Last week Dwight Howard announced he would be staying with the Orlando Magic through the 2012-13 season. Following Howard’s decision, it’s hard not to think of the Orlando Magic organization as being the big winners in the situation, right?
They didn’t lose their franchise centerpiece and best big man in the game and they have over a year to surround Howard with a good enough supporting cast to convince him to stay in Orlando for longer than he has already committed to.
Most importantly, they weren’t forced into trading him in exchange for an underwhelming package or watching him walk away this summer, leaving the team with nothing to show in return.
But has anyone stopped to think Howard might need the Magic more than they need him?
If the Magic ever do lose Howard, whether it’s through a trade or free agency, there is no doubt the organization would take a big hit. A rebuilding phase would be in order, the team would see a decline in attendance and there would be endless articles comparing the situation to when Shaquille O’Neal left in the summer of 1996.
Despite the organization being in disarray and likely being at the bottom of the standings for number of seasons, they would feel no pressure.
Fans may look at them as the “redheaded stepchild” or damaged goods for a while, but they would feel absolutely feel no pressure to win. None at all. And who knows, they could get lucky like the Cleveland Cavaliers did and draft a young stud like Kyrie Irving to build around.
No, all of the pressure would be on the broad, chiseled shoulders of Howard.
Assuming the reasons Howard would ever leave Orlando are based on improving his chances of winning a championship, there is no guarantee leaving for a bigger market and playing with other stars translates into instant success.
Just ask Carmelo Anthony about it. Since he fled Denver for the Big Apple to join Amar'e Stoudemire last winter in hopes of making the Knicks a “championship contender,” the team has arguably been worse than before they gutted their roster to make room for Anthony.
And if Howard thought the pressure from media and fans was bad trying to decide whether to stay in Orlando or not, just imagine how tough it would be if he couldn’t lead his new team into contention right away. Once again, ask Anthony in New York. Or, Howard could give LeBron James a call.
Despite playing the best basketball of his career since joining the Heat, and leading the team to the NBA Finals in his first season playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron has received more criticism and likely felt more pressure in his two seasons with the Heat than he ever dreamed about in his seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was more or less basketball’s “golden boy.”
Let’s forget about the endless pressure Howard would feel if he left Orlando and talk about his overall legacy.
When LeBron announced he would be taking his talents to South Beach, he forever changed the way fans will look at his legacy. Whether he and Wade end up winning numerous championships, people will forever claim LeBron had to join forces and “ride the coattails of Wade,” who already won a ring in 2006.
Also, some fans will claim other greats of the game (Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant) won multiple championships playing for one team and one team only, making LeBron’s career not as great as his fellow all-time greats.
Those arguments could be considered fair or foul. But the bottom line is: James will have to deal with his decision to play in South Beach for the rest of his career, ultimately impacting his legacy.
Howard would receive the same criticism LeBron has, but his would be a little different and possibly worse. Not only would Howard be a team-jumping, disloyal me-first superstar, but he would be a “copycat” team-jumping, disloyal me-first superstar, given the aforementioned blazed trails left by Anthony and James.
Along with his own unique criticisms, Howard’s jump to Los Angeles, Brooklyn or Dallas would endlessly be compared to LeBron’s trek to Miami and Anthony's journey to New York.
We will never know why Howard decided to stick with Orlando for the time being. But I can’t help but wonder if the things I just wrote about didn’t cross his mind.
If Howard stays with the Magic the rest of his career and never wins a championship, he may receive the same type of sympathetic criticisms the Dan Marinos and John Stocktons of the world have received for being one of the best to never win a championship, but nothing to the magnitude if he joins forces with other superstars and tries to shortcut his way to a title.
Even if he did win one, as I alluded to earlier in the article with the LeBron situation, the criticisms wouldn’t completely stop and his legacy would still potentially be tainted. Ultimately, the Magic are Howard’s safe haven.
There’s no doubt the Orlando Magic need Howard. But Howard may need the Magic more than they need him—assuming, of course, Howard covets his legacy more than trying to keep up with the Joneses…or in this case, the Jameses and Anthonys.