Roughly one week ago, the Orlando Magic were immersed in the Dwight Howard trade-deadline frenzy. They were also rolling, having soundly bested Indiana, Chicago and Miami in one of the most impressive three-game stretches any team has put together all year.
On the other side of the drama, with Howard signed on for another season, Orlando lost in Miami on Sunday. Then last night, the Magic took a withering beating from the Bulls, getting blown out, 85-59, at home. I do not glean much from these events, other than that we media people can overemphasize how underlying psychological factors impact a team.
Had the Orlando Magic been losing as they neared the trade deadline, what would the media story have been? Is there any doubt that media members would have blamed Dwight drama?
Back in early March, Jeff Van Gundy explained the fallout of Dwight's free-agent dalliances with, "The motivation of your team disintegrates." This was at a time when the Magic were playing well.
When Orlando had a rough stretch in late January, losing five of six, the focus was on how Howard was negatively impacting his team, how his criticism of teammates had caused Orlando players to flounder, with one particular Yahoo! Sports reporter writing: "They were 11-4 and winning with Howard’s trade demand. Now, they’re losing with it. The thing is, they’re human and the superstar’s words, his actions, have repercussions."
But this narrative did not hold. The Magic bounced back, clawing their way to an Eastern Conference No. 3 seed despite a fairly feeble roster (Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson, excepted).
Howard was slammed in some quarters for saying of his teammates, "These guys understand the whole situation. But none of that stuff matters when we get on the floor.”
Such a statement seemed preposterous given the media circus surrounding his possible departure.
But it appears that Howard was likely right. Much emotion may go into the process of playing professional basketball, but it is difficult to discern if outside intrigue has any bearing on results. Dwight's functional playing contributions seem to matter more than his "leadership" ever could, or at least more than his lack of leadership could ever hurt. Victories often result from prosaic reasons, but we media types look back and overlay an interesting soap opera explanation for why it all unfolded like so.