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Monday, March 19, 2012

Life is Simple When You Say What You Mean and You Mean What you Say

Dwight Howard has very publicly been talking for several months about his future but he has contradicted himself so many times that it is not clear if even he knows what he really wants! Is Howard motivated by loyalty, by greed, by wanting to win a championship, by wanting to be "the Man," by some combination of the aforementioned factors or by other factors that neither he nor anyone else has mentioned? When Dwight Howard announced that he would stay with the Orlando Magic at least until the end of the 2013 season he looked as if he had been condemned to a prison sentence, said that he had made this decision because he is "too loyal" and replied to criticism of his indecisiveness by whining that this whole process had been very difficult for him; at the press conference he looked like a 6-11 Sybil with ripped muscles and a lot of trouble on his mind. Is Howard a loyal person happy to stay in Orlando, a puppet unwillingly doing the bidding of other people or a genuinely confused young man who is trying to figure out how to leave Orlando without becoming as hated as LeBron James is?

The first and most important point that must be clearly and emphatically stated is if the process was difficult for Howard then he has only himself to blame; Howard not only publicly said last year that he wanted to be traded but he provided a list of acceptable teams (i.e., teams with which he would be willing to sign a contract extension; it would have been virtually impossible for the Magic to get anything of value in return if they traded him to a team not on Howard's list because Howard could have walked away from that team as a free agent this summer). Howard could have made the process easier and less dramatic by signing a contract extension with the Magic months ago; that would have been an excellent demonstration of loyalty and perhaps could have enabled the Magic to swing a deal to upgrade their roster this season. Howard could also have made his trade request privately so that the public would not hear about it unless and until the Magic actually traded him. Instead, Howard created all of the drama that he now says caused him such angst--and, unless he signs a long term contract extension with the Magic this summer or early next season we will go through the exact same drama until the 2013 trade deadline.

The second point is that if Howard is primarily motivated by winning a championship then William Rhoden (appearing on ESPN's "Sports Reporters" yesterday) stated what should be obvious: Howard should have maneuvered his way to Los Angeles to play with Kobe Bryant. If Bryant can win two rings with Pau Gasol (a one-time All-Star before he landed in L.A.) and a one-legged Andrew Bynum putting up Luc Longley-like scoring and rebounding averages during the playoffs then he can surely win at least one ring with Dwight Howard. Even if Howard would not be "the Man" initially, the Lakers would clearly build around Howard as Bryant declined. Rhoden's point makes so much sense that last year I beat Rhoden to the punch by saying the same thing about LeBron James and the other 2011 free agents: "...this may sound flippant but the reality is that if the number one goal for any of these free agents was truly to win a championship then they would have accepted the midlevel exception (or some similar deal) to join forces with Kobe Bryant in L.A.; winning a championship may be a goal for some or all of these guys but getting paid is the first goal and being 'the Man' is a secondary goal (at least for James and Stoudemire; Bosh seems to understand and accept that he is not, in fact, 'the Man')." So far, James has gotten the worst of both worlds; he has not won a championship in Miami (so far his Heat have in fact posted a lower overall winning percentage than either of his last two Cleveland teams) and he still is fighting the perception that he prefers for Dwyane Wade to be "the Man."

If Howard is motivated by loyalty, wanting to be "the Man" and/or greed then staying in Orlando is the obvious choice; staying in Orlando will ensure that he is "the Man" on his team for the foreseeable future, it will provide him the largest possible guaranteed contract and it will separate him from LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Chris Paul. I love the way that Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant handled their respective contract situations: there was no public drama, no flirting with other franchises and no disrespect directed toward their teammates, their coaches or their current teams; Rose and Durant both signed contract extensions and then devoted themselves wholeheartedly to trying to win a championship now. Rose refused to beg LeBron James to come to Chicago and he similarly refused to be drawn into the Dwight Howard soap opera; Rose declared that he loves his teammates and that his team is good enough to win a championship without making any changes. Meanwhile, how are things working out for the guys who fled for supposedly greener pastures? LeBron James is having a great individual season but his team trails Rose's Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings and anything short of winning a championship will renew questions about James' focus and mental toughness. Carmelo Anthony is being exposed as an overrated coach killer, the modern day Stephon Marbury (just to be clear: Anthony is an All-Star caliber player but he is not an elite player/franchise player who can be the best player on a championship team). Deron Williams is in a much worse situation than the one he could not wait to leave in Utah. Despite the preseason buzz, it is unlikely that Chris Paul will win a championship any time soon in L.A.

Kobe Bryant has spent his entire career with the L.A. Lakers and his five championships make him the greatest NBA winner of the post-Michael Jordan era (Robert Horry owns seven championship rings as a role player, which is a great accomplishment but not the same thing as winning championships as a perennial All-Star/All-NBA selection). Cynics may protest that Bryant tried to talk his way out of Los Angeles a few years ago but it is very important to place that situation in its proper context; Bryant understood that the team had to rebuild after trading Shaquille O'Neal and thus he did not initially complain even when three of the other Laker starters were named Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and Vladimir Radmanovic. No, what set Bryant off is when it seemed like the Lakers were abandoning the rebuilding process in order to save money, a perception that was dispelled by the Pau Gasol trade. Bryant similarly stated this season that he will not complain about the Lamar Odom trade unless it becomes apparent that the Lakers are trying to save money more than they are trying to win championships (thus far the Lakers have essentially dumped Odom, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton to acquire Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill and salary cap flexibility so the jury is still out).

By both words and deeds we know that Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant are committed to trying to lead their current teams to a championship. Is LeBron James trying to win a championship or is he trying to become a "global icon"? Is Carmelo Anthony trying to win a championship or is he, as Magic Johnson has recently suggested, more interested in just enjoying the glamorous side of living in New York? Deeds have not yet matched words for James and Anthony. It is also not clear what endgame Deron Williams has in sight. I believe that winning a championship is Chris Paul's ultimate goal and I understand why he wanted to leave the unstable Hornets franchise but it was a bit disingenuous for him to talk about how much he loves New Orleans when he had made it clear that he likely would skip town if the team did not trade him before he became a free agent. Howard must decide what he really values most and then align his deeds with his words; don't tell us now that you are "too loyal" and then string the Magic along for several months after this season--and don't tell us that you want to win a championship if it is true that you don't want to play for the Lakers because Bryant will be perceived as "the Man" instead of you.

Dwight Howard, your mission is simple if your thoughts are clear and your heart is pure: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:04 AM

13 comments

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13 Comments:

At Monday, March 19, 2012 9:43:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

"he looked like a 6-11 Sybil with ripped muscles and a lot of trouble on his mind"

Awesome writing!! and on the money as usual.

 
At Monday, March 19, 2012 11:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
I'm actually kind of glad that he didn't go to the Lakers. Him being the best center in the NBA today simple says that the NBA doesn't have any amazing centers nowadays. I do not doubt that he is better than Bynum (Bynum seems to be better on the ofensive end and, as of late, he has been playing quite well but he is nowhere near as athletic as D12 and is miles aways from him in defense) but i do doubt that Dwight Howard is better than Bynum and Gasol together (with Bynum healthy and simply because they are both good players and their lenght is amazing. Size still matters in the NBA). Even though Gasol is sometimes labeled as being soft, he still is an excelent player and combines quite well with this year's Bynum. Ramon Sessions seems to be what the Lakers need at point guard but i feel like they still need a 3 point threat which they don't have right now. It's not impossible that they get to the finals, mainly because i really don't see any amazing teams in the west (i'm sold on Kevin Durant but not on the Thunder) but they do lack a proper bench and guys who can shoot from 3 point land.
I would love to see a Lakers Bulls finals as i love both teams and i respect Rose a lot, after the all star entrance even more.
Always a pleasure to read your blog.
Nuno Rechena

 
At Monday, March 19, 2012 4:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nuno:

It is true that the classic, back to the basket live in the paint center is an endangered species now but that does not change the reality that Howard is an exceptional defender and rebounder who has also improved his offensive game on the block. The Magic do not have one above average perimeter defender and yet collectively they are a good defensive team simply because of Howard's presence in the paint. Just imagine what the Lakers--coached by Mike Brown and with Kobe Bryant on the wing--would look like defensively with Howard in the paint. If I were the Lakers I would gladly part with Bynum and Gasol to get Howard; Bynum played a minor role in the playoffs for the Lakers' two most recent championship teams, while Gasol is older than Howard and has shown signs of decline. I don't believe that the Lakers can win a championship with this current group so it makes sense to bring in Howard to team up with Bryant and then eventually be the franchise's cornerstone player. Of course, that is not going to happen now that Howard agreed to stay in Orlando for at least one more season.

 
At Tuesday, March 20, 2012 8:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your point but i really don't agree. Howard is amazing on the defense but he brings less on the ofense than nowadays Bynum, let alone the Bynum and Gasol duo. I agree that Bynum played a minor role in the two previous championships but that doesn't mean that a healthy Bynum can't make an impact in the playoffs. Bynum's health will be the key factor and in the health department Howard is a lot better, no doubts about it but if Bynum can stay healthy i can see him as having a bigger role on the team. Besides, who would play the number 4 position if the Howard trade had happened? McRoberts? Murphy? I have my doubts that the Lakers can win a championship with this group, i still think we don't have a good 3 point shooter (and i believe we needed more than one) and unless MWP steps up his game by playoff time, we'll have a serious problem at the nÂș 3 position too. However, with Howard we still wouldn't have a good 3 point shooter and would be playing a weak player at the 4. I guess we'll see what these lakers can do come playoff time. There's always the chance that Kobe will enter god mode ;)
I do see the Lakers as contenders next year if they get a good 3 point shooter through free agency. As for Howard, even though i do think he is an amazing athlete, he is not, in my opinion, good enough to be The Man on a team. He is no Shaq, no Duncan, no Hakeem. He maybe amazing on the defense but i find him very limited on ofense, he will always need a superstar scorer on his team for him to be champion. Just having good players around him won't be enough and Howard's Magic path so far seems to have proved this. Anyway, just my opinion. I agree with you most of the time but not this time ;)

 
At Tuesday, March 20, 2012 11:23:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

The most mindboggling thing about this whole escapade is why Dwight Howard insisted on being traded to the Nets. The term "overrated coach-killer" certainly fits Deron Williams to a T, and the Nets have nothing of any value (other than Williams) to trade to the Magic. The revamped Nets team would have struggled to make the playoffs and were probably at least a handful of roster moves away from seriously contending for a championship.

As for Orlando, they probably would have been better served cutting loose with Howard than taking on bad players with bad contracts. Then again, considering the incompetence of the Magic front office, I wouldn't have put it past them to trade Howard purely out of spite.

 
At Tuesday, March 20, 2012 12:21:00 PM, Anonymous jackF said...

@David
Several sources have said that Dwight Howard didn't go to LA because when he talked to Kobe about coming to LA, Kobe told him that he(Howard) could be his "Tyson Chandler". Dwight disagreed because he wanted to be the man and have the ball in his hands at the end of the game. My guess is Kobe was right to tell HOward that because watching Howard's press conference after he decided to stay with the Magics, I realized that it is not possible to win a championship with Howard as "the Man". He doesn't(can't?) command the respect of his peers.

 
At Tuesday, March 20, 2012 4:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Last year, the Lakers had Gasol-Bynum-Odom plus Shannon Brown coming off of the bench and they were swept by Dallas. Gasol-Bynum minus Odom and without Shannon Brown is not nearly a good enough supporting cast to help Kobe win a ring. This is not the 2006-07 Kobe who can average 40 ppg for a month; while Kobe has retained most of his skills he is also older and he is banged up (wrist, nose, etc.). I am not saying that Kobe and Howard would definitely have won a ring together but I am saying that it is clear that the Lakers as currently constructed are not going to win a ring so it would have made sense to bring in Howard, go for it this year and then build around Howard in the future.

Howard is the best center in the NBA so I disagree that it is not possible for him to be "the Man" on a championship team. Most championship teams in NBA history had the best center (or at least one of the top 2-3 centers) in the league at that time.

Bynum's offensive skills have improved recently but he still is benefiting a lot from the defensive attention that Bryant attracts and I am not yet convinced that you can build a championship team around Bynum.

In other words, I agree with your comments about the Lakers' deficiencies at small forward and their lack of three point shooting but I concluded a while ago that this group is not winning any more rings and that is why I think it would have been smart to ship out Bynum and Gasol for a younger, more durable and more dominant big man. Gasol's value is only going to go down and Bynum's history suggests that he will not stay healthy. In a year or two, Bryant and Gasol will both have declined significantly, Bynum will prove incapable of being "the Man" and you will realize that the Lakers would have been better off trading Bynum and Gasol this year.

 
At Tuesday, March 20, 2012 4:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

I alluded to that in the article; if Howard's reason for not wanting to come to L.A. is that he wouldn't be "the Man" then he should not say that his main goal is to win a championship.

I think that it is possible to win a championship with Howard as "the Man" but he would not be "the Man" with the Lakers right now because Kobe would still be the Lakers' best player; however, that would change soon and Howard could have had the best of both worlds: he could have won a ring now and then been the Lakers' main man for several years after Kobe declined/retired.

 
At Wednesday, March 21, 2012 12:54:00 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

David,

I agree with you that Howard's current public image problems are largely his own fault. The very least he could have done was remained professional and kept his mouth shut instead of for all intents and purposes demanding a trade and then sabotaging his own trade value before doing an abrupt about-face and delaying the drama for another year.

I can understand his frustration with his team being stuck in 'no-man's land' so to speak as Orlando has made a number of costly gambles in trying to find the right complementary players for Howard, but his handling of the situation was just silly, especially since he wound up staying in the end. If staying was legitimately an option for him he should not have begun this fiasco in the first place.

With that said I still do wonder how effective the new CBA will be at enabling smaller market teams to keep their star players. As the Howard drama proved, players still maintain most of the leverage and the only thing their original teams have to entice them back are financial incentives which can be offset by alternative sources of income from big markets.

Regarding his motivations, I find it somewhat strange that Howard insists on being able to be "the Man" at least with regards to getting shots at the end of the game. It shows a pretty fundamental disconnect between his abilities and the requirements of the role - no matter how good they are, traditional back to the basket bigs can be shut down too easily on single possessions through aggressive swarming/trapping and ball denial. Howard's terrible free throw shooting also make him less than ideal for taking key late-game shots as even if he can break free for a bucket a smart opponent will simply foul him and take their chances with him at the line. Shaq suffered from the same problems, which was why he needed an elite counterpoint on the wings who could take over late game shot creation.

If I were the Lakers I would happily have traded Bynum for Howard despite his recent surge, but I would have been hesitant if the price included Gasol. The Lakers are thin enough without moving two quality players for one very good player, especially as their backup big men, McRoberts and Murphy, have generally been mediocre and such a deal would probably have necessitated taking back Hedo Turkoglu. I am not sure whether Dwight would have been willing to stay for a team not in immediate contention despite the fact that he would be teamed with Kobe.

 
At Wednesday, March 21, 2012 3:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Charles:

The new CBA has a "Derrick Rose rule" that gives teams tremendous leverage to hold on to a young player if he wins an MVP or makes the All-NBA team during his first contract; this rule does not apply retroactively to Howard but will apply in future situations and will help teams hold on to elite players.

If you believe that the Lakers can win a championship now with Bynum and Gasol and/or that the Lakers can build a championship team around Bynum and Gasol after Bryant declines/retires then it makes sense to hold on to Bynum and Gasol. I do not believe that the Lakers as currently constructed are a serious title contender nor do I believe that you can build a championship team around Bynum or Gasol (or even Bynum and Gasol). Therefore, I think that the Lakers should have been willing to trade both big men to create a Bryant-Howard duo that would have had a puncher's chance this season while also laying the groundwork to build around Howard in the future. I don't know if the Bryant-Howard duo would have won a title but I am convinced that the current Lakers team will not win a title.

 
At Wednesday, March 21, 2012 4:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Nice post. How shocked would you be if the Spurs came out of the West this year. They're supposed to getting Boris Diaw, who is not great, but better than Blair/Bonner.

 
At Thursday, March 22, 2012 6:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I still expect OKC to win the West but I certainly would not be "shocked" if the Spurs win the West. Prior to the start of the season, when most people were writing off the Spurs, I ranked them as the third best team in the West.

 
At Thursday, March 22, 2012 1:16:00 PM, Anonymous EdPak said...

David, I agree with you. The Lakers should have made the trade for Bynum and Gasol for Howard. Most Laker fans are currently HIGH on the Bynum pipe thinking he's the next legendary center to don the Purple and Gold. When in fact, he'll be simply an above average center in a league with few real big men left. I think the fact that Bynum made it to the All Star team this year was a clear indication as to the scarcity of real big men in the league. It's painfully obvious that had Yao not retired, even on a single leg, he would've been the starting center for the West and deservedly so.

As a Laker fan, I HOPE the Lakers make it to the Finals and win, but I don't EXPECT them to do either. The Lakers will need a slew of perfectly set circumstances to get the title this year...Much like the Mavs' ridiculous 3pt shooting in last year's playoffs.

Ultimately, had Howard truly wanted to win, as you indicated, he should have forced his way to the Lakers. Despite all criticism, Kobe knows how to play with a big man unlike any other in the league. It's no wonder Shaq won his titles with Kobe (the one down in Miami was Dwayne's, not Shaq's). Also, Pau a name oft forgotten prior to his trade to LA in the best big conversations, owes his lofty credentials to the Black Mamba. And now Bynum, it's clear his most productive games occur when a team decides they'll single cover him in the post with a man 6inches shorter. When Bynum's double teamed, it's more likely he'll turn the ball over than make a smart basketball play.

Seriously, if Kobe can make a Kwame Brown relevant and a one time all star in Pau a mainstay in the best power forward conversations, imagine what he could've helped Howard become? The greatest big man to play the game? An offensive game like Wilt, a defensive force like Russell and the physical dominance like Shaq of '99-00.

Finally, for all this talk of Howard not wanting to follow in Shaq's path, what's wrong with following in the footsteps of a proven winner? Plenty of great bigs came to the Lakers prior to Shaq and won titles donning the Purple and Gold. As you mentioned, even with Howard and Kobe, there would have been no guarantees of a title this year, but at least you would have had a chance.

As difficult as the Dfish departure was, the Lakers' brass has always known when to thank a player and move forward. Hopefully, Howard figures that out too and next year, pushes to come to LA. :)

 

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