By his own fault or someone else’s, the last two years haven’t done a world of good to Dwight Howard in terms of his perception among the common man and NBA fans. His most recent comments, suggesting his number with the Orlando Magic should have been retired, once again pulls the focus away from his basketball talents to his slightly fragile ego, and how that might be a problem for the Houston Rockets down the line.
In an interview with the Orlando-Sentinel, Howard implied he’s disappointed with the Magic not retiring his number and allowing Tobias Harris to wear it next season. What Howard probably didn’t know is that Harris requested to wear that jersey for more than simply egotistical reasons: He wears No. 12 as a tribute to a close friend who died from leukemia as a teenager.
There’s a chance Howard isn’t feeling like the greatest guy in the world after such a comment, but even if there was no tragic story behind Harris’ request, Howard has no right expecting a franchise he didn’t leave on the best of terms exclude his number from being used. He did make the NBA finals with them and they enjoyed their most successful period since the Shaq-Penny days, but retired jerseys should be about more than success. It’s about loyalty to a franchise, and a connection to the community. The way Howard left, having people fired left and right, leaving the Magic as the worst team in the NBA, doesn’t really make a great case for some unbreakable bond.
Howard is in rebuild mode, sort of. His numbers weren’t that bad with the Los Angeles Lakers last season – He averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. However, the general feeling of how he performed for the Lakers as they barely made the playoffs and got swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs was far less than positive.
Even if it had something to do with the Southern California media spin machine working in favor of Kobe Bryant, Howard knows he wasn’t the guy the Lakers needed him to be last season. He played injured, even if it looked like he’s trying to miss some games in order to heal. He wanted to take over, but didn’t want the bloody battle it involved by taking out the claws. He asked for the team to amnesty Bryant and fire Mike D’Antoni. This didn’t stop the Lakers from trying to re-sign him, but Howard made up his mind about going elsewhere, to a better team with a more promising future, the moment his demands weren’t met.
His recent comments shed a new, doubtful light on his prospects with the Houston Rockets. If Howard actually cares so much about his jersey number, we might be in for something of an ego battle with James Harden, who was the best player for the Rockets last season, and won’t mind staying their number one guy a while longer. If Howard feels he’s not getting the respect he thinks he deserves, it might not be such a quiet year of improvement in Houston.