Dwight Howard

In the four NBA seasons before this one, the Orlando Magic were much less interesting to me than a perennial 50-win team that made the Finals once and the Conference Finals another time should have been. I appreciated what they were trying to do with their strategy of surrounding the most dominant center in the league with three-point shooters — I just didn’t find it particularly engaging.

This season, everybody became very interested in the Magic because of the mystery surrounding the future of Dwight Howard in Orlando. While Dwight continued to waffle about his intentions and led on this organization and its fans, I came to his defense on this blog because I felt he had given this dysfunctional franchise enough of a chance to build a championship-level team around him. In light of Magic coach Stan Van Gundy’s explosive revelation earlier today that Dwight has lobbied management to fire Stan on multiple occasions, it’s apparent that I misjudged Dwight’s character.

(I never do this, but allow me to digress for a paragraph. Stan Van Gundy’s performance in this media scrum is an absolute masterpiece and I think somebody should invent an annual Stan Van Gundy Award for best performance in a sports media scrum. Nevermind that he probably obliterated whatever minute possibility the Magic had to compete for a championship this season. Hardly anyone believed that team had a realistic chance and I’m pretty sure Stan knows what’s up. After getting jobbed in Miami in 2006 — almost certainly because of Shaq — he clearly decided he wasn’t going to go out like that again. I won’t say his statements were good for the team, because they weren’t. But he stood up against Dwight’s two-faced act like only Stan Van can, and it was a magnificent thing to behold.)

What makes Dwight look so bad here isn’t merely the fact that he tried to get his coach fired. This kind of thing probably happens all the time and most NBA superstars have probably pulled this move at least once in their careers. The problem here is that Stan Van Gundy is well-liked, widely-respected, and generally considered to be one of the better coaches in the league. It’s a pretty safe bet that whoever replaces Stan in Orlando will be a downgrade. Dwight probably feels the same way that Shaq apparently felt about Stan — that he shouldn’t have to endure getting yelled at by this dumpy, sloppy-looking man who has never coached an NBA team to a championship.

Dwight pulled a power move that has now blown up in his face regardless of whether it eventually results in Stan’s dismissal as coach of the Magic. Stan will have no problem getting another NBA coaching job, and he most certainly knows this. Dwight might eventually make fans and media stop viewing him as a backstabbing, petulant, self-centered publicity whore, but that’s what he looks like right now. For somebody who desperately wants to be loved by the public, that’s gotta sting.

This brings us to the question I posed in the headline, which probably seems sensationalistic to some of you. But here’s the difference between LeBron’s actions surrounding “The Decision” and Dwight’s behavior in Orlando. While LeBron’s public image was definitely damaged more than Dwight’s has been, I maintain that there was at least something defensible about LeBron forming a “superteam” in Miami in an attempt to win multiple championships. He probably wasn’t close to winning a title in Cleveland, so he chose a path that he believed would allow him to achieve that goal. The way he went about it was a total bummer, but I’ve never felt like he had malicious intent.

With Dwight, it’s unclear if he actually cares all that much about winning a championship. It seems like he wants to be handled with kid gloves by the coaches and management of wherever he plays, and it appears he might be more interested in building his brand than winning titles. The fact that so many modern sports stars have apparently been brainwashed by their agents into considering themselves as brands first, and professional athletes second, is something that is increasingly wearying to fans.

The way that Dwight denied that he tried to get Stan fired only made him look worse. Nobody in their right mind believes him and who wants to root for a two-faced liar? If he had at least tried to convince us that he felt that way about Stan before but he’s since come around to making peace with him for the betterment of the team, most fans might have given him a pass. Instead, we witnessed his ongoing campaign to present a public image that is clearly at odds with his true personality.

Why are Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson so popular in spite of the fact that they’re obviously not particularly nice guys? Because we can take them at face value and they don’t try to hide their darkness from us. Dwight is more like Alex Rodriguez — they’ve both excelled at their sports, but their phoniness is repellent. Today, Stan Van Gundy decided he’d had enough and he wasn’t going to take it anymore, so he unmasked Dwight Howard and revealed his true self. It may not last, but for the moment, Dwight is the most hated player in the NBA.

Dwight tied his second-lowest scoring performance of the season with just eight points in 40 minutes in a 96-80 loss to the Knicks tonight. He probably won’t admit that the events from earlier today affected his performance on the court tonight, but none of us will believe that, either. Maybe Dwight will learn from A-Rod’s mistakes and start being real with us instead of continuing to try to sell a persona that nobody is buying, but I doubt it.

Comments (34)

  1. Don’t worry Scott, I misjugded Dwight as well. I thought he was loyal and I even tweeted him applauding his decision to stay with the Magic (and I’m a fan of the Kings). He is two-faced.

  2. I don’t think he’s so much a villain, really, as just not very bright. Also young. People in their early-to-mid-twenties, even smart ones, make amazingly stupid mistakes all the time. They just rarely have the opportunity to do so on a national stage.

    I don’t think LeBron’s a villain either, though.

    • Agreed on both counts. I don’t think Dwight truly knows what he wants. Combine that ambivalence with advice coming from all sides, some of it from parties with their own agendas, and you have the Dwightmare.

      As for LeBron, he’s only a villain in a society whose moral compass is spinning like we just entered the Devil’s Triangle. I remember seeing one of those polls of hated athletes, in which LeBron ranked ahead of O.J. Simpson. So there are people who think “betraying” a city (that’s the best they can come up with?) is more objectionable than a double homicide?

  3. As a Magic fan, I just want to scrap everything and start over. New GM, new coach, new players, even a new mascot.

    • I’m a Raptors fan and you have my sympathy. How weird is that?

    • Sooo… what are you rooting for ?
      The logo ? The jerseys ? The town would be my safest guess…

      That’s why I’m not ashamed to be a player/coach fan more than a team fan : at leasst I’m rooting for the game, not fashion or my “own” success by proxy…

      Anyway, I still feel for you, that organisation is a mess…

  4. Dwight Howard is a bitch
    As of now I will never cheer for a block dunk or any other highlight in his career.
    The Score should suspend him from court cuts til April 28th

  5. This is a great read and I agree with you up until you write the following of Lebron:

    ‘The way he went about it was a total bummer, but I’ve never felt like he had malicious intent.’

    I agree that Lebron didn’t sign with Miami because he wanted to break Cleveland’s heart, but while his reasons for leaving may not have been malicious, his behaviour in leaving certainly was. I think its wrong to give Lebron a pass by separating out his intentions from his actions.

    Giving him a pass with ‘the decision’ is wrong. The decision proved that Lebron is either a) profoundly stupid– so stupid that he was incapable of seeing how dumping your home state team and its/your fans on a nationally televised special is a horrible horrible thing to do or b) callous and/or malicious enough not to care. I really don’t think there are any other alternatives here.

    • If a single Cleveland fan didn’t see that coming though they are tremendously stupid. Shockingly stupid. The signs were there all year that LeBron was leaving at the end of the year if management didn’t make significant moves to improve the team. They didn’t, LeBron left. The Decision was stupid, but any Cleveland fan that left it with hurt feelings should have been mad at Gilbert and the Cavs, not at the best player they have ever had who carried their team on his back for years.

      • Scott, I agree that it would have been pretty stupid for a Cleveland fan to think he was sticking around, especially after he so obviously checked out vs the Celtics. But this particular brand of stupidity, you know the type of stupidity where you block out the reality of a situation/person in order to embrace a more appealing fictitious alternative, is a staple of sports. Fans tend to love their teams (and the players that play for them) blindly and when you love something blindly you see things for what you want them to be, not for what they actually are. So are Cavs fans idiots? Absolutely, but so are most fans everywhere.

        I live in Vancouver where no one can understand why the hometown Canucks are the most despised team in the NHL. When Vancouver fans watch Ryan Kesler, they don’t see the whining, smirking, smug embellisher that hockey fans outside of Vancouver know and hate. Canucks fans don’t see Kesler the way the rest of the league does because they are blinded by the same stupid loyalty/love that blinded many pre-decision Cav’s fans.

        This stupid loyalty/love that a fan feels for its team is whats great about sports, and its possibly what’s bad about sports too.

    • That’s a load of BS. LeBron could’ve left for nothing, but he allowed a sign-and-trade so they at least got something in return (which turned out to be Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson) He could’ve left them in waaay worse shape than he did but people like you never acknowledge that.

      • They also forget Dan Gilbert’s rantings post -Decision. That wasn’t “malicious”?

      • he also got more money and more years on his contract because of the sign & trade, so don´t act as if he did for the cavaliers

  6. I don’t agree with the A-Rod assessment. I feel Dwight is calculated, A-Rod is more self-centered to the point of aloofness. Dwight tries to be the funniest, most popular man in the room. A-Rod is just trying to seem human-ish.

  7. Biggest winner in all of this – Deron Williams

    • How so? Deron seems like he wants to go all Paul Rudd from Wet Hot American Summer every time he takes the floor.

    • Yeah…what? He’ll sign with Dallas this summer, but without Dwight at his side like many of us expected. Doesn’t sound like winning.

  8. It’s just bad advice…he was given bad advice again. You can’t fault a guy for deciding to act on advice that was given to him, and then that advice turning out to actually be bad. His actions related to that advice might look like he caused some sort of situation, when in reality he was only manifesting someone else’s ideas and thoughts….which are actually just neurons and synapses anyways.

    Dwight’s like an innocent bystander here.

    • “You can’t fault a guy for deciding to act on advice that was given to him”
      Do you really believe that ?
      It’s still his decision.
      If a friend of mine started playing russian roulette on the regular, I’d think he’s stupid, no matter how many people told hm it was a good idea.

      “Dwight’s like an innocent bystander here.”
      Now come on ! You best be trolling, here ! The guy changes his mind more often than Jason Terry changes basketball shorts !

      I’m not sure how he could have made it better ‘tho (although asking for some precise players, getting them and then complaining that management sucks seems like a bad move any time) except by giving the Magic (and fans) a clear ultimatum.

  9. 5 losses in a row now, will the magic end up going something like 3-8 in their last 11

  10. Villans seem to have purpose, and can certainly been seen as relentless or determined to acomplish their evil goals. Dwight is just a spinless child. I’d prefer to be on the villans team….

  11. Not trying to defend Dwight or anybody here, but what is the “right” way for those players to act ?

    - If you ask to be traded mid-contract, you’re a disloyal douche (mid00s-Kobe)
    - If you leave a team as a free agent, you’re a douche for not asking for a trade and leaving your team with nothing to show for it (see : James, LeBron ; Bosh, Chris ; …)
    - If because you know you’re going in the offseason you ask to be traded, you end up costing assets to your new team, making you either stupid or kinda disloyal to them (‘Melo)
    - If you decide to stay put with your original team, and ask for better help all the time with no real success, you’re a douche for complaining (mid00s-Kobe, Dwight up until now)
    - If you decide to stay put with your original team, and get better help without your team losing too much assets, you’re a douche for ruining the NBA (Wade)
    - If you decide to stay put with your original team, and end up never getting much help, you’re loyal, but you have very little chance of winning a title (Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Stockton, …)
    - If you’re stuck on a terrible team with terrible mangement and end up being loyal, people will wonder if you’re stupid for not going to a winning team (Pierce when he resigned)

    Your only chance is to escape at 31+ after having wasted most of your best years with a losing team because of terrible management (Garnett, Payton, Kidd…)

    Or you could be lucky enough to be drafted by one the few well managed teams in the NBA (Duncan, Kobe, Rose, …). That sure seems to help loyalty a lot.

    Too long : it has much more to do with management than with loyalty, well managed teams keep their stars, others don’t.

    • +1. I like this point a lot.

    • >>> – If you leave a team as a free agent, you’re a douche for not asking for a trade and leaving your team with nothing to show for it (see : James, LeBron ; Bosh, Chris ; …)

      Agree with the overall point, but LeBron did let Cleveland do a sign-and-trade (see Donal’s comment above).

    • The only way players win in my opinion is if they don’t pussyfoot around the idea that they want to leave and just make their intentions clear. I can’t fault a guy for wanting to play somewhere else the same way that I can’t fault someone wanting another job at a different company. Unfortunately the team has to play ball and trade them as quickly as possible in this scenario for the player to not come out looking like a douche. Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony basically did the same thing but only Carmelo ended up looking like an asshat because Denver waited so long to pull the trigger.

      As for your list… I agree with asking to be traded mid contract ala kobe is douchey. Also the only reason I view Lebron as douche after he left cleveland beside the decision, is because he had this whole “maybe i’ll leave maybe i wont or maybe i’ll go New York” attitude when i feel he knew he was leaving all along.

  12. If you play it like Lebron and Bosh you actually have no obligation what so ever to talk to your FORMER Team because it isnt your Team anymore da.

    It certanly wasn’t classy what Lebron did (like breaking up whit a girl per text but we have all done it so dont hate) but Howard and Melo had an obligation to their Teams and thats way more worthy of a media backlash.

    • You know somebody who actually broke up with a girl via text message? That’s the weakest/shittiest/spineless-est thing I’ve ever read. If a friend of mine did that I’d hit him for being such a pussy.

      On Topic, I like Stan Van Gundy even more right now. I hope the Magic do the right thing and trade Dwight Howard (Turk and Jameer as well, for that matter) for decent players. When you have a good coach, you can’t just let him go. As you said Scott, you will likely end up with a (significantly?) worse coach.

  13. I just feel bad for Magic fans. And I’m a Lakers fan. And I didn’t (don’t) want Dwight wearing purple & gold.

  14. I think commending SVG for completely ending the Magic’s season is a little unfair. This is likely to lead to another first round exit for the Magic.

  15. I am very disappointed in Dwight for being so two-faced. Why did he stay? What exactly did management tell Dwight to get him to stay? I think it would be a huge mistake to let SVG go because Dwight wants it. What happens at the end of a year when he threatens to leave again and SVG is gone too? With all this coming to light, I feel like the Magic should have traded him! And, I like Dwight…..Did Dwight ask that Brandon Bass be traded? Who’s next?

  16. My favourite part: How Stan seemingly felt REALLY awkward with Dwight’s arm around him, hardly looked at him and got the hell out of there as soon as possible.

  17. In response to ballmama, there was an article on Ball Don’t Lie about the Magic front office “threatening” to trade Dwight to the Lakers if he didn’t opt in.

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