Photo: AP Images
The most polarising athlete in the NBA seems to currently be LeBron James, who severely damaged his stock with some fans after “The Decision.”People who still get riled up over James taking to television to announce he was leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat — raising millions of dollars for charity in the process — are overlooking an even bigger evil.
Since “The Decision,” James has been a model citizen, and has repeatedly admitted he handled his departure from Cleveland poorly. During that same two-year period, however, All-Star centre Dwight Howard has completely ransacked an entire franchise and has somehow not displaced James as public enemy No. 1.
Drafted No. 1 overall in 2004, Howard’s early years in Orlando portended great things to come for the Magic. He was the new Shaquille O’Neal, a dominant centre seemingly beloved by the media for his easy-going personality.
Howard became a sensation for his antics at the annual Slam Dunk contest during All-Star weekend, where he donned a Superman cape and dunked on 12-foot rims.
On the court, Howard evolved into one of the best players in the league, making the All-NBA first team for the first time in 2008 and winning his first Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009. That same year, he led the Magic to the NBA Finals, eventually losing 4-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
That deep playoff run was marked the beginning of a downward spiral in Orlando.
First Howard and then-coach Stan Van Gundy began sparring in the 2009 playoffs, when Howard felt he wasn’t getting the ball enough on offence. The player-coach relationship would soon become caustic.
The Magic, having just made it to the Finals and thinking the championship window was wide open, began to shake up the roster in an effort to keep Howard happy and challenge for a title. Hedo Turkoglu and Vince Carter were brought in, but the Magic lost to the Boston Celtics that year in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The next season, the Magic fell victim to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, and Howard began to criticise ownership for not doing enough to build a contender.
In the winter of 2011, Howard made his first trade demand to owners, saying he wanted to go to the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers or defending champion Dallas Mavericks. His reasoning, according to ESPN, was that he just wasn’t getting along with Van Gundy, or Magic general manager Otis Smith.
“I’m pretty sure if you go down the line of teams, every GM has a pretty good relationship with not just the best player but all the players. If you don’t have a good relationship with the people you work with, how are you going to get better?…. The stuff that I have asked for, the stuff I felt our team needed to get better, none of it has happened.”
The Magic respected Howard’s demand and explored the trade market, but there was no fair deal to be found. Smith and the Magic didn’t want Brook Lopez from the Nets, and the Lakers weren’t willing to part with both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. So Howard stayed in Orlando for the time being, and the problems with coaches, executives — and even his own teammates — continued.
As the trade deadline neared, though, the Magic were forced to either trade Howard or likely lose him for nothing in free agency. In a stunning turn of events, though, Howard announced on March 15th that he would elect to opt-in to the final year of his contract, signing an agreement to stay in Orlando until the summer of 2013. Two days before the announcement, Howard had said he only planned to play out the rest of the 2011-12 season, and that the Magic would have to “roll the dice” beyond that, according to CBS.
After months of indecision about whether he wanted to be traded or not which alienated Magic fans, it seemed odd that Howard would decide to stay in Orlando — but he may have only stayed on the condition that his nemeses Van Gundy and Smith were canned. Howard said his decision to stay was a matter of loyalty to the team and love for Orlando, according to the Associated Press.
“I’m not like those guys that people try to pay me to be. I’m loyal. I just love this city too much.”
In April, Howard’s feud with Van Gundy came to a boiling point. The day of a game against New York Knicks, Van Gundy told the press he knew Dwight Howard requested he be fired as coach. Howard vehemently denied it, but by May, Van Gundy — who had coached the Magic to a fifth consecutive winning season — was fired. On that same day, the Magic and Otis Smith “mutually agreed” to part ways.
Howard, of course, denies he had any influence on the decision to fire Van Gundy or cut ties with Smith.
Believe what you want, but the end result suggested that maybe Howard, now free of his two biggest sources of frustration, could thrive again in Orlando. That is, until last Friday, when he met with new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and again demanded to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets to potentially play with Deron Williams. It seems those feelings of loyalty were short-lived.
Howard allegedly told friends he felt “blackmailed” by the Magic to sign the opt-in clause in March (though he now denies using the word blackmail), and feels that the promises the team made to him have not been upheld.
Now, the Magic are feverishly working the trade market, and a deal that sends Howard out of Orlando seems imminent.
There’s no question that Dwight Howard is a special basketball player — but his dishonest flip-flopping and disregard for Magic fans make Howard the NBA’s newest supervillain.
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