When the calendar turns to July, the hand-wringing will start again. Only this time, it will not be the Magic's problem. It will be the Lakers'. And possibly the Hawks, Rockets, Mavericks and Warriors if the rumors are to be believed.
Free agency of mega stars have become an NBA sideshow -- if they were not such already -- since the two-year run up to and the eventual "Decision" of LeBron James. The media attention turned from one star player, James, to the next, Carmelo Anthony, to the next, Dwight Howard.
Howard did not handle that spotlight well and we know what happened. After a year fighting through injury, perception issues and seemingly every thing else in his life, Howard will enter free agency finally. He will finally make a decision finally.
The Magic could probably care less, but like the yo-yoing, back-and-forth of the 2012 season, the rest of the NBA world will.
Bill Simmons examined a lot of the potential risks facing the teams courting Howard and came to a perhaps sobering resolution: Dwight Howard's best years might be behind him.
From 2008 through 2011, Howard dragged a half-decent Magic team to a 219-102 record and one Finals appearance. These last two seasons, Howard's Magic/Lakers teams finished 75-55. Huge, huge difference. His offensive numbers dipped dramatically …
2011: 22.9 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 59% FG, 60% FT, 227 dunks, 26.1 PER (2nd in NBA)
2013: 17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 58% FG, 49% FT, 187 dunks, 19.4 PER (36th)
… and defensively, he wasn't the league's dominant shot-blocker/rebounder anymore. You could argue that Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol AND Roy Hibbert are better at anchoring a defense than he is. (In fact, I think I just did.) Remember when Orlando sneaked into the 2009 Finals thanks to timely 3-point shooting and a monster two-way performance by Dwight?6 In the past 40 years, only Kareem, Dave Cowens, Moses Malone, Duncan, Shaq and Howard averaged a 20-15 in the postseason for a Finals team. That's five Hall of Famers plus Dwight, including four of the best players ever.
You could interpret that 2009 run two ways: either as "that was only four years ago," or as "that was FOUR FULL YEARS AGO."
Away from the cloud cover of our biased observations of the 2009 Finals run, Howard put together an incredible run as the centerpiece of the Magic. Paired with a coach who understood his limitations and created a system to hide those limitations and deflected some of the blame and media attention, Howard flourished.no comments