Dusty’s Blog: In defense of Dwight Howard

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So I listened to the most recent Stunt Granny Sports Audio, as you all should. If you haven’t yet, scroll down a few posts and do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Okay, good. Now, I have liked Eric2 since day one, and not just because he sounds exactly like Mike Ryan. I have always seen him to be smart and his arguments steeped in reasoning and logic.

But his rant on Dwight Howard in this most recent audio sent me through the roof and I feel like it demands a rebuttal. Eric2 must have recorded this audio from Mars or something, because he was out of this world with his opinions here. So off on my soapbox I go.

So often, people fall into the trap of labeling a player a “loser” just because they haven’t won a championship. It takes no foresight to say a player is a loser. He is a loser all the way up until he wins a championship, and then all of a sudden he’s a winner. Well, of course, common sense would indicate that there is a lot more nuance to it than that.

LeBron James is the perfect example. People were banging the drum for years that he was a loser, that he would never be able to carry a team to a championship, he was soft, he had no low post game, etc etc. One by one he checked off all the boxes and has proven what I, and many other people who don’t have their heads buried in the sand, have known for a long time: he’s the best player to ever play the game. Even better than that Jordan guy, absolutely.

The only reason why Derrick Rose won that MVP award a couple seasons back is because he was the second best guy in the league. The voters didn’t want to acknowledge LeBron existed, so Rose was left holding the bag, no matter how flimsy a case he may have had. No matter how dominant LeBron was over him in their match-ups. LeBron was a loser, he had no post up game, he couldn’t win a championship on his own, and they just plain didn’t like him.

Of course, since then, he has carried the Heat to two straight championships, with Bosh and Wade taking a back seat to his leadership, he’s developed a low post game to make himself even more dominant as an inside-outside threat, and the critics have all shut their big fat yaps, because there’s really nothing negative to bring up about the guy right now other than his receding hairline.

And so the No Vision Brigade turns its brain dead attention to Dwight Howard. Reality is that he might be the second best player in the league right now, behind only LeBron. That absolutely does not matter to the No Cluers, he’s a loser to them, and will continue to be one all the way up until he wins a championship.

Which he absolutely will do in Houston, provided a couple things happen. For one, the Heat’s Big Three (and it is a big Three, don’t try to pretend to me that Bosh isn’t a top 15 player in the NBA) will have to break up after this next season. (A season in which they will win their third straight NBA championship, and that big loser LeBron will win another MVP award.) There is no way Mickey Arison is going to want to eat that much money again in luxury tax hits. At least one of them is going to be leaving. (And it’s a column for another time, but there is no way LeBron is going back to Cleveland. Or anywhere other than Miami. It will be Bosh or Wade who leave.)  The Heat doing a mini breakup will level the playing field for the other top contenders, and open the door to a team such as the Rockets possibly winning the championship two years from now.

For another thing, the pieces don’t quite fit yet. The Rockets are paying a lot of money to the center position, having invested in Omer Asik last offseason and now Howard this offseason. Asik is either going to have to agree to play power forward and stay out of Howard’s way in the low block or, more likely, he’ll have to be traded, and then a lot of it depends on what they can get in return for him. Assuming they make the right trade, the pieces they get back could prove to be the difference in putting the team over the top in the loaded Western Division.

So those will be the reasons why the Rockets don’t win the championship next year, and they have absolutely nothing to do with Howard himself. Howard will be great and dominant and do everything he possibly can to help the team win. You have to have blinders on not to realize that it was a terrible situation for him in Los Angeles last year. For one thing, he had the audacity not to kowtow to Kobe Bryant and his massive ego. I think Eric fell into the trap of alpha dog worship, not realizing that Kobe is just an asshole who refuses to do what’s best for his team.

For another thing, the pieces didn’t fit. This is the main reason why the Heat didn’t beat the Mavericks three years ago in the NBA finals. They needed a year to put the pieces together. It took time to gel and figure out how everything was going to work. That was not going to be the case in LA because Kobe wouldn’t let it happen. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system was completely wrong for the players he inherited. His system only called for one low post guy at a time, forcing Pau Gasol to play out of position, thus negating the maximum potential he could contribute to the team. (By the way, notice it was Gasol, no slouch in his own right, who kowtowed to Howard in the low block. Perhaps the worst part of Eric’s wrongheaded rant was saying that Howard is nothing special down low. Obviously that’s not the case, and nothing more deserves to be said on that matter.)

Everyone forgets that Howard lead the Magic to the NBA finals a few years back, taking a team on his back whose next best player was the five pack a day Hedo Turkoglu. The fact that he was carrying them and simply ran into a superior Lakers team is totally irrelevant to the critics. He’s still a loser.

I think the underlying problem with Howard is that he’s different than Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He’s not an alpha dog asshole. He’s more nuanced and thoughtful than that. He’s a different kind of guy who responds differently to challenges and criticisms. Two things were at play with the injury concerns last season. One is that Kobe’s small penis syndrome shined through once more, all “look at me, I’m playing through pain.” In combination with that was some old Michael Jordan patented embellishment. He was nowhere near as hurt as Howard was during the season.

Howard is the perfect example of what I have been saying for years about the modern athlete. The modern athlete is not going to respond to coaching in the same way a player from the 70s or whatever would have. I am almost all the way over on the “coaching doesn’t matter” side of the fence. Really, what is Coach Spo going to tell LeBron in the huddle that he needs to hear? “Make the basket”? There is nothing Spo can tell LeBron that would motivate him or encourage him any more than he has already done for himself.  Also, the modern athlete doesn’t respond to lectures from overcompensating alpha dogs. “I can teach you how to win”? You know how Howard hears that? He laughs to himself. There is absolutely nothing Kobe has to teach Howard. Howard already knows full well how to win.

See, every NBA player was the best player on his team in high school. He was probably the best or second best player on his college team, depending on how much money his college threw around, uh, I mean how good of a recruiter his college coach was. Yeah, that’s it. (And if he went to Duke, he was the best white player in college.) My point is this. If you are among the best of the best, under the extrapolation that the NBA contains only the best players in the game and Howard is absolutely a top five guy, maybe top two, then there’s no way you can call him a loser, unless you’re either trolling me, or else you have your head buried in the sand.

The best parallel I can think of for Howard is Hakeem Olajuwon, which is entirely fitting since he chose to go to the same team that Olajuwon made his bones with. What I mean is this. Olajuwon was always a great player, but he had Michael Jordan blocking his path. When Jordan finally “retired” (again, a column for another time), all of a sudden Olajuwon won two championships. While LeBron isn’t going to retire any time soon, like I said above, his team is going to drop in quality slightly after this season, and that may open the door for Howard to swoop in and win multiple championships.

And then he won’t be a loser. But I will have already known that.

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