Just as LeBron James’ “Decision” was the singular event that defined the 2010-11 NBA season, Dwight Howard’s “indecision” throughout the last calendar year dominated the ‘storyline’ of the 2011-12 NBA season. Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed Mike Bianchi’s (NBA writer for The Orlando Sentinel) articles and blogs about his beloved Orlando Magic. Quite frankly, it was nice to see we weren’t the only crazed/obsessed fan base out here in Los Angeles.
Running timeline of the Dwight Drama (“Dwarma”, if you will):
Oct. 2011- Howard discusses the appeal of a larger city and expresses frustration with current situation in Orlando.
Dec. 2011- Lakers’ F Matt Barnes claims to have talked to Howard and been told he wants to be in Los Angeles.
Dec. 2011- Orlando Magic CEO, Bob Vander Weide announces his resignation, after reports surface about an intoxicated (allegedly) 1am phone call in which he attempted to dissuade Howard from seeking a trade.
Dec. 2011- Howard officially requests a trade to the Nets, but his agent is also given permission to discuss trade options with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers.
Jan. 2012- After music mogul Jermaine Dupri erroneously tweets about Howard becoming member of the Nets earlier in the month, Howard expands his “wishlist of teams” by adding the Los Angeles Clippers.
Admittedly, my initial reasons for following Bianchi were self-serving, as we’ve heard the rumors about Howard being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for the better part of two seasons. In search of a some insight on what Howard is truly all about, from an insider’s perspective, Bianchi’s ride on Howard’s emotional roller coaster has definitely shaken a bit of the glitter from the gold. As one that routinely asks fans to limit their emotion when truly attempting to analyze players and teams, I will openly acknowledge the practice is far easier said than done.
I should also admit, watching Orlando fans twist in anguish as the season-long mellow-drama played out, made me appreciate what the Lakers have in Andrew Bynum that much more. Let’s get something straight, Andrew Bynum is not better than Dwight Howard as a player. I know that gets tossed around from time to time, especially when Bynum put up some of his gaudier numbers (first career triple-double, 30-rebound game, career high statistics…). While Bynum does possess a definitively better offensive skill-set, the edge in terms of overall impact upon the game still goes to Howard.
Relax, Laker fans, that isn’t a knock against Bynum, as he is just coming into his own, and still has plenty of room to improve upon what was his most impressive campaign (2011-12). What Bynum does possess, is the ability to play alongside Kobe Bryant. While folks can debate Bynum vs. Howard until they’re purple in the face, there is no debate about “fit” and chemistry being absolutely vital to a team’s success.
Feb. 2012- After a series of trade rumors, reported discussions, and plethora of double-talk coming from Howard’s camp, the Lakers are notified Howard would no longer consider signing long-term with the organization. Reportedly, Howard’s reversal stems from a conversation over the proverbial ‘pecking order’ with Kobe Bryant.
Mar. 2012- Reports surface of Chicago’s interest in Howard, but Howard cites “cold weather” as a deterrent in re-signing with the Bulls. According to WeatherBase.com, Howard has a ‘slight’ point, as Brooklyn’s average temperature for the month of January is just under 39 degrees, while Chicago averages just 29 degrees for the month. Still, for an Atlanta-born Floridian (Howard), both sound pretty cold to me.
March. 2012- Howard agrees to waive his early-termination clause, and decides to opt-in for another year with Orlando when deadline-rumors have the Magic ready to deal him to a team outside of his “wish list”…rumors begin to swirl about the tenuous future of coach Stan Van Gundy.
Apr. 2012- Stan Van Gundy publicly acknowledges a conversation with Magic front office, in which he was told of Howard’s desire to have him fired. In a moment of uncanny timing, Howard interrupts Van Gundy’s media session, and the two of them exchange one of the most uncomfortably hilarious exchanges in recent sports’ history.
As I said, “fit” goes a long way. Even though Bynum displayed his own batch of public bouts with maturity and professionalism, he’s never openly expressed a desire to leave the city of Los Angeles, nor has he directly complained about playing alongside Bryant. We can dance around the subject all day, but the reality is, Bryant is not going anywhere, nor should he. If Howard truly decided the Lakers were no longer on his wish list due to a simple phone conversation, then what would happen if the two of them were actually on the same team and Bryant flashed one of his signature ‘Mamba scowls’ before unleashing some verbal fury directly toward him?
Also, with Howard accustomed to being the “big-fish-in-a-small-pond”, is he truly ready for all of global scrutiny that comes along with playing beneath the dimmed lights at Staples? Obviously, those questions were rhetorical, as the manner by which Howard has dealt with the Orlando situation is pretty telling. Of course, that isn’t to say polar opposites cannot co-exist, at least momentarily. Kobe/Shaq ring a bell?
Ultimately, it will be upon the Laker front office, namely Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, to determine which big man they want taking the organization into the next era of Lakers basketball. We know of Bynum’s injury history all-too-well. We also know of Bynum’s revamped dedication to rehab, fitness, and conditioning, and the results that followed. What remains unclear, completely as a result of his own mishandling, is where Howard actually wants to play. Coming off such a raucous season, and a back surgery of his own (Herniated Disk), Howard will have plenty of ‘heavy lifting’ to do in order to repair his public/professional perception…whether that be in Orlando, Brooklyn, or anywhere else.
It should be noted, Orlando’s timeline ended with the firing and dismissing of Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith (respectively) in May, the firing of Assistant GM Dave Twardzik and six scouts in June, reports of a near physical altercation between PG Jameer Nelson and Howard toward the end of last season, followed by an additional trade demand (seeking the Nets, whom appear to have moved on) from Howard’s camp. All of this, and Howard will likely end up as a member of another organization. If Laker management decides to take this gamble, incomparable talent aside, one would hope they’ve taken all of these concerns into serious consideration. I have absolutely no doubt in Kupchak’s capabilities. One would just hope external/internal pressure of being the “odd man out” wouldn’t interfere in making the right choice for the organization, moving forward.