Let’s go back to the summer of 2010.
LeBron James won back-to-back MVP awards and had indisputably become the best player on the planet. James just infamously announced that he was leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat. In less than 20 seconds, he went from being one of the most loved players in NBA history to the most hated. That left the door open for Dwight Howard to become the ultimate fan favorite and the face of what is right in the NBA.
Only it never happened.
And after Howard’s behavior this season, it never will.
In 2010, Howard’s Orlando Magic lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, one year after losing in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. It appeared that Orlando would be title contenders for years to come. Everybody loved Howard, and how couldn’t they? He just won consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards and his offensive game was making serious improvements. He made the Dunk Contest cool again. He made an album covering popular party songs for and with kids. But what made Howard the player that everyone loved? He never stopped smiling. If there was one player for all of the former LeBron fans to gravitate toward that season it was Dwight Howard.
But it’s not even two years later and the smile has vanished. Maybe Howard changed because the Magic organization made too many questionable moves in such a short period of time (trading away Howard’s best friend Courtney Lee, acquiring team-killer Vince Carter, trading away the team’s two best defensive players outside of Howard in Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, etc.). Or maybe it was because analysts criticized him for not caring enough, which is something that I personally never understood. These were the same people who praised Brett Favre for “playing like a kid out there.” Just because you are smiling doesn’t mean that you don’t care. But regardless of the reason, Howard doesn’t play with the excitement and joy he once did, and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
For much of this season, nobody knew if Howard wanted to be traded or not (maybe not even Howard himself). His indecisiveness led to what seemed like endless speculation of whether or not he would be. In what seemed to be a panic move, Howard decided to opt into his contract, locking him up with Orlando through next year. Drama over, right? At least until we have to deal with the same situation again next year? Wrong. It was only just the beginning.
Since then, Dwight has requested for his coach, Stan Van Gundy, to be fired, only to deny the rumors right after Van Gundy confirmed them. Then yesterday, it was reported by ESPN that Howard contacted ownership and informed them that he wouldn’t play another game as long as Van Gundy was the coach. Just hours later, it was revealed that Howard would undergo back surgery and miss the rest of the year.
Howard’s surgery puts an end to any hope Orlando had at a playoff run, but he killed the season months ago. With all of that drama going on, did the Magic have any sort of shot this postseason? No. It’s impressive they even clinched a playoff spot. But Orlando’s success or failure isn’t what’s important here. What’s important is that Howard’s behavior this season represents exactly what is wrong with the NBA. The players have too much power. Since 2010, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Deron Williams have all found their way onto another team, with Howard halfway out the door. Those are five of the league’s 15 best players.
Two years ago, Howard had the chance to become the face of the NBA. Everyone hated LeBron for the way he left Cleveland and needed another player to root for. Howard could have been that player, but he failed. Now he will be called a coach-killer and maybe even a team-killer. And that’s fair. What he did this year in Orlando is far worse than what LeBron did by leaving Cleveland. He put his teammates and fans through an agonizingly long season and left them without much hope for what once was a promising future.
Talent-wise, James is the best player in the league. And in some order, Howard and Kevin Durant are second and third. Durant is only 23 years old, has already won two scoring titles, and is the best player on the best team in the Western Conference. More importantly, he is signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder through the 2015-16 season.
So, Kevin Durant, here are the keys to the NBA. Don’t lose them.