This could all be moot within an hour of its writing, but here goes: What happens if Dwight Howard doesn’t get traded?
Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel believes the thought of Howard actually playing for the Magic in 2012-13 “would be like LeBron making ‘The Decision’ and then having to go play another season in Cleveland.” But the way Howard is heading, any LeBron James comparison becomes increasingly inapt.
LeBron never demanded to be traded. LeBron never handed the Cavaliers a list of desired destinations. (Apparently Howard’s list begins and ends with Brooklyn.) More to the point, LeBron never prolonged any civic agony by waiving his option to become a free agent. Howard did that in March, and nobody could believe it. Today it ranks as the strangest decision ever made by a major player regarding his career.
All Howard had to do was let his contract expire and he’d have officially become a Net as of Wednesday. Instead the Dwightmare, as it’s known, continues. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers are in there pitching, and the retooling-on-the-fly Hawks have sniffed around. The first two might be willing to take Howard without an assurance that he’ll re-up with them long-term; the team based in his hometown — that’d be the Hawks — surely could not.
The Magic can’t let Howard walk away and get nothing in return, so they’re bound to try and trade him. But what if no deal is struck before the season begins? The prospect of Howard playing another game for Orlando in Orlando is so unthinkable the NBA might have to step in and stop it. Stars get booed on the road, but at home?
But Orlando already views him as a traitor, and he hasn’t yet switched sides. His whining is the reason the Magic have a new general manager (feel sorry for Rob Henningan, who inherited this mess) and, at the moment, no head coach. For most of his career Howard labored to become the genial focal point of a city that has no other major sports team, but when he leaves he’ll be remembered in Orlando as LeBron South.
With this difference: LeBron James broke Cleveland’s collective heart, but he did it cleanly. (One choreographed special, one “I’m-taking-my-talents” declaration, one massive Ohio bringdown.) Dwight Howard has turned this into the saga that twists and turns but never concludes, and Orlando has long known it can only end in tears. We in Atlanta have seen more than our share of frazzled sports moments, but we’ve never had anything like this. I’m not sure any city has.
Oh, and one thing more. Dwight Howard? As a player, he’s overrated.
By Mark Bradley