Dwight Howard calls out teammates, trade talks heat up

For the past four years, the Orlando Magic were considered one of the NBA’s elite teams all thanks to one man: Dwight Howard.

However, for those same four years, the Magic failed to take their team over the hump, consistently falling short of the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.

The closest the team got to winning was in the 2009 NBA Playoffs, when the No. 3 overall seed in the Eastern Conference faced the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Magic was unable to stop Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, losing the series 4–1.

After the team’s multiple postseason misfires, all-star center and franchise player Dwight Howard clamored to the team’s front office for help.

Not much has changed.

Prior to the start of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Howard made it known to almost the entire world he was entertaining trade ideas from other teams. Trade talks heated to the point where a “Dwight Howard to the New Jersey Nets” storyline seemed like a done deal.

For a Magic team that appeared so close to becoming a perennial powerhouse in the Eastern Conference behind the strength of Howard, the team’s starting center’s uncertainty was disconcerting.

The Magic’s front office brass made it clear to Howard they wanted him to stay in Orlando, but why wouldn’t they?

Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, a five-time NBA All-Star and one of the most exciting young players in the league.

It’s not often that a player with as much charisma and talent as Howard comes around. In today’s superstar-driven league, a player willing to stick around for so long and wait for his team to bring in an adequate supporting cast is even more rare.

Still, there is a point when a humble, fun-loving person like Howard must say enough is enough. He is finally realizing it.

After the Magic were embarrassed in a 93–67 loss to an injury-ravaged New Orleans Hornets squad, Howard called out his teammates in a post-game interview with ESPN.

“It hurts to get out there and you play your hardest and you expect everybody to play the same way, and I’m not calling anybody out by no means because we all have to get better … but if you don’t want to be out there, don’t dress up,” Howard said. “If you don’t want to play, stay home. People work too hard. I want to win a championship. I work too hard every night for anybody to not want to go out there and play hard.”

It’s also not surprising that in the wake of the team’s struggles, trade talks have surfaced again. Before the season started, the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks were some of the teams on Howard’s wish list.

Now, with the team reeling and nearly a third of the season in the books, his list expanded to include the Los Angeles Clippers and the Chicago Bulls.

[Video: Ric Bucher explains Dwight Howard's situation in Orlando]

None of these teams are surprising options, as all of them feature the level of talent Howard demanded from the Magic. The Lakers are struggling this season, but Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant, and Gasol is an upgrade over any of Howard’s teammates in Orlando.

The Nets, who remain at the top of Howard’s list, have star point guard Deron Williams, plan on moving to a new Brooklyn arena, and are owned by a billionaire not shy about showing his wealth.

Things are reaching a breaking point in Orlando, but it will take more than a few losses to send the mild-mannered Howard over the edge — and will take even more for general manager Otis Smith to let him go.

However, while losing Howard mid-season would be disastrous for the Magic, losing him to a free agency this offseason would be even worse.

Howard is owed upwards of $17 million this season and has a player option of $19.2 million for next season, but cutting ties with a franchise that hasn’t catered to the star’s requests might be worth it.

The Magic better figure out what their long-term plans are before Howard’s discontent reaches an irreconcilable level.

Regardless of where he ends up, Dwight Howard will do just fine. The Orlando Magic, however, will not.

 

Reach the columnist at tpaxton@asu.edu

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