Players looking for the template of how not to leave their first team of course look to LeBron James‘ production of “The Decision” of 2010. It was nationally televised, egregiously self-contratulatory and mocked until LeBron and Co. won the NBA title in June. However, has it found its match in Dwight Howard? Both were No. 1 picks who felt or feel as if their first team is not a big enough stage to shine on or win titles at. We don’t want to rush to judgment on Howard’s my-way-or-I’ll-get-you-fired strategy, but we don’t think we’re being myopic when we say it’s set a precedent for tension. It’s going on a year since he hinted he wanted out. Now it’s a full-blown command: Trade me. So we put it up for debate: Who’s handling of their exit was worse?
In the NBA, it’s going to be a big deal any time one of the league’s biggest superstars could possibly change teams. How that player handles the transition is really important to his image and overall likeability. There’s no question that after LeBron James made his “Decision” both his image and overall likeability went south. But in LeBron’s defense, when you compare it to the way Dwight Howard handled his situation in Orlando this past season, “The Decision” wasn’t as bad as it looked after all.
LeBron drew an immense amount of criticism. Journalists all over the globe were in a frenzy blasting him for his unprofessionalism. Many felt that the one-hour special all about LeBron was uncalled for and extremely prolonged. Fans felt betrayed, and hometown Clevelanders felt disrespected.
However, in LeBron’s defense, this isn’t any other free agent we’re talking about here. James may have been the highest coveted free agent the game has ever seen, especially at that juncture in his career. His PR people knew that, so they handled it accordingly. “The Decision” raised $2.5 million for that charity, and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue.
For any player of that caliber, free agency is always the best way to switch teams. Rather than disrupting the flow of an entire franchise and becoming the center of attention in the midst of a season, why not choose to commit 100 percent and deal with it all after the season is over, especially if you’re a contender? Howard and the Magic had made it to the NBA Finals before, there’s no reason he had to quit on them early like he did.
LeBron was also criticized for not communicating with his team and letting them know his decision before hand. Well frankly, he didn’t owe the Cleveland organization anything. He had grown to resent the organization for several reasons. After “the Decision” those reasons became clear. Owner Dan Gilbert would prove how unprofessional and classless of an owner he was with the statement he made after “The Decision.” And judging by Lebron’s team of choice, you could tell he was tired of doing it all by himself, he wanted some legitimate help. Help that the organization was unable to get him. So why would he want to give them any sort of an advanced notice? So Gilbert could be the one to leak the info to the world prematurely? Looking back on the it, LeBron handled it the only way he could have. No other free agent has ever been important enough to have a one-hour special to raise $6 million dollars for charity. Yes it was a different way of doing things, but for a player of LeBron James’ caliber, you couldn’t imagine a typical anti-climactic conclusion.
The Howard dilemma in Orlando this past season has been much worse. First of all, James’ decision really only affected himself. Howard’s immaturity handling his situation poorly affected his teammates and his coach during the season. Before becoming a free agent, James was 100 percent committed playing out the season. He wasn’t entertaining trade offers, his teammates were sure he was going to finish out the season as a Cavalier.
Howard on the other hand was so indecisive. He put his team through such turmoil by being halfway committed. His teammates knew he wanted out, and his coach knew Dwight wanted him fired, despite how much he tried to deny it. He disrupted the focus of his entire team, and single handedly dismantled any chances they had of being a contender. Not to mention he was playing mind games and finger pointing with the media, blaming other people for his actions. In an effort to keep Dwight on board, the Orlando management promised him anything he desired, including firing coach Stan Van Gundy. Well eventually, after Howard decided to remain in Orlando for another season, coach Van Gundy would get fired. But Dwight would continue to deflect the responsibility, and place the blame on the media. Now, he reportedly is demanding to be traded all over again, and has put Orlando in a difficult predicament by immaturely prolonging the situation.
After Miami has won their first championship together, and Dan Gilbert was made a fool out of for claiming Cleveland would somehow win a championship before LeBron, people have started to like him again. Although his decision wasn’t exactly the easiest transition, LeBron always dealt with the consequences and accepted full responsibility for his actions. Dwight Howard has always placed the blame upon somebody else, and as a result put his franchise through sheer misery, while they were on the brink of success. There’s no question that LeBron handled leaving Cleveland better than Dwight has handled his situation in Orlando.
Only one summer removed from one of the NBA’s biggest black eyes, the lockout is finally and thankfully overshadowed by this summer’s free agency.
And maybe even more ironically, it was one summer prior that drew us to our television on a cool summer night to witness one of the most controversial public announcements in all of sports. It was the Akron kid opening the floodgates to a whole lot of hate, only to be partially extinguished by this year’s NBA Finals. But then again, partial forgiveness is progress.
Despite the controversy, LeBron James showed no indecisiveness when choosing the Miami Heat over a plethora of other teams. It was crisp and to the point. Sure, he torched an entire city that built skyscrapers in his name. And sure, it may have taken an hour in total, but we are beyond that last chapter and into the ongoing “Dwightmare.” Hell, we’re past the epilogue at this point. It’s starting to feel like that six-overtime Syracuse game.
What has become satirical about Dwight Howard’s situation is his supposedly thought-out effort to avoid the villain label and his attempt to not be the next LeBron James.
His fans coined him “Superman” and he led them to the NBA Finals where the Magic registered its first finals victory in franchise history. Their collective success led to a contract extension for then coach Stan Van Gundy. After, they grabbed Hedo Turkoglu back and found their home at the new Amway Center. A 52-win season brought them to second place in the Southeast Division, only behind the newly formed Heatles. The Magic were ousted in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks and thus started the saga that is still throwing punches.
First it was a trade demand that landed Boston’s Glen Davis and Von Wafer in a sign-and-trade for Brandon Bass, seemingly putting the all-star center at ease. Despite their mediocre success leading up to the All-Star break, held in Orlando, Dwight Howard seemed content. He was at least content enough to sign his player option to stay for another year, which is rather reckless given his irrational decision-making.
But now, Howard’s demands are a direct reflection of his character, a player with no sympathy or logic. The ambivalent 26-year-old has managed to tear down an organization that has tried to build around him. A player who has taken out a head coach with a sound mind for the game and replaced him with, well, no one. And add a general manager to the list, another servant of Dwight who made progressive efforts to keep Orlando’s prince happy. But the hurt truly lies with the Magic faithful, who have been dragged through the mud and left out to dry.
And why Brooklyn, over teams that are unparalleled in terms of talent and history like Los Angeles or Chicago? Because he can finally reign supreme, simply put. Why would Dwight want to compete with Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose? That’d be completely asinine in Dwight’s mind. Deron Williams has already said he wouldn’t mind playing Kel to Keenan in Brooklyn with him. That’s an easy choice, even for a man who finds trouble making the most routine of decisions.
And what’s to say this ends with a trade or a change of location? It’s not like the Nets have been overly successful over the past couple years. Billy King would be taking a risk too. Dwight is that high-maintenance girlfriend your friends begged you to dump.
The “Dwightmare” will have the long-lasting effects we all thought “The Decision” would bring. An image that I doubt can be repaired, even if he were to stay in Orlando. Buckle up, and watch ESPN sparingly through these next several weeks.
â€” Frankie Anetzberger
Who was worse?
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