It’s time for Dwight Howard to make a decision.
Does he want to stay in Orlando, or does he want out? Does he want to be Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce, or does he want to be LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony? Does he want to be a white knight, or does he want to move over to the dark side?
Over the weekend, Howard appeared irreversibly headed to the dark side, where NBA superstars hold their teams hostage with early termination options or trade demands. Armed with both, Howard made clear to Magic ownership and management that he wanted to be traded.
Howard had been taking small steps toward the dark side all summer. In a series of interviews, he talked up players as potential teammates, fantasized about being an icon and took a shot at coach Stan Van Gundy. At the same time, however, he also left the door slightly ajar for remaining in Orlando.
But in a sullen 13-minute interview that showcased none of his gregarious personality, Howard appeared to permanently cross over to the dark side. He claimed he was prepared to handle the backlash from his demand, saying, “It’s something that I’m strong enough to handle and I want to continue to handle it the right way.”
In the same interview, Howard put the onus for his desire to leave squarely on the shoulders of GM Otis Smith and his inability to acquire players he wanted. He also took a shot at the fans, who had previously been off limits.
“They won’t understand it, period,” he said. “All they see is somebody leaving and they think that they’re sellouts or whatever. That’s how they want to see it.”
Over the course of those 13 minutes, Howard repeatedly reminded the gathered media that he is a player.
“My job is to get better on the court,” he said.
“My job is to play basketball.”
“My job is to be professional.”
“I’m not a GM. I never said I wanted to be.”
And in the same interview, he also said, “I want to win, and I want to be involved. It’s not me being cocky, or anything like that. But I do want to be involved with the organization. I’ve been here a long time. I don’t want to just sit around. … The stuff that I’ve asked for, the stuff that I felt that our team needed to get better, none of it has happened.”
Just wanna make sure I’ve got this right. Howard says at least four times that he is a ballplayer and not a GM, but takes his ball and goes home when he is not treated like a GM or his attempts at playing GM fall upon deaf ears.
Gimme a break.
Howard said that the players he had previously mentioned on Russian TV this summer – Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Monta Ellis, among others – were just the tip of the iceberg.
“There’s a lot of guys I mentioned,” he said. “It’s more than just this summer. It’s been the last couple of years.”
Does that mean Howard has been in Smith’s ear since Orlando’s trip to the 2009 Finals? You can say whatever you’d like about Smith’s wheeling and dealing over the last 30 months, but in that time he has either signed, retained or traded for Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat, Matt Barnes, Jason Williams, Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick, Malik Allen, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis.
Howard also said his relationship with Smith has dissolved to the point where they were not talking, even though Smith had said one day earlier, “We talk almost every day.” And to really twist the knife, Howard pointed to the champion Dallas Mavericks and appeared envious of the relationship Mark Cuban – who is the owner, not the GM – has with Nowitzki.
“The GM and the best player on the team have a great relationship,” he said. “I’m pretty sure 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 guys going to get better?”
But Nowitzki is a white knight who stayed committed to the cause in Dallas. There was a Finals failure in 2006 and three ensuing first-round playoff exits. He could have tapped out. Five years later – with just one remaining teammate – he was hoisting The Larry.
Perhaps Howard’s envy of Nowitzki’s relationship with his team’s hierarchy was just the opening new Magic CEO Alex Martins needed. He met Monday morning with his superstar and apparently reeled him back from the dark side.
“There’s no place I would rather be but here in Orlando,” Howard told reporters, pretty much the same group he had bickered with two days earlier. “And I just want to make sure that we have the right things here so we can win a championship. And I’m all about change. If you’re willing to change and you’re willing to do what it takes to win, then, you know, you’ve got me.”
Again, just wanna make sure I’ve got this right. Howard asks for a trade, starts burning bridges and gets fitted for a black hat, then suddenly has a change of heart and wants to be forgiven.
Again, gimme a break. Pro wrestlers change personalities less frequently.
Is Howard still on the block? Certainly. The Magic cannot risk getting nothing for Howard the way they did 15 years ago with Shaquille O’Neal. And don’t forget Martins got his start as a media relations director and may have given Howard a script to follow until a deal is done.
But Howard should not keep changing outfits to suit his current mood. Aside from selling newspapers, it serves no positive purpose to his team, from ownership to management to coaching staff to players to fans to community.
In or out? Idealist or icon? White knight or dark side?
Pick one and be that person, Dwight.
TRIVIA: Who is the Magic’s all-time leading scorer? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Metta World Peace is still a great quote. At the Lakers’ media day on Monday, Melissa Rohlin of the L.A. Times asked the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest why the rookies were calling him Metta and the veterans were calling him Ron. He responded: “Well, I’m just happy that Jesus Christ, um, did not let me lose my teeth when I was 20 years old. ‘Cause I was wondering, like, what if you kept your baby teeth until the age of 18 or 20, and then you lose ‘em? That would look pretty bad. So I just think he’s really brilliant that you lose your teeth when you’re a baby rather than you lose them when you’re, like, 30 or 20. That has nothing to do with your question, but that was definitely on my mind.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Milwaukee Bucks swingman Stephen Jackson, asked on media day about the postseason run by the champion Dallas Mavericks:
“Who won the championship again? I didn’t even watch the playoffs. Dallas sucks to me.”
GAME OF THE WEEK: LA Clippers at LA Lakers, Dec. 19: The only teams that don’t have to get on a bus or a plane for the abbreviated exhibition season have plenty swirling around them.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Detroit at Cleveland, Dec. 20: The Dan Gilbert Classic, as the native of “The D” also owns the Cavs. These are two of the three teams limited to one national TV game this season. If you can find a way to watch this, you’ll know why. …
You may be wondering what is going on in Dallas, where management seems intent on dismantling a title team as quickly and coldly as possible. However, there is a method to the Mavness.
The defending champions believe they can again contend for a title this season while setting up themselves for what should be a robust free agent market in the summer.
Are the Mavericks rolling the dice? Of course they are, especially if Dwight Howard is traded to New Jersey and hooks up long-term with Deron Williams, a Dallas native and the likely target of GM Donnie Nelson. But there are plenty of Plan B options, facilitated by solid salary cap management.
Yes, defensive anchor Tyson Chandler and pick-and-roll expert J.J. Barea will be missed. Neither player bit on the exorbitant one-year deals they were offered and opted for long-term contracts in New York and Minnesota, respectively.
Despite his solid all-around game, forward Caron Butler will not be missed. Dallas’ postseason run came with Butler behind the bench in a suit, chewing on his trademark straws.
Stepping in will be Lamar Odom, whose 2012-13 salary of $9 million has a $2 million buyout; Vince Carter, who signed a three-year deal that has only partial guarantees beyond this season; and combo guard Delonte West, who signed a one-year deal.
The moves put pressure on big men Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi, whose roles are now more pronounced, and speedy guard Roddy Beaubois, who is healthy but has to stay that way. But the bench now includes two Sixth Man winners in Odom and Jason Terry.
“The deepest team that can stay healthy and stay together is going to be the team that’s going to have the best chance of coming out of the West,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters.
In fact, the Mavs felt so good about their bench that they cleared $5.2 million more off their books by sending Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer to Denver for a 2016 second-round pick. Memo to Andrew Bernucca and other ninth-grade ballers: That pick could be you.
”It really gives us the ability to add players that could help us this year, as well as create room for next year,” Nelson told reporters. “Flexibility is key with the new world order.”
Whether this season ends with another lifting of The Larry, a first-round flameout or something in between, the Mavs will be a huge player in the summer’s free agent market, which could be topped by Williams, Howard and Chris Paul.
Kidd and Terry are in the final year of their deals totaling $19.2 million. Haywood, retained this season, could be an amnesty cut next summer, clearing his clumsy contract. And if more room is needed to snare Williams or Howard, 30-somethings Odom and Carter can be bought out.
Unless Howard lands with the Nets, Williams should be highly available. And even if the friends decide to take a Batman-and-Robin act to Brooklyn, the market still could include unrestricted free agents Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Gerald Wallace (opt-out), Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson (opt-out) and Raymond Felton.
The restricted free agent market is just as deep, with Danilo Gallinari, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Landry Fields, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee.
A year ago, the Mavs were starting Nowitzki, Butler, Chandler, Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson, with Shawn Marion, Terry, Barea and Haywood off the bench. When they take the court on Christmas, they will be starting Nowitzki, Marion, Haywood, Kidd and Carter, with Terry, Odom, Mahinmi, West and Beaubois off the bench.
With so many other teams in flux, it would be silly to dismiss Dallas.
TWO MINUTES: We said this before and we’ll say it again. Chicago’s signing of Richard Hamilton is clearly a needed upgrade at shooting guard. But at some point, he will have to guard Dwyane Wade in crunch time of a playoff game. Good luck. … Thus far, five players have been released through the amnesty provision. Orlando’s Gilbert Arenas (3 years, $62 million), Cleveland’s Baron Davis (2 years, $28.6 million) and Indiana’s James Posey (1 year, $7.5 million) were somewhat expected. New York’s Chauncey Billups was somewhat of a surprise – especially to Billups, a former Finals MVP who wasn’t happy about being thrown onto the open market, despite his guaranteed $14.2 million for this season. “There’s not another guy in history who keeps dealing with this, getting thrown into these things to make the money right,” Billups told Yahoo Sports. “I really believe it’s because people take my kindness and professionalism for weakness.” Billups was claimed by the Clippers, where most of his minutes may come off the ball now that Chris Paul has landed there – another potential one of “these things.” The other player released through amnesty was Golden State’s Charlie Bell, who had one year and a mere $4.1 million left on his contract. Yes, the Warriors are trying to make a play for a legitimate center and need the cap room. That seemed to make pseudo-centers David Lee (5 years, $68.5 million) or Andris Biedrins (3 years, $27 million) more obvious candidates until you factor in Bell’s recent troubles. Bell had DUI arrests in February and October sandwiching an incident in May in which his estranged wife – a former beauty queen – allegedly stabbed him with a box cutter. Last Thursday – one day before the opening of training camp – Bell arrived in court for a hearing on his latest DUI. He blew a .09 into a breathalyzer while in court for an assessment and was thrown into a holding cell until he sobered up. … Our favorite under-the-radar signing thus far has been the Hawks snaring Tracy McGrady on a one-year deal. While he is not nearly as explosive as Jamal Crawford, he is a more willing passer, and his 6-9 frame will allow Atlanta to continue to switch pick-and-rolls on the defensive end. Our least favorite signing has been the Warriors giving $7 million to Kwame Brown, who often looked like he was a step behind in half-court sets. It’s hard to imagine him keeping up with Golden State’s gunners. … While we don’t excuse the NBA’s decision to scuttle the original Chris Paul deal that three GMs agreed upon, it should be noted that the league-owned Hornets were valued by Forbes at $280 million — less than they were a year ago. Only Indiana, Memphis, Minnesota and Milwaukee were worth less. If Paul had left via free agency, New Orleans would have entered the summer with a payroll below $28 million, nearly half of it committed to Emeka Okafor ($13.5 million). Had the trade been approved, the Hornets would be carrying Okafor’s contract ($28 million for two seasons) along with the deals of Kevin Martin ($12.4 million in 2012-13) and Luis Scola ($19.6 million for two seasons). Coupled with attendance in steady decline since 2009, that trade would have made the Hornets much less attractive in the long term to a prospective buyer.
Trivia Answer: Nick Anderson. … Happy 44th Birthday, Keith Askins. … Apparently, Mikhail Prokhorov plans to be either an absentee owner or an absentee president.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His column appears every Thursday. You can follow him on Twitter.