There used to be a time where Dwight Howard was not only considered the best center in the NBA, but also was considered the most dominant and likable guy in the league.
The seven time All-Star and 3-time Defensive Player of the Year is now the newest villain of the league.
The former no. 1 overall pick in 2004 is considered by many to be the most dominant center after Shaquille O’Neal.
Coming into the league straight out of high school, Dwight chose to wear no. 12 because it was the opposite of Garnett’s 21 when he played for Minnesota Timberwolves (the good old days).
Dwight Howard entered the league with high expectations. Dwight was drafted by a team that had finished with only 21 wins the previous season. On top of that, the Orlando Magic had lost their best (and All-Star) player Tracy McGrady to the Houston Rockets (coincidence?).
Even as a rookie, Dwight had an immediate impact. He averaged 12 points per game to go along with 10 rebounds per game.
He was the youngest player to average a double-double in a season. He was also the youngest player to record 20 rebounds in a game. On top of that, he became the first player to start all 82 games after being drafted straight out of high school. On November 15, 2005, he became the youngest player in NBA history to record 20+ points and 20+ rebounds in a game.
Dwight was quickly becoming into a fan favorite and a threat inside for a young Orlando Magic team.
In 2007, he was selected as a reserve on the Eastern Conference team for the NBA All-Star game. Dwight averaged a career high in points with 17.6 per game. He led Orlando Magic to the playoffs for the first time since 2003 as the 8th seed. Even though the Magic were swept by the Detroit Pistons in the First Round, Howard was becoming one of the best players in the league.
In 2008, he led Orlando Magic to another playoff berth, capturing their first Division title in 12 years. Howard absolutely torched the Toronto Raptors in the First Round with his dominance (three 20/20 games). In the next round against the Pistons, Dwight and the Magic were unable to take revenge and lost the series in 5 games to the veteran team.
2009 was a career year for Dwight. Ten games into the season, he was leading the league in blocks with 4.2 per game. He recorded his first triple double ever during this season, amassing 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks in a single game. Howard was named an All-Star starter for the Eastern Conference squad. He led the Magic to yet another playoff berth and second straight Division title. In the same year, Howard became the youngest player to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.
In the First Round, the Orlando Magic defeated the 76ers in six games. Orlando went on to defeat the defending champions, the Boston Celtics, in 7 games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Dwight and the Magic defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were led by league MVP LeBron James, in 6 games. Dwight led the Magic to their first NBA Finals appearance in 14 years. However, the Lakers went to beat the Magic in 5 games, thus winning the championship.
In 2010, the Orlando Magic were once again in the playoffs, capturing their third straight divisional title in the process. However, they ended up losing to the Celtics in 6 games in the Conference Finals.
In 2011, Dwight posted career highs in points and field goal percentage. The Magic won 52 games and finished as the 4th seed. However, the Magic lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the First Round of the playoffs.
Dwight was looking to either win or be traded if the Magic couldn’t win the NBA Championship. He felt like the Magic didn’t surround him with enough championship caliber players. On the day of the trade deadline, Dwight decided to waive his right to option out of his contract and stayed with the Magic.
On April 19, 2012, Howard underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back and would miss the rest of the 2011-2012 season, including the playoffs. During the off season, Howard requested Magic to trade him to the Brooklyn Nets, the Dallas Mavericks, or the Los Angeles Lakers.
Shortly after his trade request, the Magic traded Dwight Howard to Lakers in a three team trade that sent Lakers C Andrew Bynum to the 76ers and 76ers G Andre Igoudala to the Denver Nuggets.
Prior to his arrival, the Lakers had signed future Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash. With the addition of Dwight and Nash, the Lakers were quickly becoming the favorite to beat the defending champion Miami Heat–led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—and win the NBA Championship.
The Lakers had dreams of winning the NBA Championship but the dreams did not go the way they wanted them to. Dwight and the rest of the Lakers team had a tough time adapting to Mike D’Antoni’s system of run and gun. Lakers did not have good enough bench to support the starters and keep their minutes down. Dwight, Nash, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant all missed games due to injuries. Bryant was sidelined with a torn Achilles that ended his season right before the playoffs began. Dwight was having trouble dealing with a torn labrum that required back surgery and just wasn’t able to get back in shape all year long.
Dwight and Bryant had some issues on the court. It wasn’t the fact that they did not like each other. It was more with them letting their egos control their games. Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest SGs to ever play the game and one of the greatest players of all time, would not let Dwight be the “go to guy” or the franchise player. On the other side, Dwight wanted to be the “Superman” in LA.
When the season ended, Dwight was a free agent. This time, he had the rights to make the decision for his future and where he wants to play for next 4-5 years. Does he want to accept the role of “Robin” and sign back with the Lakers? The answer was NO.
On July 5, 2013, Dwight announced via twitter that he was going to take his talents to Houston and join the Rockets. Upon Dwight’s decision, he became the newest villain of this league. It used to be LeBron James when he left his hometown team, Cleveland, to go play with two other friends in South Beach. However, that changed when LeBron finally captured the elusive ring.
From day one, the Lakers were not the right place for Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant is not the right teammate that will take Dwight’s game to another level. Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time, without a doubt, but he is focused on chasing and hopefully passing Michael Jordan. He wants to win that very important sixth ring that would tie him with Jordan. He wants to prove it to the world that he can still, even at age 35, lead the Lakers to an NBA Championship.
This is not what Dwight wants. Dwight needs the ball in order for him to play to his full superstar/dominating potential. Dwight wants to win a NBA championship but he is all about the “journey,” as he likes to say.
In one of his interviews, he questioned whether Kobe Bryant has a heart or not. Dwight is a nice, intelligent, charismatic dude. He needs to play with a player that will not only help him reach his potential but is also willing to step back and let him be the team’s leader. Dwight doesn’t want to play with a player that will teach him “how it’s done” or help him “put his big boy pants on”.
Fans and players can be angry at Dwight for leaving Lakers and Kobe Bryant but he had to do what is best for him and his future. The Rockets are on the verge of becoming a great team led by James Harden. Adding Dwight to the mix will only guarantee success. Dwight is now surrounded by young players who know and understand the game.
He doesn’t have to live under the high expectation of “championship or bust” in Houston like he had to in LA. The Lakers are a storied franchise with 16 championship banners. They have the expectations of winning the NBA Championship every single year. If somehow the players fail or the team fails, they are viewed as failures. Dwight did not have the best season but he did not have a terrible year either. He was playing in a high-expectation situation while dealing with injuries and after-effects of back surgery.
Houston is an explosive, young team with lots of potential. James Harden has already developed into a top 10 caliber player and arguably the best shooting guard in the league. Dwight will not only have a chance to play with guys his age (who are still developing) but also learn from assistant coach Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and head coach Kevin McHale.
Olajuwon and McHale were great big men in their prime. They understand what it takes for a big man to dominate. They won’t expect Dwight to be Shaq or Kareem. They understand that Dwight is only 27 with a lot of potential still in him. Dwight will benefit playing under these guys. He will learn the game both physically and mentally playing under McHale and Olajuwon.
Dwight (in my opinion and many others) is the best C in the league. He can change a team’s identity defensively when he is on the floor. He is not as offensively talented as other great centers in the past but he will torch you if teams decide to play him man to man. Try it, I dare you.
Coming to Houston will be the best decision he will make for the rest of his life, unless he decides to option out and pair up with the King of the league, LeBron James.
Dwight, “Just go out there and bust they (butt). Show them what they’re missing.” –Kobe Bryant
Bold Prediction: Houston will make the NBA Finals.