Last November, I proposed a trade for the Hawks: Deal any two players on their roster for Dwight Howard.
Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Josh Smith and Al Horford. Johnson and Al Horford. Marvin Williams, several Mediterranean islands and the undying gratitude of every Atlanta resident.
But given what just occurred, I’m wondering how much better off the Hawks would be in the long run with such a diva on the roster.
The Orlando Magic, in an expected move, fired coach Stan Van Gundy, ostensibly because Howard wanted him out. Even before Van Gundy went public late in the season that Howard was trying to get him fired, it was clear the two were in an unworkable situation.
Ownership knows firing their coach and general manager (Otis Smith) won’t lose them any ticket sales. Losing Howard would. So this was an easy choice. Of course, if Howard leaves any way, they will fired Van Gundy for nothing.
Van Gundy is a terrific coach, one of the NBA’s best, in my opinion. Critics banged on him for outing Howard publicly. But given that the franchise centerpiece had been stabbing him in the back for months to management, undermined his authority in the locker room and wrecked any conceivable chance Orlando had of succeeding this season, I had no problem with it. Fact is, Van Gundy probably gained a lot respect around the league for it (certainly within the coaching fraternity and with the media).
It seems strange to suggest this. But Howard, despite being the world’s most dominant center and one of the five best players in the world, period, may nonetheless be poison for a franchise. Whether he remains in Orlando or ultimately is traded or leaves in free agency, there is reason to believe he will wield too much power wherever he ends up.
When it gets to the point that an athlete has the call on who the coach is and how a team is built, it’s an unhealthy situation. Ultimately, the owner is bowing to ever whim of the player because he’s worried about turnstile counts. It doesn’t play well in the front office or the locker room, and that spills onto the court.
The way the Magic have been operating lately, they might as well let Howard interview the candidates to replace Van Gundy. Better yet, let them march, one by one, into the Roman Coliseum, while Howard sits on a throne and gives the thumbs up or thumbs down signal.
Have the lions ready.
It sounds extreme to suggest an NBA team would be better off without Dwight Howard. But it speaks to the player’s prima donna tendencies that it’s suddenly something worth thinking about.
By Jeff Schultz