Tag Archives: dwight howard

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Houston Rockets

 

Photo: Flickr/relucesco22

2012-’13: 45-37

New Faces: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Reggie Williams, Aaron Brooks and Marcus Camby.

New Places: Thomas Robinson (Portland), James Anderson (76ers), Royce White (76ers), Tom Olbrecht (Also, 76ers), Carlos Delfino (Bucks)

Draft: Isaac Canaan (34th overall)

In short, this was the offseason Daryl Morey got his White Whale– Dwight Howard. For years, Morey had been amassing assets upon assets in hopes of being able to build a team appealing to a top free agent. Now, this season will be time for the Rockets to move on to the next part of their plan and see just how far this thing that Morey built will take them.

Acquiring Howard didn’t come painlessly. They gave up Thomas Robinson– a recent top-5 pick who could just never find the right fit for him to develop. Now he’s gone, and so is Royce White, who was also another first round pick, to the Sixers, joining about 87 other former Rockets in The City of Brotherly Love. However, the bulk of what the Rockets lost were expendable pieces. They were assets, meant to be disposed of in the name of acquiring a star and surrounding him with the best possible team. Guys like Robinson and White weren’t going to help them next season, so Morey sent them out east.

Joining Dwight, Omer Asik, James Harden and James Harden will now be Aaron Brooks, Marcus Camby, Omri Casspi and Reggie Williams. While they may not see tons of court time, we’ve seen with the Miami Heat how a championship team needs spot contributions from any given player on the roster for periods of time. Although, if your season comes down to playing Marcus Camby heavy minutes in 2014, you are probably more worried about where your drafting than what your playoff seed will be. It shouldn’t come to that. We think. We hope.

As for Canaan, he may not play a ton behind Jeremy Lin and Aaron Brooks, but the undersized point guard could provide them with some instant offense, should it come to that. But when you have Harden, Chandler Parsons (Woah. Forgot about him. This team is good.), Dwight…etc. offense shouldn’t be a problem.

The Rockets had an offseason that puts them right up there with the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers among the Western Conference’s elite. If Dwight is healthy and head coach Kevin McHale can put it all together, the Rockets could be a matchup nightmare on just about every night. Morey finally saw his plan through up to this point, now let’s see where this goes.

Infinite Joke

 Photo: goodwines | Flickr

Ed. Note: The following is a parody of Dwight Howard’s free agency saga written by friend of the blog Robert Silverman. You can read more from Robert over at TrueHoop Network Sister Site/Brother Blog Knickerblogger. Now sit back, relax, and let the satire consume you.


Contrary to published reports, the Dwightmare isn’t over yet. In a hastily organized press conference at 5am from a remote sub-basement of the purportedly haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, Dwight Howard announced that he had not yet made a decision on which team he will sign with because he’s determined to first finish reading David Foster Wallace’s seminal, ground-breaking novel, Infinite Jest.

“I was listening to offers from the Rockets and the Lakers and the Mavericks and the Hawks and I think maybe a Chuck E Cheese franchise rec league team and I just couldn’t make up my mind,” the free agent center stated, looking noticeably disheveled, as if he hadn’t slept in many a night. He continued, “So when I saw this copy of Infinite Jest being used to prop up a rusty, discarded hot water heater, I realized that I’d never actually gotten all the way through it. “

Gobbling fistfuls of Jujubes, Howard added that he had been a long-time fan of Wallace’s work, beginning with Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. “I thought it was about Stan Van Gundy! Hahahahahaha. I’m kidding. Seriously though, then I moved on to his non-fiction stuff—the Lobster thing. And I knew I wanted to read Infinite Jest, but it’s so freaking long. Who has the time?”

And then, like I started and it was really confusing. The narrative keeps jumping around and there’s this whole mishegas with like subsidized time? What’s that? Do you know whether the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment is before or after the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar? I don’t. No one does. And what’s with all these Canadians in wheelchairs? But I was crouched in the corner of the basement and like, I’ve been reading the book non-stop for the last 48 hours. I dunno, maybe more. I totally lost track of time. Subsidized time, get it! And let me tell you, my mind is completely blown. Completely. Totally Blown. Eliminate-my-own-map-type blown.

Howard’s behavior began to grow more feverish and erratic as he continued to outline his ever-increasing passion for David Foster Wallace’s fiction, and his borderline obsessive quest to complete the novel and determine, “What the hell Wallace really wanted to say.”

I mean, I think I’ve got it. Infinite Jest the book IS Infinite Jest the movie. Because of its non-completed arc, inspires the same kind of all-consuming, self-abnegating, addiction in the reader that the characters experience. You hear me? The book itself is something you get hooked on. And yeah, the Hamlet thing, but that’s like totally a red herring. I mean Joelle says it’s a pretentious title, which is totally like Wallace making a meta-critique of his own delusions of grandeur to rewrite freaking Shakespeare.

When asked what he thought of the book’s themes of addictive behavior and an eternal quest for personal pleasure necessarily leading to repetitive, self-destructive behavior, Howard seemed to ignore the question entirely.

I so want to figure out what happened to Hal. Did he eat the fungus or was it the DMZ or is it just withdrawal from marijuana? I like, really need to know the answer, you know. I keep going back and forth and changing my mind and that’s really frustrating, you get me?

Howard added that his current literary inquisition would only ensure that he makes the proper decision in deciding which team to ply his trade with next season.

Look, the suicide thing. You get to a place where Wallace has to be viewed as Kate Gompert, and that’s so freaking reductive, man. Wallace-as-Gompert necessarily forces the reader into a wholly simplistic either/or cage; eviscerating the larger conundrum – I mean it’s so freaking simple that it’s like monstrous, you know – is life worth living? And like if Wallace said no, it isn’t and…I dunno. That just so depresses me.

So I can’t do that. I can’t choose one team and reject another. There’s a third path where I, Dwight Howard, play for all teams and yet none. David would have wanted it that way, I think. I dunno. I keep going back and forth and back and forth. it’s really giving me a case of the Howling Fantods.

Muttering to himself, Howard then abruptly left the podium, furiously highlighting sections and making notes in the corners of his ragged, dog-eared copy.

Right. Yeah. So I just gotta finish this book and then I super-promise. NBA team. Real soon. Legacy. Gonna be champions.

He paused momentarily and began barking at the teeming throng of reporters

Oh yeah. You GOTTA read the footnotes. Don’t skip them or you miss important stuff, like Mike Pemulis getting the boot and…John ‘No Relation’ Wayne dies! It’s in Gately’s precognitive fever-dream. Maybe I should get together a book club and we can all talk this thing out. Morey can come. Kupchak can come.

But not Kobe, ’cause he kinda reminds me of poor old Orin Incandenza.

Time To Make The Sausage

There aren’t many certainties in today’s NBA, but beginning the month of May with MVP controversy is one thing you can always count on. There are no standardized qualifications for becoming the league’s official Most Valuable Player, and that creates a huge amount of inherent wiggle room, allowing voters to weigh different criteria in whatever way they see fit. That loose flexibility was shoved into the spotlight yesterday when Boston Globe columnist, Gary Washburn, revealed himself to be the lone voter who didn’t put LeBron James at the top of his ballot. Washburn went with Carmelo Anthony, and made his case public as part of yesterday’s announcement.

LeBron had an absolutely dominant season and it’s nigh impossible to find any reliable statistical metric by which he wasn’t the most productive player in the league this season. Washburn actually seemed to agree, and his argument was that although Anthony may not have been the better player, he was more important to his team. I’m not here to argue the merits of Washburn’s argument. But I would like to point out that this is an extreme example of separation between decision-making based on the power of statistics and the power of narrative. LeBron’s season presents some incredibly compelling storylines as well, but while there’s little space to argue against his statistical case, there’s plenty of room to argue about stories.

I don’t mean to imply that Washburn’s choice is somehow immature or incorrect because he gave more weight to the narrative elements of Anthony’s case. Stories are part of basketball; how we watch it, understand it, talk about it, and certainly how the media covers it. Stories are important and have always been a part of how the MVP award is decided. My own experiences as a basketball fan and amateur analyst are a constant balancing act between the narrative and the numeric. It’s an indelicate art and the line between the two moves constantly. One of the questions that the whole Washburn rigamarole raised for me was, exactly where that line falls for MVP voters in the aggregate. How much of MVP voting is based on statistics, literal or implied, and how much is based on a compelling story?

Narrative is an extremely complex idea to measure, but tracking the statistical case for MVP candidates is a little more straightforward. I began at Basketball-Reference’s Award Page, looking at the players who have received MVP votes over the last 10 seasons. Basketball-Reference is nice enough to include a limited statistical profile right alongside each player. The listed categories are age, games played, minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, Win Shares and win shares per 48 minutes. My intuition is that any MVP voter who does include statistics in their decision making probably doesn’t look much further than these categories, and so they seemed like a reasonable place to start.

The one category which is conspicuously absent from a voting perspective is team win percentage, which I added. The other changes I made were dropping total Win Shares, keeping just the per 48 minute version, and converting total games played to percentage of games played, adjusting for the lockout shortened season. I then regressed those categories onto the share of total possible points that each player received from the voters. The result was an R^2 value of 0.516, which means just over half the variation in MVP voting can be explained by players’ performance in those categories I mentioned above.

While that explains a significant block of variability, it still leaves nearly half of the story untold. That 0.484 is where the narrative comes in. The results of the regression analysis also include an equation by which you can project the share of possible MVP voting points a player should have received, based on those numbers. I did that for each of the top five vote-getters from those 10 seasons and put them in to this Tableau Visualization, along with the actual share of MVP vote they received.

[iframe]<iframe src=”http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/NBAsMostValuablePlayerResults/MVPVotingDashboard?:embed=y&:display_count=no” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”MVP Voting” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”663px” width=”663px”></iframe>[/iframe]

You can play around and sort by year, looking at how each race shook out. The higher a player is on the vertical axis the more compelling their statistical case was. I’m making an assumption here, but the implication is that the difference between a player’s projected share and their actual share represents the power of their narrative. Player’s who fall low on the vertical axis, but far to the right on the horizontal axis would appear to be the ones with the most compelling narratives.

I put this visualization together for you to draw your own conclusions, but I’ll share I few seasons I found particularly interesting.

2013

2013 MVP

This was a year where the narrative component of the MVP voting went hand-in-hand with the statistical rationale. LeBron and Durant had big statistical edges and it was clearly reflected in the results. But those numbers also fell in with the storyline of two dominant stars elevating their games and leading their teams to a new level. I also thought it was interesting how much of a difference narrative made in the case of Carmelo Anthony. We already discussed how his story swayed Gary Washburn, but he apparently wasn’t the only one. Anthony finished third in this year’s voting despite a weaker statistical component to his case than either LeBron, Durant, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul.

_____

2011

2011

This was one of the most memorable MVP votes for me and really exemplified the divide between analytic-minded decision makers, who advocated for Dwight Howard, and those drawn to the compelling one-against-the-world narrative of Derrick Rose’s season. In the end the award went to Rose, by a healthy margin. Amazingly, the regression equation seems to indicate that LeBron had a much stronger statistical case than either Rose or Howard, despite finishing third. This is a case where the negative narrative of the Heat’s ‘front-running’ and the ‘post-Decision’ backlash probably kept LeBron out of the top two spots.

_____

2008

2008

2008 was another fascinating year in terms of balancing narrative and production. There was a lot of push for Chris Paul who jumped several levels in production, leading the New Orleans Hornets’ to the second-best record in the Western Conference, along with building the most compelling statistical resume of the candidates. In the end he lost out to Kobe Bryant, who trumped Paul’s narrative with a career of dominance, that had at that point been unrecognized with an MVP award. Kevin Garnett finished third for his work in coalescing the Big Three in Boston and leading the Celtics to the best record in the league. LeBron James finished fourth, with the second-most compelling statistical resume but no enticing story to attach it to.

_____

2006

2006

This is another infamous award season. It was Nash’s second consecutive MVP, despite being the worst for the Nash-D’Antoni Suns, both in terms of wins and offensive efficiency. But it was a remarkable and, at the time, almost unbelievable duplication of what they had done in their first season together. This was especially true when you consider that Amare Stoudemire played just three games all season long. That the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ philosophy was able to sustain into a second season and prove a viable offensive strategy that wouldn’t dissipate once it was “figured out” by NBA defenses was the narrative that drove Nash to this award. LeBron finished second in the voting, but he was one of three players, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Chauncey Billups who had a more compelling statistical case.

_____

People on both sides of the narrative-numerical divide often seem to get their hackles up around the MVP Award, depending on which side prevails in a given year. While middle ground we currently walk always leaves someone frustrated, it’s by far preferable to the alternative. There is a place for logic and reason in the NBA and no one would be satisfied by a world where postseason awards were handed willy-nilly with no verifiable, objective reasoning to support those decisions. At the same time, making decisions with a formula only denies our human instinct to create, tell and consume stories. It may be a bumpy ride, but you can enjoy the MVP award both for what it is and for what it is not.

Tim Duncan’s Birthday Bash

Size was supposed to be the one area in which the Lakers had a modicum of advantage against the Spurs. Dwight Howard, though still not the Dwight Howard of Orlando, at least began to approach his perviously superhuman form. Combined with Pau Gasol, who returned from his injury in surprisingly good shape and formed a nice chemistry with Howard over the past month, the Lakers seemed poised to at least give the Spurs trouble up front.

Then the playoffs started, and while the Lakers are shooting 76% in the restricted area per NBA.com, any potential advantage granted by their size has been negated by the brilliance of the San Antonio Spurs, and especially Tim Duncan.

Last night, Tim Duncan celebrated his 37th birthday in style by playing the best game of the series, scoring 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting to go with nine rebounds, three assists and a steal and a block. Duncan also continued his series-long abuse of Pau Gasol on offense, as the Spaniard has been completely hopeless defending him.

Gasol is familiar with Duncan. He knows his moves, his sweet spots, and his tendencies. None of that knowledge, however, has worked to Gasol’s advantage so far, as Duncan does such a good job of mixing up his shots from possession to possession that Gasol can only guess as to what Duncan will do next. It’s a mind game Duncan plays with Gasol, one which the Spaniard frequently loses.

On the Spurs’ opening play of the third quarter, Danny Green gets the ball to Duncan on the left block, with Gasol on his back. Duncan turns and faces up Gasol, and thus the game begins. First, Duncan jab steps, causing Gasol to rock back a bit, lower his hands, and play the drive. Duncan then pump-fakes, which gets Gasol in the air, freeing up a driving lane for Duncan. All Gasol can do is watch as Duncan blows by him, gets the basket, and draws the foul.

On the very next possession, in a bout of deja vu, Duncan and Gasol find themselves in the same situation. Duncan once again turns and jabs, but this time Gasol maintains his balance and position. Excellent, Duncan thinks, as he simply shoots over Gasol and sinks the jumper.

Further hindering Gasol’s ability to defend Duncan, as well as the Lakers’ ability to defend the Spurs overall, is the Lakers’ awful communication on defense. It’s an issue that’s plagued the team for the entire season, and has done so especially against the crisp, precise execution of the Spurs. Perfectly encapsulating this issue is last night’s alley-oop play to Tim Duncan.

The play really starts with Duncan just to the right of the top of the arc. Tony Parker, who has just given Duncan the ball, is running to the right corner while Danny Green crosses from the right corner to the left.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 12.37.41 PM

Tiago Splitter sets a screen on Metta World Peace, momentarily freeing up Kawhi Leonard, after which Splitter pops up to the elbow to receive a pass from Dunacn. Already, we can see the beginnings of defensive issues for Los Angeles. Andrew Goudelock, who was guarding Danny Green, took a wayward and lazy route in trailing Green to the opposite corner. If Duncan had wanted, he could have easily hit Green with a pass in the corner.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 3.20.22 PM

Instead, Duncan passes to Splitter just below the arc, and here’s where the Lakers defense really breaks down. Leonard sets a back screen on Gasol, which World Peace fails to call out. Gasol turns and runs right into Leonard’s screen, giving Tim Duncan a direct lane to the basket. Dwight Howard…well I have no idea what Dwight Howard is doing.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 3.16.09 PM

Danny Green, who received the ball from Splitter, sees Duncan streaking to the rim and hoists a perfect lob straight to him, which Duncan finishes in style. Gasol, because of Leonard’s screen, and because of the subsequent path he takes to try and cover Duncan, has no chance to stop this lob.

The Lakers may have size, but their lack of cohesion and communication on defense does that size little good. As the Spurs and Tim Duncan have shown, it’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it.

Gif courtesy of @CJZero

Gif courtesy of @CJZero

Statistical and video support provided by NBA.com

The Price Is Dwight

Look, I get it. No one likes free throws, save a small subset of a masochistic population whose recreation is repetition. Talking about free throws is probably the only thing more boring than watching players shoot them. The best thing that can happen when someone steps to the line, from an entertainment perspective, is an airball; we’re actively rooting for the worst basketball outcome on free throws.

Let’s talk about free throws for a second, though. Because if Dwight Howard could have just been average this year, the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn’t be in this “potentially missing the playoffs” predicament.

Howard’s shooting 49.4% from the stripe this year, which might not seem that much worse than his career average coming into this season of 58.8%. Bad free throw shooting is bad free throw shooting, and I think there’s a tendency to lump together those who shoot under 60% on free throws.* But there’s a huge disparity between those two numbers. 49.4% on two free throws is one-tenth of a point per possession (.988) worse than the Orlando Magic as a team (.989) this year.

*So long as they don’t reach Andris Biedrins-abyss levels of horror.

The Magic are the fourth worst offense in the entire league. Dwight Howard is shooting free throws like the Orlando Magic play offense. I’ll give you a second to grab your air sickness bags, because things are about to get bumpy.

58.8% is still awful shooting on an unguarded, unhurried 15-footer, but it’s also more efficient (1.176 PPP on two attempts) than the 1986-87 Lakers were. You know, the most efficient team in Basketball-Reference’s database. Obviously, Howard’s never going to play a game where he gets to shoot free throws on every possession, unless they give Mark Jackson an unlimited roster — and I’m pretty sure the universe doesn’t give out basketball Contra codes to people other than LeBron James.

I don’t mean to pick on Howard. All of these fine gentlemen should be on notice, in fact; they’re players qualified for the minutes per game leaderboard this year who are shooting worse than 55% on more than 100 free throw attempts:

badfreethrowshooters

Seriously, DeAndre? 39.2%? The Clippers are the fourth best offense in the entire league, but when opponents send Jordan to the line, they’re reducing the efficiency of that Los Angeles possession by over 27%. A DeAndre Jordan trip to the free throw line is 21.5 points per 100 possessions worse than the Wizards. THE WIZARDS.

Here’s the kicker with Dwight, though. Granting everything that’s happened to the Lakers this year and all of the infinite moving parts in this vast, vast situation that we call existence and all that cosmic gobbledygoo, they might be breathing much more easily tonight and tomorrow if Howard had hit 59% of his free throws this year instead of 49%. He’d have scored 71 more points on the season. That increased point differential would give the Lakers an expected win-loss record (after 81 games) of 46-35, instead of their current actual (and expected) record of 44-37. They could be a lock for the playoffs, in the driver’s seat for the 6 seed.

It’s certainly not a lock. It’s better than a 50/50 shot, though — especially from the free throw line.

Statistical support courtesy of NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.

Hey, Be Nice

 

A Mother Now via flickr

A Mother Now via flickr

As much as we want athletes to be pillars of humanity, we too often forget that being human means not being perfect. In our fervent fandom, at times worship (other times disdain), of these athletes, we for some reason expect them to automatically be more mature. Stan Van Gundy and John Buccigross, in the panel “Break-Ups in Sports,” bemoaned the fact that we frequently deride 20 year old athletes for simply acting their age. Van Gundy specifically cited Lamar Odom when he arrived with the Heat, saying the forward had a reputation for missing class and perhaps indulging in the occasional joint, to which Van Gundy added, “If not going to class and smoking pot made you a bad person, half of (the audience) wouldn’t be here.” The former Magic coach also thought Dwight Howard received too much criticism last year, saying we need to stop constantly expecting 20 year old athletes to act like they’re fifty.

By no means does this mean athletes should be excused from criticism, nor do I think it was the panelists’ aim to do so. They were simply reminding us that these seemingly larger-than-life beings are, at their core, human, and deserve to be treated as such.

In the episode “Inauguration: Over There” of the West Wing, CJ Cregg and Toby Ziegler argue on the use of force to stop the atrocities in the fictional country Kuhndu:

CJ: “The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over there and try and stop it?” 

TOBY: “The guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and try and stop it. But we aren’t talking about the President going to Asia or the President going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President sending other people’s kids to do that.” 

CJ: “That’s always what we’re talking about and in addition to being somebody’s kids they’re soldier’s and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny then we’re about freedom from tyranny and if we’re not we should shut up.” 

JOSH: “Yes,” 

TOBY: “…On Sunday he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility,”

CJ: “And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while atrocities are taking place and you’re an accomplice.” 

TOBY: “…Why are you sending your kids across the street?” 

CJ: “‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.”

While criticizing Dwight Howard’s immaturity or childish antics doesn’t compare to the consideration of sending of one’s child to war to defend another’s child, it is somewhat fitting in this context. Dwight Howard, Lamar Odom, J.R. Smith are all someone’s children too, something we would do well to remember when we toe the line between criticism and hatred.

2013 All-Star Profiles: Dwight Howard

ZaCky (Flickr)

ZaCky (Flickr)

Let’s just get this out of the way up top: Dwight Howard is in the All-Star game because he’s the best big in the game. He is a gigantic man with fantastic defensive gifts near the basket. He’s bigger and stronger than just about everyone. To say that his frame is imposing understates just how far his shoulders jut in opposite directions; the man is a human T-Square. He’s not a good free-throw shooter, but he can hook a shot straight over Gheorge Muresan’s head if need be. Oh, and he can pass out of the post with lightning-quick speed and archer-like accuracy.

Here’s why I hate that Dwight Howard is in the All-Star game: we haven’t seen this during this season. Sure, he’s had flashes of greatness on a game-by-game basis, but he’s a shell of his former self. I would say that 95% of this downtick is due to the injuries he’s been enduring since the middle of last year; Howard’s back is ailing him, and his torn labrum hasn’t had time to heal properly. My day-to-day job is–for lack of a more accurate term–sedentary. If my shoulder or back were bothering me, I would call in sick and lie on the couch all day in my sweatpants and an old t-shirt watching reruns of Press Your Luck (no Whammy, no Whammy, no Whammy, no Whammy. STOP!). Howard, who makes his living off his physical form and competitive attitude, chooses to go to his place of work in such a state that doesn’t allow him to perform to the best of his abilities. And that sucks for Howard, because the best of his abilities are insanely good. It also sucks for fans of basketball, because we miss out on just how good this guy is.

It’s no secret that the Lakers have devolved into a sideshow this season. Hasty coach firings. Sniping in the media. Leaked-then-retracted sniping. Angry exchanges in the locker room. Denials of angry exchanges in the locker room. Conflicting attitudes of alpha males. If the Lakers make the playoffs this year, what was once considered better than a lock is now regarded as a miracle. Though people assume they’ll make the playoffs because, after all, they’re the Lakers. (Side note: Cavs fans really want the Lakers to make the playoffs because they own the Lakers’ 2013 first round pick as long as it falls out of the lottery). Injuries and depth have played a huge part of why they haven’t lived up to their hype.

But another part of why the Lakers aren’t as good as they could should be is because Dwight Howard isn’t as good as he could be. Again, some of this is because of his injuries. But to me, a bigger reason is because I don’t think he quite realized how good he had it in Orlando under Stan Van Gundy–I mean, the man built an entire inside-out offensive system around him. Get the ball to Howard, and he can finish for a quick 2. If Howard is defended inside, he swings it out to a million capable shooters, and they make you pay with a 3. It was the epitome of the Pick your Poison offensive system. The year they made it to the NBA Finals, they led the league in defense–largely because of Howard. Now, Howard is relegated to the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th option–depending on who’s calling the play. It’s not that he’s not getting a lot of touches (his usage rate has stayed pretty steady the past 4 years); he’s not getting the touches that make him the league’s best big man. Knowing his ceiling-when-healthy on top of not getting the touches he’s used to can’t be good for his confidence.

“I spent a whole summer trying to recover because I wanted to play through pain, show people I’m tough,” said Howard last week. Wanting people to like you is one of the most basic human traits. A humanized Howard, though, is not what made him the athlete we revere; it’s certainly not what made him an All-Star. His otherworldly abilities are what separate him from mere mortals like the rest of his and most of his peers in the league. I’m fine with Dwight Howard being an All-Star, but I’m not fine with him not being healthy and lacking confidence. I’d rather him sit out and get healthy, then come back in and dominate everyone and everything in his path. I know it’s easy to say that he shouldn’t care about what people think about him, but he shouldn’t care about what people think about him. We saw LeBron stunt his own career in the same way; not caring about anything but winning was his turning point. LeBron didn’t care about being Ohio’s “hero,” and he didn’t care about embracing the role of chief “villain” on the Heat. He found his confidence and just cared about winning.

And that’s what Dwight needs to do. Wanting to “show people” he’s tough not only shows he’s too hung up on what others think, but it jeopardizes his long-term health. If he plays less (or if he has a longer offseason than originally planned), he can recover better from his injuries. Once his injuries subside, his confidence will shoot up. With more confidence, he’ll care less about what the public thinks and prove the naysayers wrong by just-fucking-winning. Just like an All-Star should.

Too Early To Fail

Via robert.molinarius on Flickr

 “Win-win” trade scenarios rarely exist in the NBA. Be it a two, three, or four team trade, one team will almost always get the better end of the trade. No one will count the Orlando Magic amongst the teams that improved as a result of the Dwight Howard trade, certainly not in the immediate sense. On the other hand, Orlando made this trade in consideration of the future, not the present, which is why it’s too early to properly evaluate the trade.

Denver, Philadelphia and Los Angeles each instantly improved, and are thus perceived as the winners in the trade. The same can’t be said for the Magic. Obviously, Orlando wasn’t going to improve.. But because they didn’t receive four unprotected number one picks, unload every albatross of a contract and acquire five lottery-talent players, the deal is immediately perceived as a failure, the Magic are now and forevermore doomed, and Rob Hennigan is the worst general manager in the history of professional sports. Never mind that the season hasn’t even started, or that this is just the first in a long, complex rebuilding process.

If the Devil truly is in the details, he’ll be well hidden in the murky waters of the Dwight Howard trade saga. Many believe the Magic could have gotten a better deal, but a lot of that belief stems from rumored trades and off-the-record statements. We had reports about a godfather offer from Houston, but new details show the actual offer to be less than spectacular.

One thing we do know is that the Magic wanted, not to mention needed, a fresh start, and the four-team trade gave them that opportunity, a point ESPN’s Chad Ford misses in giving Orlando’s offseason an “F.”

Losing Howard was inevitable, and everyone knew that they weren’t getting back equal value in return; the longer this went on — and it dragged on far too long — the more it became clear that Orlando’s options were disappearing fast.

But what the Magic are left with is still shocking. Their prize is Afflalo, a 26-year-old defensive specialist who didn’t play a whole lot of defense last season. They did get a couple of solid prospects in Harkless and Vucevic. But the draft picks they received? All lottery-protected.

Ford is right in that the Magic’s haul is less than impressive. However, the departure of Dwight Howard, not the arrival of Aaron Afflalo, is Orlando’s prize in this trade.

Just as important as receiving draft picks, young players and cap relief was sending away Dwight Howard. Orlando’s season was a case study in dysfunction. The prospect of being traded, the uncertainty of where and in what uniform you’ll play your next game, is a certain distraction, and one every player on the Magic’s roster experienced last season. Stan Van Gundy’s attempts to right the ship, while admirable, were as doomed as Atlas.

Rob Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn have, time and again, preached about the new culture in Orlando, one based on selfless, team focused players who want to be there; qualities Howard hasn’t displayed in quite some time. On the Paroxysm Podcast, Matt Moore suggested the Magic, instead of doing this trade, could have entered the season with Howardon the roster, but tell him to stay away from the team until he was traded. Labor issues aside, I’m not sure this would have been a good strategy. Howard’s physical absence wouldn’t have eliminated his presence within the organization, nor the ever-pervading miasma of uncertainty and distraction born from persistent trade rumors that envelop an entire organization.

Before the organization could fully implement the new culture, it had to rid itself of  the culture’s antithesis. And while Howard‘s presence will still linger, his influence won’t. Thus, with Howard gone, the Magic find themselves with a near-clean slate, free to begin anew.

For the Lakers, Nuggets, and 76ers, this trade is nothing more than adding another piece to the championship puzzle. For the Magic, it’s different. Call it an exorcism, a Biblical Flood, or hitting the reset button; sending away Howard is more than just a simple trade, it’s a declaration of a new beginning. The Magic will be awful for a few seasons, make no mistake. But there is a plan in place, and though it is in the earliest of phases, Rob Hennigan deserves the time and patience to see it through.

Daryl Morey’s Moment

The Rockets’ willingness to trade for Howard — even without the All-Star center’s signature on a contract extension — is an open secret around the league. But it’s believed that two top-eight picks, assuming Houston managed to complete trades with both Sacramento and Toronto, would seriously pique the interest of new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, who could then quickly start following the same sort of roster-building blueprint relied on by his previous employers in Oklahoma City.

via Rockets set sights on moving up in draft | ESPN.com

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Daryl Morey throw his hat in the ring when a marquee big man has become available. His Rockets almost landed Pau Gasol twice between last offseason and March’s trading deadline, and he even made a dark-horse bid for Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. He signed Pau’s brother Marc to a massive offer sheet in December that Memphis ultimately matched. It’s not hard to look at Morey’s history of almost-moves and predict this latest attempt to extricate the most dominant big man since Shaq from an impossible (and excruciating) situation in Orlando.

A run at Dwight Howard is the move Morey has been building towards since he took over as GM in Houston in 2007. His modus operandi the entire time has been asset accumulation and value hunting, with the assumption being that eventually one of these assets will allow him to make a blockbuster move. Unfortunately, his Rockets teams have paid the price of mediocrity for his efforts, spending most of his tenure in the dreaded purgatory that is the back end of the draft lottery and the back end of the playoffs. The middle is the worst place for an NBA team to be—just ask the Suns, Blazers, or Hawks of the past half-decade. Teams that simply exist without vaulting into title contention or bottoming out and landing an impact player in the draft are the most hopeless of all. But what separates the Rockets from the teams with whom they share a tier on the food chain has been Morey’s tradable assets, sitting and waiting to be converted from promise to substance.

 Amid a report that stated the Houston Rockets are hoping to amass enough trade assets to make a deal with the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard–even though Howard would only be in Houston for one season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013 — a source with knowledge of Howard’s thinking said Monday that there was “not a chance” Howard would be persuaded to remain in Houston if traded there, and would leave next summer to sign elsewhere.

via Report: “Not a Chance” Dwight Howard Stays in Houston if Traded There | NBA.com

The revelation that the notoriously wishy-washy Howard doesn’t find Houston as appealing as, say, Brooklyn isn’t exactly earth-shaking. Around All-Star weekend, when Howard’s diva act was at its most embarrassing, I posited the theory that he was demanding a trade to a bigger market not out of his own desire to play in one but because that was what the cool kids were doing. And in light of his hilariously inexplicable last-minute opt-in that seemed prompted more by Twitter backlash than anything else, it’s hard to look at any of Howard’s reasoning behind where he wants to play as anything more than a blindfolded game of darts. This instability and volatility on the part of Howard and his handlers would probably scare off most teams from taking this gamble. But this appears to be the perfect moment for Morey to strike.

If the Rockets use Lowry, whose contract is itself one of Morey’s more cost-effective chips given how good he is, to leverage their way into two picks in the top 10 and flip those picks and Samuel Dalambert’s partially-guaranteed contract to Orlando for Howard, they’ll still have room to work. Morey can ship out Kevin Martin’s expiring contract for younger players or future first-round picks, accumulating more assets but also improving the team in the short term. Essentially, Morey would be putting everything into a one-season run with Howard, and no matter what happens afterward, it will provide his team with a sense of direction, something they haven’t had in a while.

Let’s say the retooled Rockets make a deep playoff run, and Howard falls in love with Houston. This is no guarantee, because Howard’s decision-making process is as reliable as a BlackBerry. But by that same token, it can’t be ruled out. If the Rockets can convince Howard to stay, then they have an honest-to-goodness superstar, one of the five best players on the planet, aged 27, to build around—at the toughest position to find that kind of talent, no less. This would be a pretty enviable position for a GM as sharp as Morey to find himself in. And if Howard bolts for Brooklyn? Well, a full-on rebuild of the “We’re going to be 2012 Charlotte Bobcats-level bad and land a franchise player in the top of the draft” variety is much easier to sell to your fans when you’ve just shown them that you’re not afraid to take a gamble on Dwight Howard when the opportunity presents itself. Either one of these options is more desirable than what the Rockets have been doing for the past five years. An opportunity this tailor-made for Morey’s approach isn’t going to come along every year.

Mike D’Antoni, Made For The Magic

Think back for a moment about the components of the Mike D’Antoni offense. The speed, the frenetic quickness, the zinged passes in transition, all those dunks and threes.

What’s the one thing all those competitive D’Antoni teams always lacked? That’s right, a defensive anchor. And it could easily be debated that there’s no better defensive anchor than Dwight Howard.

Now imagine for a moment that Mike D’Antoni was the next head coach of the Orlando Magic. Go ahead, breath it in for a minute, bask in it. Because it would be glorious. Who wouldn’t want to take that ride?