Dwight Howard Should Look to Texas Before He Flees Florida

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMarch 14, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic smiles during the game against the Miami Heat at Amway Center on March 13, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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The moment of truth has arrived for Orlando’s mammoth attraction, and the next 24 hours promise anything from a mushroom cloud that would swallow Disney World to a brazen act of faith that may just postpone the devastating blast.

Dwight Howard, though, should look around and take some notes when the Magic visit the Spurs tonight at the AT&T Center for its second game in two days. History suggests Orlando should not have wasted the jet fuel, given that the team boasts one win in San Antonio in its last six trips. One more reason to pick against the Magic before tipoff, in what is the umpteenth possible final contest for Howard in that uniform: Tuesday’s opponent was the defending Eastern Conference champion.

Orlando slipped past Miami in overtime. Few teams in NBA history could sweep a back-to-back featuring the Heat and Spurs.

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that Howard will defect to the New Jersey Nets if the Magic’s front office does not trade him there by Thursday’s deadline. The league’s most dominant center wants GM Otis Smith to keep him in Orlando for the remainder of the season, sources told Wojnarowski, so that New Jersey can add him this summer without surrendering Brook Lopez and other assets.

One line in the column should keep those eyebrows raised: “Adidas wants him in a major market – New York or Los Angeles – and this scenario promises him the highest possible value on his upcoming renegotiation of his shoe deal.”

Excuse my language, but screw Adidas. Shoe companies do not win championships, All-NBA accolades or Hall of Fame enshrinements. If Phil Knight, the chairman of Nike who was named as a finalist for this year’s class, does not become the exception, the selection committee should just torch the facility that houses memorabilia and memories from the sport’s all-time best.

Howard’s surreptitious approach to plotting his future clashes with his MVP-level production and his dedication to helping his current employer stockpile victories. How can this dichotomy of triumph and a veiled truculence exist?

The East may boast a pair of clear-cut diamonds in Miami and Chicago, but Orlando appears poised to take advantage if one of the front-running horses' limps into the playoffs with a crushing injury. A bad Derrick Rose ankle or back, or a Dwyane Wade tweak of this or that could swing the door open for Howard’s squad.

Yet, it seems certain now. He wants to abandon his Magic Kingdom for supposedly snazzier, hipper digs in Brooklyn under the watch of a billionaire running for president of Russia and hip-hop’s most famous dad.

The question remains: Why?

What have the Nets done since their last NBA Finals appearance in 2003? Howard would have to bring credibility back to the franchise forever relegated to stepbrother status in the New York area. The Magic have credibility now. Title credibility.

Hey Dwight, remember that Finals appearance in 2009? What were those glorious Nets doing while you battled the L.A. Lakers?

What message does Deron Williams’ recent 57-point outburst send to Howard? Come play with me, and we’ll beat the league’s worst, most embarrassing outfit by more than three points? Come play with another seven-footer in Brook Lopez, who once grabbed a single rebound in a game?

Another trek to San Antonio figures to culminate with a familiar defeat, even if Manu Ginobili sits with a hip flexor. Howard can make the sojourn meaningful by soaking up the surroundings.

David Robinson now owns a minority stake in the organization he saved from relocation. His arrival prevented what many saw as the Spurs’ inevitable departure from Central Texas. The draft serendipity that landed Tim Duncan 10 years later and the construction of the AT&T Center cemented the franchise’s foothold in the Alamo City.

Now, there is no doubt the team will stay for good, no matter the on-court results.

If Robinson attends tonight’s match, the cameras will pan to the Spurs’ most popular season ticket holder during a timeout. It would behoove Howard to pay attention to the fans’ reaction.

They will afford The Admiral the typical standing ovation. This will happen even if San Antonio trails by 20 preceding that action stoppage, the way it has hundreds of times since his 2003 retirement.

Orlando does not travel to Houston before the trade deadline, depriving Howard of the chance to see a better example in Hakeem Olajuwon.

The Rockets own a single playoff series victory since 1997. The current squad is equipped to play near .500 ball and, at best, snatch the seventh or eighth seed. Houston fans tend to show up late and leave early at Toyota Center these days. The upper and lower bowls are often half empty when lowly opponents like the Detroit Pistons come to town.

This contrasts with the Rockets’ reign at the former Summit—now Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church—where finding a ticket in the nosebleeds for most of the 1990s was next to impossible.

The one thing besides the Red Rowdies that riles up the usual apathetic crowds at the TC and pushes the decibel level beyond 10: a courtside appearance from Olajuwon. He lives in Jordan but flies back to his second home to attend a few Rockets games each year. He remains as revered and important as ever.

What would Houston sports followers have to brag about without those two consecutive NBA titles?

Fans and talk show hosts would rather beat the Peyton Manning-to-Texans horse that was dead on arrival than waste energy discussing the 23-20 Rockets.

Please, by all means, talk in circles about a sport that does not resume until this fall, but don’t you dare ever suggest Shaquille O’Neal produced a better career than Olajuwon. Any statement of that sort jams up the phone lines and shifts the temporary focus back to round ball.

In a metropolitan area where pro pigskin has been king since the Texans’ 2002 emergence from the NFL’s womb, Olajuwon’s occasional presence offers a reminder that the NBA once wore that crown here. The Texans boast a far worse performance record than the Rockets, with one postseason appearance and victory in a league where speedy turnarounds seem to happen with frequency.

Do you think Olajuwon would have ever picked a cast with Kenny Smith, a brazen Vernon Maxwell, an inconsistent Robert Horry and a moody, trigger-happy Sam Cassell as the first to take him to the Association’s Mt. Everest?

Given that, is sharing the court with an underachieving Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and a petulant Glen Davis such a bad deal for Howard?

If the Magic manage to somehow represent the East in the 2012 championship series, the dismissive noise directed at Howard would pale in comparison to what Olajuwon and the Rockets still endure. Houston won those two trophies because Michael Jordan retired, skeptics still say. Whether that argument qualifies as prescient or bogus is irrelevant. Doesn’t matter.

Titles, no matter how the team collects them, live forever in cities where celebratory parades are rare. Orlando is once such locale.

Yankees fanatics approbate each championship for a month or two then treat those banners like prostitutes. You were terrific, honey, but it is time to buy another one.

No debate allowed. Olajuwon is the greatest Rocket and athlete in Houston history. A few others—Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan and maybe Warren Moon—belong in the latter discussion. Olajuwon will top both lists until the apocalypse, even if Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Matt Schaub spearhead a Super Bowl triumph, or a young stud carries the Rockets to six straight podium finishes. What the Astros and Dynamo do from here to eternity will not matter, either.

Robinson, though, is a close second when it comes to evaluating how staying with one team can impact a legacy.

It took him 10 seasons, heaping helpings of heartbreak and Duncan to secure his first ring. The Spurs did not advance beyond the Western Conference Finals during his prime years. Pundits wrongfully derided him as soft and sometimes questioned his commitment to winning. Few highlights involving big men air more often than the 1995 one where Olajuwon bamboozles Robinson at the Alamodome.

The fans at a packed AT&T Center tonight will not see what misguided analysts did for the balance of Robinson’s career. If he appears on that center-court scoreboard, silver-and-black supporters will shower him with applause and gratitude.

He remains royalty in the Alamo City, just as Olajuwon still sits on a throne in Houston.

Does Howard understand that he gives that standing away the moment he jets for Jersey? If he dashes for Dallas come July 1, same deal.

Is there no part of him that wants to hang up the sneakers as that guy?

Robinson and Olajuwon did not build careers on shoe deals or allow members of their entourages to make crucial business decisions. They did not even roll with a posse.

Yet, Howard registers far below LeBron James on the sports scale of vainglory. He abhors foul language and keeps God at the center of everything.

Is reconsidering his stance out of the question? Maybe Magic CEO Alex Martins can still reach Howard in a way few think is possible.

Why Brooklyn?

Jay-Z puts on one helluva concert and Prokhorov talks with the swagger of an invincible billionaire, but can they deliver the sort of consistency for 2012 free agency’s crown jewel that Orlando has?

If the Hova is a primary attraction for Howard, the imposing franchise star should brush his shoulders off and embrace a behemoth reality.

Pundits laud Rose, Howard, Kevin Durant, James and Wade, Blake Griffin and maybe Kevin Love as the next generation of stars set to rule the NBA and amass titles. Howard should understand by now, given how rosters and dynamics change in professional basketball, that Wade might be the only guy in that list with a title by 2020.

There is no guarantee any of those other All-Stars will ever hoist a banner. There is no guarantee the Nets with Williams, Lopez and Howard can do as much in eight years as the Magic have in the last three.

The bomb may soon detonate, then decimate a Magic Kingdom. Still, there are many reasons for Martins, Smith and owner Rich DeVos to risk trying to defuse it before July.

Don’t fans in any area want their favorite team to fight for the best player in that city’s history? Any package Smith can procure for the center by Thursday might get the Magic fewer victories than if the front office hit the reset button, a la the Cavaliers.

Cleveland could have dealt James before his ballyhooed free agency-turned-Ego Finals. Does anyone really believe the squad would have tallied more than 17 wins the following campaign with youngsters and draft picks netted in a James exchange?

The Cavs now boast a promising future with Kyrie Irving in the fold. Another lottery selection in a deep draft will add another ray of sunlight in crestfallen Cleveland.

The Magic’s obligation and directive should be clear by now. Force Howard to leave almost $28 million on the table. Force him to reject the unconditional adoration of the only fanbase that will ever love him this way. Force him to screw Orlando, one year after the brain trust opened a state-of-the-art facility with an extravagant price tag.

See if he has the guts.

Free agency affords Howard the opportunity to choose his next destination. The NBA could not circumvent anti-trust laws without the wrinkle that allows the athletes, at some point in their careers, to pick where they play.

Smith must take the chance that his bosses can persuade Howard to keep his Florida address. If Martins fails, well, Amway Center was going to be emptier without No. 12 anyway.

If the Magic’s anchor indeed suits up for the final time in that jersey opposite Duncan, with Robinson as a potential spectator, the scene will clash with the chaos to follow.

Howard should look around and take some notes in San Antonio. He should hope he makes it to Houston with Stan Van Gundy as his coach and the word “Magic” across his chest.

Maybe then he will see it.

What Robinson, Duncan and Olajuwon will have forever, as irreplaceable pillars, is the snazziest arrangement of all.


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