What are we doing here? Dwight Howard, the teams so shamelessly wooing him, the fans eagerly anticipating news of where he will play for the next four or five years – what the hell are we doing here?
This isn’t “The Decision.” That was LeBron James, the single most attractive free agent in the history of American sports, deciding where he would spend the prime years of his career. It was a moment we knew would alter the balance of power in the NBA, and it proved to be one of the most important moments in the history of sports. It was a milestone for sports, business and media, a sign of where every relevant entity in sports had come, and a point from which just about everything else would pivot.
This...this isn’t that. But, while Howard’s landing isn’t as important to the future of the NBA as James’ destination was, it’s even more fascinating. Ultimately, James made the best basketball decision. With the aid of hindsight and without swirling reports on every little thing that happened between July 1 and July 8, 2010, it should have been obvious he’d go to the team with the stable front office, legendary team president, fellow superstar, the best free agent power forward...that plays in Miami. There were five pretty good options, and LeBron took the best one. It made for an awkward and, literally, incendiary television show, but you can’t say it didn’t make sense.
Who thinks what Howard will do will make sense?
Who thinks “making sense” is at the top of Howard’s list of criteria in choosing a team?
Why, again, are so many teams willing to lay their hopes and dreams at the mercy of someone so nonsensical?
Who has any idea what in Hades Dwight Howard will do?
These are the questions that make the Dwightmare so compelling. Since 2011, when it became clear Howard didn’t have long to go in Orlando – before it seemed like he might stay, but after he said he wanted to go – any speculation about his future has been clouded by contradictions. Is he the worst good idea ever? The best option with a good chance to end in disaster? He’s a franchise talent with an untrustworthy temperament. He’s the best defensive player in the NBA (when he wants to be), but he yearns to be the focal point of an offense. His relative youth, at 27 years old, is offset by the fact that he’s too old to act the way he does. And, at 27, it’s safe to question whether he’ll ever grow up, ever get the fact that no one’s laughed with him since he threw his arm around a man who told the world he was a liar.
Yet and still, Howard’s reduced the Lakers, the NBA’s marquee franchise, tobasketball simpery, even though many would rather not deal with him. Many have concluded he can play in Houston without pressure; a conclusion reached by people who ignore the city’s bottom-line orientation. Teams are offering him TV shows, despite the fact that the last thing Howard will need is attention and more hype he must live up to. The Mavericks have just six players under contract, saving cap space for Howard, but not nearly enough to contend in the Western Conference. And the Warriors...well, they’ve got to try, right?
And that seems to be why we’re all here for Dwight. Every team with the wherewithal to sign the only franchise-caliber big man in the NBA must try. And after being invested in every twist and turn, after thinking there was no way Howard – or anyone else – would voluntarily leave the Lakers, everyone else is still hanging on to this story. We still have no idea how it will end.
Obviously, neither does Dwight. Nor should he.
The faith that history has earned the Lakers, that they’ll always make a move to keep them in contention, has been dampened by their new owner and 2011 collective bargaining agreement. As hard as it is to imagine someone could count on Howard, there’s less reason to count on Jim Buss. With Howard, the Rockets would have two stars and no leaders. And as miserable as Dwight seemed to be in Los Angeles, he didn’t see much happier in Orlando when he chose to return for the 2012-13 season...before he decided he didn’t want to do that anymore.
Don’t be so sure that Howard – the man-child who so yearns to please others – will somehow be able to handle the prevailing sentiment that he can’t handle the pressure of L.A.’s bright lights and bolt the team so many dream of playing for? Is he tough enough to admit to Kobe Bryant that he’s not tough enough? He couldn’t even do that when he tore his labrum, but he’s going to pass up guaranteed money so the world can call him a coward?
Nothing about Howard makes sense, and he’s dragged everyone else down to that level.
It is, in every way, the opposite of “The Decision.” The “In-Decision,” maybe. It’s all riveting, but only because it’s so silly.
And it will end with the hardest thing, at this point, to imagine: Dwight Howard, without the option of turning back, telling the world what he wants. If we’ve learned anything, there’s no telling what that is.