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Dwight Howard: Recurring National Nightmare

From superhero to antihero, Dwight Howard is anything but Superman these days.

From superhero to antihero, Dwight Howard is anything but Superman these days.

Of course it looks like L.A. Laker-for-now big man Dwight Howard is going to stretch out his period of free agency for as long as humanly possible. Whatever his plan for the offseason is, you can be sure it’s the most excruciatingly annoying one possible.

That’s just how he rolls these days.

It’ll be a plan that was crafted and re-crafted with the care of everyone in his life. It will insure that for NBA fans that this saga will play out in a way which maximizes the drama, but has an end result that leaves them feeling anywhere from unfulfilled to filled with rage. Your classic lose-lose.

Such is the life of Dwight Howard. Once the most beloved big man in the game, famous for his prankster antics, goofy sense of humor, and a smile that would make him a terrible poker player. When Howard is happy, you see it all over his face.

What’s fascinating about all that is just how easily those kind words came, despite the fact that he’s become one of the most universally reviled figures in the game. Truthfully, I used to adore him—didn’t even mind the Superman obsession. Now I hate his face.

Like hate hate.

How can I hate this face? I assure you, it's quite easy. Just look, recoil, and fill with rage.

How can I hate this face? I assure you, it’s quite easy.
Just look, recoil, and fill with rage.

Ironically, the Dwight blight grew from his fear of repeating the mistakes of the Miami Heat‘s LeBron James. In 2010 King James was the most coveted free-agent on the market and the question was whether he would stay with his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers or move on.

We all know LeBron moved on, as was every bit his right, but he wasn’t required to rip the guts out of Cavs’ fans by being so ostentatious about his departure. The one-hour ESPN special? The pep rally promising eight championships? I’m surprised he didn’t hire a skywriter to spell out “L8R CHUMPS” over Cleveland.

It was spectacle upon spectacle that his reputation is still rebounding from to this day. If LeBron had a time machine that could take him back to 2010, he’d probably opt for a courteous press release instead. Maybe a sit down interview to explain his decision, thank the fans, and say goodbye.

The timing of the incident was not lost on Howard, who knew he had just one more year with the Orlando Magic before his own free agency became a topic. If Howard wanted to avoid playing the villain, he really should have spent more time revising his strategy, which was basically just to lose his marbles.

The erratic crazy person thing rarely works when your goal is to remain likable.

At least LeBron made a decision, even if it was “The Decision,” and ended it. Boom. Done.

Howard didn’t want to look like the bad guy by leaving Orlando, but he really didn’t want to stay in Orlando either. So after the 2011-12 season he demanded a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, or the Lakers.

A demand he almost immediately backed off, clarifying how desperate he was to say in Orlando. Howard later explained that the trade demand was merely the result of the Magic organization inability or disinterest in building championship-caliber team.

Howard sensed the growing anger among fans and backed off his demands for awhile. Then he wanted to leave. Then he wanted to stay. Then he wanted Stan Van Gundy to leave. Then he wanted Stan Van Gundy to stay.

Then at the trade deadline Howard brought out the dog and pony show to announce he wouldn’t opt out of the final year of his contract— he used the word “loyalty” a lot during that announcement in March 2012. Someone get this kid a dictionary, already!

Wow. Remember how awkward that was?

Wow. Remember how awkward that was?

He pretended he wanted to stay by barking out irrational demands at ownership that he never thought they’d meet—like flushing out the entire coaching staff and general manager at Howard’s behest—which they did. He must have been stunned when his bluff was called.

Who knows what was the final nail in the coffin was, but someone needed to blink first—and it wasn’t the Magic. Maybe he was all high from those painkillers from his offseason back surgery at the time, but eventually Howard drew a big, bold line in the sand.

The Magic were on one side of the line, and the rest of the NBA was on the other.

Howard has been a sinking ship for almost three years at this point and this last season with the Lakers continued that trajectory. Injuries hampered his production on the court and an obvious feud with superstar Kobe Bryant didn’t do much for Howard’s famously fragile psyche.

Tiffs between the two boiled up periodically throughout the season, although it was mostly Kobe doing the talking. He (publicly) questioned Howard’s toughness, (publicly) wondered why he couldn’t play for the Lakers but could suit up for the All-Star Game, and generally (publicly) hated on Howard all season. Not that he’d ever publicly step to Kobe himself, but he did have his dad take up his cause in February 2013.

Please don't look at me. Please don't look at me. Please don't look at me.

Please don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me.

Square in the middle of some of the most intense spotlight in the sports world, Howard remained surprisingly mum most of the season. Although he did have some choice words for his former Magic teammates in early March. During an interview with the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, Howard said of the Magic, “My team in Orlando was a team full of people that nobody wanted.”

His former teammates may not be as in-demand as Howard, but they are more likable. They’re more mature. They’re more professional. And at this point they seem far less likely to stab you in the back.

Howard will disparage his former teammates and friends from Orlando, but he looks terrified standing in the general vicinity of Kobe Bryant. Howard is an intimidating physical presence who has to face the fact that he prefers being a very big fish in a regular sized bowl.

He actually looks pretty tough in the right lighting. And the right city. Like Houston.

He actually looks pretty tough in the right lighting. And the right city. Like Houston.

He can’t handle the spotlight and shrinks every time he steps into it. Which is why he’s been setting the stage to make his Los Angeles exit this summer. The Feud with Kobe was one thing, but reports that Howard’s decision about where to sign hinge on his feelings about Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni? Please.

Everyone that’s surprised certified coach-killer Dwight Howard is displeased with his current head coach, please raise your hands. Oh…look at that…not a single hand. Although, there might be one way in the back that I can’t quite make out…oh okay…there he is…

It’s Dwight Howard’s dad. Because of course it is.

The good news here is that the NBA Playoffs are upon us already and we only have to wait one more obligatory round before the Heat are issued their second consecutive championship. Not saying they don’t deserve it, just that skipping the final series and giving them their rings up front would save time.

The Heat are amazing, but what else is there to say about them. Until they win their championship, Howard is going to continue to dominate the headlines. His asinine tweets will be front page news. Every generalization he makes about his future is going to analyzed and reanalyzed and then straight up overanalyzed.

If that doesn’t sound like hell on earth, what does?

And about the recent reports that Howard is considering signing with the Houston Rockets, rather than the Lakers? That actually sounds about right. He’ll be under the radar, nationally, and absolutely beloved by the hometown fans. It’s biggish market, but not too big.

Some out there are calling it crazy, insisting he’d never walk away from the tradition and the history of the storied Los Angeles Lakers. Or that he’ll stay because that’s where he can make the most money. The only crazy people out there are the ones that think Howard knows much about or cares much for the franchise.

Look! It's yellow! I love yellow.

Look! It’s yellow! I love yellow. Where am I again?

Howard is, to be frank, not the brightest bulb. He tells “your mom” jokes to opposing fans. It takes him a very long time to catch onto very simplistic wordplay and then brags about his ignorance on Twitter. Sure he wants to get paid, but he’ll get paid if he signs with the Rockets too.

We’re not talking nickels and dimes here, folks. Howard would surely take a little less money to play in a place where everyone doesn’t hate his face. The financial intricacies of his contract will be handled by someone with basic math and english comprehension skills. Probably his dad.

So the Heat really need to finish off the finals in 4, because we need to get this show on the road. If Howard wants to play for the Rockets, shut up and let him play for the Rockets. Let him play for anyone he damn well pleases.

Just please make a decision quickly, Dwight, because we’re all sick of looking at you. We’re sick of hearing you. We’re sick of you being sick of things. Just sign a contract. Shut your mouth. And go play basketball for awhile.

You used to be good at that a few years ago—right?

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