Monday, July 2, 2012

The Dwight Howard Trade Saga - No Sleep Till Brooklyn

The words Dwight Howard told Yahoo! Sports Sunday night were not surprising to anyone who has kept up with his trade saga. 

It was just surprising to actually hear Howard say them. 

Howard told Yahoo! that he would only re-sign with a team on his list of acceptable trade locations. Why he even mentioned his “list” of teams is unknown since he continued the interview by saying, “There’s only one team on my list and if I don't get traded there, I'll play the season out and explore my free agency after that.” 

So he didn’t come right out and say it was Brooklyn he wanted to be traded to. His words were still vague, which isn’t surprising. But the timing of his comments cuts through his jungle of veiled hints rather easily. 
On Friday, Howard met with new Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan. Afterward sources told ESPN’s Chris Broussard that Howard let Hennigan know he wanted to go to Brooklyn.

Hennigan didn’t tell Howard during the meeting whether or not the trade would happen, but for everyone involved, Howard needs to play for the Nets.
While Howard’s words to media continue to be ambiguous, his actions are filling in the blanks. It just doesn’t feel like this can all be about basketball. Howard wants to be a star off the court as much as on the court. He wants endorsements and commercials, and to be the biggest fish in a giant pond, much like Kobe Bryant in LA. 

Surely that’s why Howard is choosing Brooklyn over the Lakers, who have also shown interest in trading for Howard. The Lakers are much closer to being a championship-caliber team, especially with a powerful inside force like Howard, while the Nets have a long way to go. One of Howard’s chief complaints in Orlando is that he didn’t have a strong supporting cast. But Howard would always be second to Bryant, and he knows this. He was the man with Orlando, and took them to the NBA Finals, but the stage wasn’t big enough for him. 

Much of Howard’s recent time in Orlando has been questioned. His effort lacked at times during the trade period last season, and the rumors that Howard tried, successfully, to get coach Stan Van Gundy fired drew the attention of the players, team and fans off the court. After Orlando signed new players and fired their coach and GM to please Howard, Howard now says he was “blackmailed” into staying with Orlando last season. 

When the trade didn’t happen last season, the feeling I got was that fans and the team looked at it as a relief; it was a celebration that the superstar was still in a Magic uniform. But Howard wasn’t happy, and that was clear. One way or another, Howard would be leaving Orlando.

The Houston Rockets and the Lakers are among the teams vying for Howard’s services, but I would heed them to get out now. The Rockets or Lakers may land Howard, but they won’t be getting the full player and person they want. Howard wants Brooklyn, and is anyone confident that, should he instead go to Houston, he will be any different that this last year with the Magic? If Howard isn’t happy, everything else goes out the window. Rockets fans will be cheering for a player that is not fully invested in the team and community, and his effort and production will surely reflect this. 

Let the Nets have their shot, should they want it, but other teams should put their feet down. We don’t know if the behavior over the past year is the real Dwight Howard, but it brings up a lot of concerning questions. If the Nets turn him away, then he may be worth pursuing. The rejection may humble him into appreciating a team that will welcome him and support him. But until then, it will be impossible to change his mind and attitude, and it is not worth the risk.

The saga has gone on way too long, and it will end with Magic fans losing their superstar in a stinging way. LeBron James’ The Decision set the bar for how not to handle leaving for a new team, but at least LeBron’s heartbreak to the city of Cleveland was like pulling off a Band-Aid. It was painful, but it was quick. 

Howard drug the city of Orlando and its fans with him on his continuous roller coaster that should have left everyone sick on board. He has the talent to make the Nets fan base very happy, but also has the potential to take an innocent Rockets fan base on the same roller coaster ride that won’t leave anyone happy.

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