According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard claims he was “blackmailed” into agreeing to the “opt-in” clause in his contract that prevented him from becoming a free agent for another year. According to The Associated Press (h/t si.com), Howard says the report is inaccurate.)
Seeing as that argument is not particularly convincing, Howard took another measure to escape Orlando: He simply demand to be traded to a team of his choice, in this case Brooklyn.
Many, including the always blunt Charles Barkley, have condemned Howard’s actions. Howard has been called selfish and self-centered, and he is quickly rivaling LeBron James as the game’s de facto “bad guy.”
Now, I certainly will not condone Howard's actions. His attempts to walk the tightrope of demanding a trade from the Magic without becoming Public Enemy No. 1 have resulted in maddeningly drawn out indecision that has tarnished his reputation, perhaps irreparably.
His actions are being viewed as the latest example of a superstar player showing a lack of loyalty to his organization, just like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
However, what I can’t seem to understand is this: Why is it a selfish decision when a player decides where he wants to play, but a "business decision" when a team owner trades players away?
Why does loyalty only go one way?
A lot of people criticized James for taking his talents to South Beach and joining the Miami Heat because leaving showed a lack of loyalty to the team that drafted him.
My guess is, very few people would have taken issue with the Cavs' front office. It would have been looked upon as a move that “management felt was necessary."
It seems odd to knock players for making their own decisions about where they want to play, but if team management sends them away, it’s completely acceptable.
Although both James’ decision and Howard’s current actions could have been handled better, let’s not act like the Magic and Cavaliers did not make their fair share of mistakes that contributed to their problems.
For the Cavs, it was Dan Gilbert’s inability to bring James the kind of talent that would help him in the postseason. In seven years, James never played with a high-caliber superstar capable of running the offense while defenses focused solely on James.
Was James supposed to just be the loveable loser for his hometown team and hope that someday he would have better second options in the playoffs than Mo Williams and J.J. Hickson? He may never have won, but at least he would be called loyal.
Where was the Cavs management's sense of loyalty when, for seven years, they didn't help him win a title? And why were they so willing to throw him under the bus when the team failed in the postseason?
Was that showing loyalty to James?
The situation is even worse for the Magic. They have made so many mistakes that it’s a wonder Howard waited this long to demand a trade.
The first mistake was Otis Smith's decision to break up the team a third of the way through the 2011 season. The players he brought in were mostly one-dimensional shooters who lacked the defensive prowess to consistently help Howard on any end of the court.
This miscue doomed a title contender to a first-round playoff exit two years in a row.
The second mistake was Magic management leaking the report that Dwight Howard wanted Stan Van Gundy fired as a stipulation to re-sign with the Magic.
A lot of people have criticized Howard for this, stating that it was an example of management trying to make an unsatisfiable player happy. But my finger points directly at Magic management.
Allowing Howard’s private thoughts to be reported in the media simply cannot happen in a first-class organization. It just can’t happen. Whether Howard said it or not, no players will feel they can trust this organization when they can’t even trust information shared in private will stay confidential.
While we can argue that Howard showed no loyalty to the Magic by demanding a trade, I think that the lack of loyalty the team displayed by placing him in such a damaging public relations position was equally problematic.
In the end, this will be viewed as another example of a “prima donna superstar” holding his team hostage to get his way. But I would like a bit more objectivity when looking at James' and Howard's actions.
Should they show a bit more loyalty and appreciation for the fans of their respective teams if they decide to leave?
But do the teams have an obligation to return that loyalty before shipping the player out without asking questions, and making decisions that impact his public perception?