A mere six years ago, 24-year old Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic was dominating the NBA. He had the looks of the all-time great, possessing some of the skills of the legendary Shaquille O’Neal before him.
Funny enough, it looked as though he was heading down the same path as Shaq. Both players started their careers in Orlando, and had very similar personality traits.
They both led the Magic all the way to the NBA Finals, only to be no match for their Western Conference counterpart.
And both players eventually demanded out of Orlando, and found themselves in Los Angeles, playing alongside Kobe Bryant. But here’s where our stories go in completely different directions.
O’Neal thrived in the Los Angeles setting, both on and off the court. He starred in multiple movies during his tenure in LA, and did an impressive job of creating a celebrity status for himself that would transcend the basketball court.
But when push came to shove, and it was time to play, Shaq played at a level that very few players in the history of the league have come close to. But it was his relationship with Kobe, and the understood hierarchy that made the Lakers of the late 90’s and early 2000’s one of the best teams ever.
Although the relationship between the two future Hall of Famers was rocky towards the end, they always understood each other’s limitations, and more importantly their own. It was universally understood, even by the alpha-male that is Kobe Bryant, that O’Neal was (at the time) the superior player, and the team was built around him.
Thing is, D-12 believed that the same pecking order would apply this time around. He didn’t seem to realize that he never possessed the capabilities that Shaq once did, not even close.
And so Dwight came to Los Angeles, thinking he’d dethrone the almost God-like persona that Bryant had created. A tall order, especially when you’re a big man that lacks any sort of ability to create your own shot.
The Lakers traded for Howard in the first place in part to create an unstoppable pick-n-roll combo with not only Kobe, but the Canadian maestro Steve Nash. Yet Howard seemed to abandon that whole idea, instead opting to go with his ridiculous hook shot and “post moves”, if you could even call them that.
Howard showed no signs of being able to adapt to the situation in LA, and quickly bolted in 2013 free-agency, less than a year after the trade.
However, there were still plenty of teams willing to pay Dwight big money, and he eventually found himself in Houston on a max contract, playing alongside another elite shooting guard in James Harden.
This time, not only was his “I’m still the guy” mentality failing him, but his body was as well. He battled injuries for a good part of his tenure in Houston, and his once staggering and historic statistics began to look more and more like that of a role player.
His 13.7 points and 12 rebounds that he put up this season are a far cry from his lofty 21 point and 14 rebound averages in Orlando, but his mentality has shockingly stayed the same.
As he did he in Los Angeles, Howard complained about not getting the touches that a main man should be getting, even though his rapid decline have shown that he’s nothing more than a 3rd or 4th option that should probably just focus on the defensive end of the floor.
This attitude is much to the dismay of Harden, who, like Kobe, has a passion for winning, and understands that post-ups from Howard aren’t the best way to win.
Attempts have been made by both sides (Howard and Harden) in attempt to resolve the current situation, including a one-on-one talk over the All-Star break expressing their displeasures. But nothing has seemed to work, as the two disagree to the extent that there’s no point trying to compromise.
And as Howard is continuing to decline towards his eventual role player status, he’s still looking for a max-contract this off-season.
An anonymous GM predicted that Howard would fall in $12-$15 million per year range, less than half of $31 million that’s he’s demanding right now.
It’s not only his declining abilities and his viewing of himself as main option that’s scaring contenders away; they question his will to win.
Even in his hayday, teammates and counterparts alike questioned whether he was serious enough about winning, with team managers doubting whether he was able to get serious enough when it counted.
Crazy that a player who was well on his way to becoming an all-time great, and had every almost every general manager begging to get their hands on him, is now practically begging for a job.