Dwight Howard has had his trouble with the referees this year. Otis Smith hopes some tough love will fix that. Photo via Flickr/Photoree
Otis Smith sent in a routine appeal early Thursday most likely asking Stu Jackson and the commissioner's office for leniency on Dwight Howard's suspension and Quentin Richardson's two-game suspension for his altercation with Gerald Henderson on Wednesday. But it is becoming clear he feels, at least in Dwight's case, the suspension was deserved.
"He has to stop --- that's what it comes down to," Smith told Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. "He's got to be a bigger person. There's nobody out to get him. He has to take some ownership."
Howard has become a complete player, expanding his offensive game and stepping into the shoes of a superstar -- his career-high 23.1 points per game, 26.1 PER and 27.2 percent usage rate. This evolution has propelled Dwight Howard firmly into the MVP debate as he has turned in his best individual season. Any doubt that he is an elite player has been erased.
Still, Howard has lots to improve upon this summer -- from passing out of double teams to strengthening his lower body. But nothing may need more improvement than his demeanor and attitude on the court.
Howard is not the type of "thug" who would usually lead the league in technical fouls. And that is what makes this whole suspension situation so puzzling really. Howard is not the type of guy who could easily get on your bad side.
And so the next evolution in his game is going to be internalizing the frustration from the inconsistent officiating and directing it toward his game rather than at officials. Unfair or not, he is targeted by the referees. Part of this, I believe, is because of his constant complaining. His reputation precedes him and it is hurting him. He does not help himself, despite his justified frustrations, in continuing to complain.
Learning how to reign himself in is going to be a long and arduous process. Howard is right in saying he does not want to change who he is too much. And he is a player who is emotional and draws his energy from his emotions. As he matures as a player, he is going to have to find a way to do this or else he is always going to be a target.
The first step might be this tough love from Otis Smith. Smith told Schmitz he is tired of his team's constant complaining about the officials, the league and what-not. That goes for everyone, including Stan Van Gundy.
Smith is right in trying to change the culture of victimization in Orlando. And that has to start at the top with his best player and coach.
There may not be much Orlando can do this year. But one thing is for sure with Orlando concerning the referees, especially with Dwight Howard. The referees are not going to change. That means the Magic must be the initiators if they want the referees to change their attitude toward them.