Magic GM Otis Smith has made. Poor drafting and dumb trades have been the norm in Orlando over the past few years. Most incredibly, Smith thought it would be a good idea to trade the second-worst contract (Lewis) in the NBA for the league’s worst contract (Gilbert Arenas). After that move predictably backfired, any reasonable person would conclude that Smith is incompetent at his job.

But how do you fire a GM when the team wins over 50 games for four straight seasons, like the Magic have done? Well, Smith wasn’t the GM when they drafted Howard so he doesn’t deserve credit for most of those wins. He had a First Team All-NBA center on his team for each of the past four seasons and he failed miserably at building around him. Now that it turns out that Ricky Rubio is the real deal, Smith has secured his place as the NBA’s worst General Manager.

So if you blame Dwight Howard for wanting out after you consider who is running the team, then you’re either a Magic fan or completely unreasonable. But if you don’t have a problem with him wanting to leave, there’s a good chance you have a problem with how he’s going about it. Maybe you don’t think he should give the Magic a list of teams he’s willing to sign with after this season. Well, why not? He could say nothing and just leave the Magic for nothing after the season — you know, the LeBron/Bosh tactic — and how would that be better for the Magic?

As this saga plays out, I’ve read a lot of comments from disgruntled NBA fans expressing some variation of “I thought the lockout was supposed to fix this problem.” Fix it how, exactly? By not letting players choose where they get to play? Look, if a player is under contract, then I think he should suck it up and play wherever he gets traded, whether he likes it or not. And if that player wants to work the angles in the last year of his contract and give management a list of teams he’d be willing to re-sign with in the event of a trade, more power to him. Hey, if the Magic don’t want to trade Dwight Howard to the Lakers or the Celtics or whoever, nobody’s forcing them to. If they’d rather lose him for nothing than help create another “superteam”, they can knock themselves out.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t expect team management to be that hard-headed, but this is Otis Smith we’re talking about here. A smart GM would observe how well the Nuggets came out of the Carmelo Anthony deal — they’re 32-12 since the trade — and realize that you can probably find another GM to overpay for a superstar like Howard. This season’s trade deadline is on March 15, so Smith has a month-and-half to arrange that kind of deal.

In the meantime, Dwight Howard continues to take heat as the latest “entitled superstar” who dares to try to control his own destiny, and I just don’t get it. Don’t you think seven seasons is a long enough period to give a franchise the opportunity to prove that they’re on the right path to contending for a title? Whatever Dwight’s real motivations are for wanting to leave, it’s not his fault things didn’t work out in Orlando. They’re clearly not going to win a title with him anytime soon, so it’s in the best interest of both parties to move on.