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Essay: Dwight Howard And The Toll Of A Trade Demand

Playing alongside Dwight Howard is a pretty sweet deal. As a perimeter defender tight roping an extremely difficult duty, you’re granted one of the most trustworthy safety nets in the business; as a ball handler executing a high pick and roll or a spot up specialist running open for a jumper, you’re supplied with an immovable screen setter, always available to separate you and your pesky man like a mother lion lifting a troublesome cub by the scruff of its neck; and as someone who qualifies as loving to shoot the basketball, there’s a good chance Dwight will draw enough of a defense’s attention to afford you an extra split second to get your three-pointer off. Fun for everybody!

Expanding on a point Steve Kerr made while Howard was in the middle of breaking a record previously held by Wilt Chamberlain, Dwight Howard’s public desire to relocate—defying togetherness and the symbiotic play needed to create an untroubled environment—forces the good will he produces on the court to take a backseat. Right now it’s larger than short term ticket sales, All-Star votes, and wins and losses. Howard is hurting the organization; for everyone on Orlando’s current roster, playing by his side may not be as fun as it looks.

Dwight Howard’s season has been one of overshadowing confusion. Will he stay? Will he leave? Will his departure act as the first step towards a Kansas City, San Jose, or Seattle Magic basketball team somewhere down the line? Will he lead Orlando to an unlikely Eastern Conference Finals berth? Excluding a rare early season dud which allowed a bitter/giddy Shaquille O’Neal entry into a “Bynum is the best center ever” fallacy, Dwight Howard has been incredibly dominant on both ends of the floor each and every night.

It used to be his lack of buttery offensive post moves belied a rightful spot as one of the sport’s very best two way players, but his recent play has invalidated this point. Howard has finally accepted he will never possess the myriad post moves we’re used to seeing from our basketball titans. He’s replaced this with pure savagery, backing grown men down until they’re sitting with the baseline’s camera crew or overworking his opponent and snatching offensive rebound after offensive rebound over their head. Say what you want about his lack of position based competition, but Dwight Howard can make a basketball game seem unfair, and that’s the highest form of flattery you can give.

Now imagine you’re, say, Jameer Nelson. You sat on the bench with Dwight and watched, dumbfounded and emotionally spent, as the Lakers celebrated their 15th championship at your expense. You’ve been through highs and lows with him. He’s your friend; someone you’ve spent more time with over the past four years than his own family. You’ve laughed, you’ve cried. And now he wants nothing to do with you.

This isn’t an admonishment of Howard’s decision to ask for a trade. Basketball is a business, and he can do whatever he wants (just as Orlando can trade him to the Washington Wizards should they so choose). This is deep sea diving into the understandable psyche of hurt feelings. This is filling Redick, Anderson, Davis, Richardson, and Turkoglu with a feeling of abandonment. This is their figurative big brother, their leader and lone shot at coming within a stone’s throw of tasting championship glory, saying he’d rather fill that role with another group of guys.

If it’s not for basketball reasons, then Dwight doesn’t deserve placement in the pantheon anyway, and discussing him with such gusto is a moot point. But if it is for basketball reasons, then how on earth can these guys not be stinging? Howard can play as hard as he wants, put up Bill Russell rebounding numbers, and attempt 73 free-throws a game, but in the eyes of his teammates that’s not enough. The Magic’s players are college kids sipping a one of a kind, very fine whiskey, all knowing it has the inevitable power to give an industrial-strength hangover.

While players will do their jobs—for fear of it damaging nothing but their own reputations—they won’t go above and beyond in a unified team-building sense. They won’t play FOR Dwight so much as they’ll mechanically play by his side, and that’s why having him on board, regardless of wins and losses, has become toxic. Deal him now, before the acid rain begins to fall.

 

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