The Orlando Magic were knocked out of the NBA Finals race to the Atlanta Hawks last week, but the biggest worry for the Magic franchise is the status of their 5 time All-Star, 3 time Defensive Player of the Year and heart of their team, Dwight Howard. Taken at pick 1 in the 2005 NBA Draft, Howard’s contract is to expire in 2012 and he will be the biggest name of all Free Agents this or next season, Howard’s future at the Magic looks bleak.
Led by Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy, the ailing Magic have fallen short yet again, which leads to questions about the performances of superstar Dwight Howard, team structure, and their ability in Playoffs. The premier center of the league, Howard has stamped his authority on games through dominating the boards, blocks, steals and field goal percentage. However, falling short of winning a premiership ring in the 2008-09 season (where they lost 4-1 to L.A Lakers), the Magic have yet again been beaten, this time losing 4-2 to Atlanta Hawks.
A displeased franchise player is a recipe for disaster; just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers lost their superstar LeBron James to ‘South Beach’ even after surrounding him with S. O’Neale, A. Jameison, A. Parker, and M. Williams. The Lakers almost lost Kobe Bryant before they brought back D. Fisher and traded for P. Gasol. And the Boston Celtics drastically altered their roster to support Paul Pierce by bringing in K. Garnett and R. Allen. The problem that has arisen at Orlando is that they have failed to structure a good enough roster and style of play that is successful in Playoffs, even though they have traded for players like Brandon Bass, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, and brought back Hedo Turkoglu. I think Howard is destined to leave the Magic franchise behind him, but will his new team be satisfied with what he has to offer?
Whilst accumulating rebounds and points, Howard has patches of brilliance at both ends of the court getting huge rejections and massive dunks, but does that make him a superstar? Whilst Howard averaged 27 points and 15.5 rebounds against the Hawks it was evident that he was not their go to man, nor was he the man they went to when others weren’t on top of their game. Too many times we saw Jameer Nelson or Turkoglu take bail out 3 point shots, too many times has Howard sat on the bench in the fourth for foul trouble, and too many times have the Magic not had the confidence in Howard to give them a basket when is most needed. Don’t get me wrong, Howard is a dominating force, but in the 2008-09 season it was Turkoglu that got the Magic past Cleveland and Boston, and this season against the Hawks it was Nelson was took control in the fourth and was their go to man.
Howard needs to become more of a clutch player and a more potent weapon in fourth quarters, he needs to be able to keep a team in a game when his teammates aren’t playing well, and he needs to take his game to a higher level in the Playoffs. When the Magic perimeter players weren’t nailing their 3point shots, which is such a big part of their game play, they need to go down low into the post for Dwight. Howard’s attitude in close games when they were losing was not superstar quality, it wasn’t team leading, but it was contagious. Whether Dwight stays at Orlando or not, to be successful, he will need a stronger Playoff performance and a complete new attitude when the game gets tough.
For me watching Howard in the Atlanta series, reminded me of watching LeBron against the Magic in 2009-10 series. LeBron became so frustrated with his teammates and their lack of help that he gave up. I was so disappointed in LeBron that series, and I felt the exact same about Dwight last week. If Dwight is to leave the Magic, he needs to let them know as quickly as possible to avoid anything similar to what LeBron did with Cleveland. Sources in the NBA are talking of a trade between Orlando and L.A Lakers, where Howard and Andrew Bynum would literally swap teams. With the likes of Deron Williams and Chris Paul on the market this off-season there is plenty of chances that Howard could team up with one of them at New Jersey.
I see a contrast between two superstar big men, Howard and Shaquille O’Neale. Both are dominating forces on and off the court, both number one picks, both drafted by the Orlando Magic, and both will leave Orlando as soon as they become a Free Agent. Dwight Howard has given his heart and soul to the Magic organization, but it is time to move on, it is time to grow up, and it is time to dominate the NBA Playoffs just like he does the NBA regular season. I want to see that and see him become successful, and I bet you do too.