On Monday, Dwight Howard's comments in an interview with Esquire Magazine began making the rounds. It sent Magic fans into a tizzy as they tried to figure out why Howard would straddle the line and say you can do more in a big market and he does not know how much more he can do in Orlando. Those are the words of someone who has not made a decision yet. And, seeing as Howard did not sign the extension Otis Smith allegedly offered (that fact is up for dispute, for some reason), he has not made up his mind.
We will not really know what Dwight thinks about his future until the lockout ends, he gets a chance to see the new collective bargaining agreement and he can sign the extension or not. Even then, I doubt he signs and takes away all his leverage.
DWIGHT HOWARD IS GOING TO BECOME A FREE AGENT IN 2012. Sorry, we are going to have to go through this whole will-he, won't-he season (lockout pending).
That has been the story all summer, all year and pretty much every time Howard has answered questions regarding his upcoming free agency. Nothing has changed. And Howard's interview with Esquire said little more than what Howard has said in the past.
Seriously take a look at the similarity in his statements:
From May: "I want to start my own path and I want people to follow my path and not just follow somebody else's path. I want to have my own path, and I want to start that here in Orlando. But I can't do it alone. Not only do I need the right teammates, but I need the city behind me. That's the only way it's going to get done. We can change this small city that we have — this small market that we have — and we can make it a big market."
From the Esquire interview: "[On becoming a brand:] To represent Christ and also myself. For people to look up to me, and remember me, like Magic Johnson, like Muhammad Ali. Stuff that I dream about — going overseas, having people run after me and want to take pictures, stuff like that. I always dreamed about that. It's cool that I actually see all this stuff starting to happen in front of me."
Clearly this has been a big part of Dwight Howard's off-court mission. You get the sense from listening to him talk that he wants the same level of respect reverential treatment that other superstars get. He truly enjoys life and wants the opportunity to be in movies and be in commercials and enjoy being a celebrity. As Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel points out, he is just 25 and has the whole world in front of him. It makes sense for him to go out and look to see where he can best achieve his goals -- both to win a championship and become a global icon.
We all know that it won't be easy to do this in Orlando. Still, Howard has gone out of his way to say he wants to stay in Orlando and build something in Central Florida. Still, you cannot blame him for looking at the bright lights of a bigger city.
From the Esquire interview: "[On the drive to become an icon:] There's more you can do in a bigger place. I'm stuck in a tough position because I feel like right now, where I'm at, I've done so much. And I just don't know what else I can do. I can't live for everybody else. I don't know what decision I'm gonna make as of right now. It's been crazy. Everybody wants me to come here, come play here, come to our team, do this. It's a great feeling, though, to be wanted."
From his Memorial Day bar-b-que: "I want to be here in Orlando. But we need all y'all to be behind our team. We need the city behind us. They always say we're a small market team or a small city, but that's OK because we've got great people here. If we come together, we can make everything we want in Orlando happen. But we need all of you guys to do that."
I will also note from that post that Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM brought up a really good point about challenging the Magic to use Dwight Howard to turn Orlando into Howard's city and make him the symbol for Orlando and make Orlando a Magic town rather than a Disney town. Again, major marketing blitzes are something Howard might get in a bigger market.
Howard has not changed his position much. You have to remember a few things when thinking about the Esquire interview. It was conducted in New York in a very conversational tone. All Howard is doing is answering Scott Raab, the reporter.
I really believe Howard wants everyone to like him after this. I think that is something that he feels is important. He is not going to leave us out to dry. But Howard has earned the right to explore his options. And he has said as much.
For the Magic really to entice Howard they have to build him a team that will win a championship. It is hard to say Orlando is close right now -- but anything is possible and Otis Smith has pulled out some crazy deals before (still waiting for that one to happen).
Howard wants an active role in the Magic's future and wants to be involved in the direction this franchise takes. He has been Stan Van Gundy's biggest supporter and one of his biggest critics.
From June: "I think Stan did a good job coaching this year. He has had us prepared for every game, for every playoff series that I've ever been in. . . . He has made sure that we were well-prepared. I like what he did. I don't think our coach used [Gilbert Arenas] the right way, but I think he can do a lot of great things for our team. He promised me this summer he was going to get better, physically and mentally, so he can come back and have an awesome year. I'm looking forward to that."
From Esquire: "Stan's a great guy away from basketball. He's passionate. He loves the game. I have no problem with him off the court. The only thing I had a real problem with was the way he coached. It was very tough with Stan, because he yelled a lot, and I don't want to be that guy to yell at my teammates along with my coach. Because they're going to turn it all off. I had to find different ways to motivate my team. Sometimes when you have so much negativity, it's really hard to be positive. I had a lot of negativity growing up, so I understand how to block the negativity out."
We have heard this before. Dwight has talked with Van Gundy about his negative approach with his players and using constructive criticism. There is no denying that Howard and Van Gundy have made a pretty good team.
Still Howard has ultimately one goal. And this was the point painfully missing in the Esquire interview. Dwight wants to win a championship. That is his ultimate goal on the court and this is the biggest thing that will not change. He can do all the icon stuff from anywhere.
He has a pull for Orlando. It is the place his career started and it is the place where he is absolutely loved. That much is clear. But he is going to go some place he can win a championship first and foremost.
From June: "I want to win a championship. I think the owners have to really know that. That's been my goal and my mission since I've been in the NBA -- to win a championship. I don't have side goals or agendas. My main goal is to win a championship. I want to have 14 other guys who feel the same way."
That is the simple truth. And nothing has changed.
Photos via DayLife.com.