If you wonder why the Orlando Magic are falling all over themselves to placate a wildly annoying Dwight Howard—as detailed by Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe—just know that it isn't simply because he's a superstar.
It's because Howard's an underpaid superstar.
Perhaps you remember when Adrian Wojnarowski interviewed Dwyane Wade and the Heat star claimed he could make "$50 million” in an uncapped system. Wade wasn't kidding. The "max" salary restriction on what superstars can make artificially depresses their wages far below what they would garner in an open system.
Wojnarowski went on to write:
The league doesn’t want max contracts that go beyond $20 million a year anymore, but privately owners and executives know those superstar deals are the biggest bargain in the NBA.
Howard is set to make $17,885,400 this year and $19,261,200 next year. This is a lot of money to you, me or even a high-powered lawyer. But it's far from Howard's worth in terms of TV ratings, ticket prices and international exposure for the Magic organization. The dude's a bargain, even at near $20 million per year.
In a different era and system, an aging Michael Jordan made a little over $33 million per year. Adjusted for inflation, that figure falls somewhere in the mid-$40 million range. He was well worth it back then, and we're in a current boom for sports television rights today.
Dwight Howard is no Michael Jordan, but he's also the best center in the league and he's 26 years old. That $50 million Dwyane Wade estimate could get trumped, especially if Charles Dolan were to get in on the bidding.
The league's legislated restrictions on Howard's payment mean that he's an incredible value for the Magic, and thus, they need tend to his every whim. Even if Stan Van Gundy is a fantastic coach, even if Howard might be gone in a year, Dwight must be placated.
Salary depression has helped Howard become Anthony from the Twilight Zone, a force whose power is only exceeded by his flights of destructive whimsy. If the Magic had to weigh all this with a $50 million per year commitment, they'd politely tell their center to hit the bricks.
But Dwight Howard is underpaid, and because of that, he's emboldened.