Ladies and gentlemen, our long national Dwightmare is...well...probably far from over.
Whether he gets his way sooner rather than later remains to be seen. New Magic GM Rob Hennigan doesn't seem particularly inclined to budge before he's found the perfect deal for Dwight.
As well he shouldn't. After all, Howard is one of the two or three most valuable players in the league, and more importantly, Orlando still has all the leverage in this situation, thanks to Dwight's decision this past March to opt into the final year of his contract.
Not that this makes the ongoing soap opera any more pleasant or palatable to the basketball-observing public. Fans and commentators alike have grown tired of hearing the persistent flow of news-like drivel from all corners of the world of anonymous sources.
Maybe Dwight will join the Los Angeles Lakers before the start of the season...or be traded to the Houston Rockets...or wait to move to the Brooklyn Nets in January...or sign with the Dallas Mavericks in free agency next summer.
Or maybe he'll retire, and we can all stop talking about him.
In the meantime, while Dwight and Hennigan are busy sorting out this nonsense, let's take a walk down memory lane (the stretch that nobody likes to traverse) and try to figure out how, in the name of Carmelo Anthony, Superman went from being one of the most widely adored players in the NBA to one of the most reviled.
The first proverbial dropping fell into the equally proverbial punch bowl right around the time Dwight and the Magic stepped off the floor at Amway Arena while Kobe Bryant and the Lakers celebrated their 15th NBA title in franchise history.
Orlando did well to make a series of it, losing a pair of overtime heartbreakers—one of which was aided by Courtney Lee's alley-OOPS! at the buzzer in Game 2.
(The very play that probably sealed Lee's fate in Orlando just days later. More on that in a minute.)
But the Lakers—with their core of Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum—were clearly the better team and beat the Magic soundly enough to leave Dwight wondering what it would take to bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy to Orlando.
Or, perhaps, if it could happen at all.
Soon after that crushing defeat, Dwight presumably had a heart-to-heart with Magic general manager Otis Smith that went something like this:
Dwight: Yo, Big O, what the H, man? I need some help!
Otis: Help? You mean, like, you don't know how to use a can opener?
Dwight: No, man...wait, what? No! No...of course I know to use a can opener...
Otis: OK, so what's the problem?
Dwight: Well, we just went to the finals and all...
Otis: I know! Good work, Superman! Looks like the Lakers know all about your Kryptonite, eh?
Dwight: (death stare) (awkward silence) You know what I mean, Otis Fitzgerald Smith. I can't win a title by myself. Get me a scorer to play with, man! Or else...
Otis: Or else what?
Dwight: I'll cut off my nose to spite y'all's face.
Otis: Duly noted.
Shortly thereafter, Otis sent Courtney Lee, Tony Battie and Rafer Alston to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for a young Ryan Anderson and a washed-up Vince Carter. Then, in another stroke of "genius," he let Hedo Turkoglu—Orlando's second-most important player during its run to the finals—walk to the Toronto Raptors.
Somewhere, Dwight heard the news and shook his head in disappointment, thereby giving birth to the term "SMH."
It didn't take long for Otis to realize that maybe, just maybe, he'd screwed up. True, the Magic finished the 2009-2010 season at 59-23, the second-best record in the NBA, though they were dispatched from the Eastern Conference finals in six games by the Boston Celtics.
Which, frankly, isn't bad, to say the least.
But a slow start to the 2010-11 campaign—including a stretch of five losses in six games in December—was enough to convince Smith (and perhaps Dwight) that the whole thing had to go kablooey...again.
So, Otis closed his eyes and pulled the trigger on yet another trade, this time jettisoning Vinsanity, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus for Hedo, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. He also swapped Rashard Lewis' untradeable contract for Gilbert Arenas' untradeable contract.
Upon hearing of this, Dwight did a spit take and stormed out of the break room.
Later that season, word began to swirl that the then-New Jersey Nets were eying Dwight Howard as a potential playing partner for the recently acquired Deron Williams, albeit via free agency in the summer of 2012.
Orlando's the most attractive place for me right now. They have a sexy new arena, a beautiful franchise, nice banners around here and been in the top four in the Eastern Conference for the past four years. Yes, Orlando's the most attractive place right now.
That may or may not have been the first time in history that anything with the name "Amway" attached to it had been described as "sexy." If only Nutrilite could get such a ringing endorsement...
Also, by "nice banners," was Dwight referring to the Magic's homages to their two Eastern Conference titles and/or, perhaps, their five division titles?
In any case, how nice of Howard to talk about the Orlando Magic the same way an overzealous travel agent might attempt to sell you on a particular destination for your next exotic voyage. Orlando is a vacation town, after all.
Though not exactly an exotic one.
For the first time since 2007, the Magic failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs, losing to the Atlanta Hawks in six games in April 2011.
That ended an unusually unsettling season for Dwight, in which he led the NBA in technical fouls, perhaps showing early signs of the petulance to come.
But before it could, the lockout brought the league to a halt, until the owners were able to bend the players to their will in sufficient fashion in the fall of 2011.
Dwight didn't wait long to make a mess of things once the moratorium was lifted and folks affiliated with the league (i.e. players, coaches, GMs, etc.) could get back to the business of making themselves look stupid, selfish and/or completely childish.
Things first got weird in early December, when, according to Fox Sports, Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide confirmed to Bright House Sports Network that he drunk-dialed Dwight and begged him to stay in Orlando. Vander Weide resigned his post shortly thereafter, though he claimed his decision was the result of a desire to spend more time with his family.
Not, as some might assume, the result of a sloppy night of "playing paddle," whatever that means. Perhaps Bob and his buddies were eager to teach Dwight, a preps-to-pros phenom, about the joys of ritual hazing in a college fraternity.
To which Dwight likely offered a quick "no thanks."
Then, once news broke (from Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN) that the New Orleans Hornets were shopping superstar point guard Chris Paul, perhaps it came to Howard's attention that he, too, could find a home in a bigger city with brighter lights.
Naturally, Howard demanded that the Magic trade him to either the Nets or the Dallas Mavericks (per Marc Stein and Chad Ford of ESPN) while also saying:
I love this city, there is no place I'd rather be but Orlando. I just want to make sure we have the right things here so we can win a championship. I'm all about change. If you're willing to change and you're willing to do what it takes to win then, you know, you got me.
Howard was reportedly upset with GM Otis Smith for the aforementioned boneheaded moves he made, more so because he made them without necessarily consulting Dwight. As Howard said (per ESPN's Brian Windhorst):
I'm pretty sure if you go down the line of teams, every GM has a pretty good relationship with not just the best player but all the players. If you don't have a good relationship with the people you work with, how are you going to get better?
The stuff that I have asked for, the stuff I felt our team needed to get better, none of it has happened. That's not me being cocky but I want to be involved with the organization. I've been here for a long time, I don't want to sit around.
These weren't special guys, just guys I felt would be great for our team. It wasn't guys that would take us over the cap or anything like that. It was just guys that I felt would help us on the inside and the outside.
There was a good relationship then we haven't talked, we should still talk. I've been here for seven years. No matter what happens, we still should be able to talk. I don't know why, I don't know what happened. ... We've had long talks throughout the summer, very long talks. That's all I can tell you.
I'm not a GM, I never said I wanted to be a GM. What I said was I want to be involved. Everybody has a right to be involved. ... I should want to be involved. I should want to say "hey, this is what we need, this is what we need to do." If I didn't care, I wouldn't have said anything. Obviously I care enough about this team that I've asked them and I want to be involved. If you don't like something, you'd just walk away. If you want to be involved you'd do anything you can. If you don't get it, what do you do?
That's what I sat down with Otis and ownership and told them how I felt and I told them we should do it as quietly as possible. I told them if something happens, I would never leave this organization high and dry like that and they understand that. This is a business and you have to do what is best for you at the end of the day.
Somewhere, after combing through Dwight's litany of comments, Harvey Dent couldn't decide which of his faces to throw into his palm.
Dwight eventually backed off his trade demands, but that didn't stop rumors from making the rounds throughout a season in which Howard actually performed quite well on the court.
The weirdness of the "Dwightmare" reached a new pinnacle on Feb. 22, 2012, when the Magic made their first and only trip of the season to the Prudential Center to face the Nets. Howard put on a show for the attendant crowd of just over 15,000 fans, contributing 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in a 108-91 win for the visitors.
However, the more buzz-worthy show was the one the Nets put on for Superman. New Jersey made Dwight the centerpiece of an advertising campaign to fill the building and went so far as to use pyrotechnics to spice up the pregame introductions.
During which, by the way, Howard was the recipient of a huge ovation from the crowd. Those in attendance even went so far as to chant "We want Dwight!" during the game and parade around the Prudential Center with signs and cardboard cutouts imploring him to come to the Tri-State area.
Howard expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of attention after the game, according to the Associated Press:
It's a humbling experience. I wish more people could see how it feels to go into another arena and have the big faces, the posters. It's a blessing and a whole new experience. It feels good to have a great reception, not only here, but everywhere I go.
Yes, Dwight, it must be nice to be cheered in arenas at home and away, like Don Draper fooling around with mysterious women all over town and while out on business, yet coming back to a loving family anyway.
Because, you know, that worked out so well for him.
Mind you, this stomach-turning show of affection for Howard came just four days before he was set to play in the All-Star game in Orlando.
Less than a month later, with the NBA's trade deadline fast approaching, Dwight decided to opt into the final year of his contract with the Magic rather than have the team trade him to New Jersey.
How exactly that came about remains something of a mystery. ESPN's Chris Broussard later reported that Howard's camp felt he'd been "blackmailed" into staying.
In any case, Orlando held a press conference on March 15. Dwight emphasized how loyal he was while showing off his gigantic arms.
"Sources" also "reported" that Dwight was undecided as to whether he should accept a lucrative offer to endorse Rainbow Sandals.
What was less ambiguous were the groans of basketball fans across America, who quickly realized that Howard's opt-in meant this whole circus would start up again after the season.
The very next night, the Magic "welcomed" the Nets to Orlando and promptly sent them home with an 86-70 shellacking.
This time around, Howard came up with a mere 18 points, six rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal.
Howard seemed to make light of the hubbub after the game (via the AP), saying, "You guys act like I went to another team and came back or something."
Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy was similarly dismissive of any notion that the team was particularly affected by Dwight's indecision:
It was a big moment for our organization, but it wasn't like the JFK moment where everybody remembers what they were doing. It wasn't quite that big.
You know things aren't going so well when maintaining the status quo is a noteworthy moment.
Dwight Howard's back started giving him trouble in late March and forced him to miss the first two games of April. As far as anyone can tell, that didn't keep him from complaining to the front office and, apparently, calling for Stan Van Gundy's head on a silver platter.
This, inevitably, led to the infamous interview on April 5, wherein SVG divulged to the Orlando media that he knew of Dwight's dissatisfaction, all while taking swigs of his Diet Pepsi.
Best of all, Howard walked in on the whole mess unwittingly and was subsequently left to the wolves. Surely, Dwight would've been more comfortable with a Pepsi can of his own in hand.
Dwight's return to the court was short-lived, to say the least. He suffered a back injury on April 7 at the end of the first half of an 88-82 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
However, with recent events so fresh in the minds of fans and observers alike, questions arose as to the legitimacy of Howard's injury.
Those were seemingly put to bed on April 20, when Howard traveled to Los Angeles to undergo back surgery, with Dr. Robert Watkins overseeing the operation.
Still, that didn't stop speculation from swirling that Dwight faked the whole thing so that he wouldn't have to slog his way through another disappointing playoff run with the Magic.
Dwight did his best to combat the gossip, telling ESPN's Chris Broussard:
It hurts (emotionally). That's the first thing—it hurts. And then with people saying and thinking I'm quitting on my team. This is a real issue. I tried to play through it and it just made my back worse.
The best part of Howard's conversation with Broussard had to be his "belief" that the Magic could contend for a title without him:
If the guys come together, we still have a chance. I know what we have in that locker room. I've seen it in spurts this season. I've told them, "We don't have to be the biggest or the strongest, we just have to believe."
Hoookay, Dwight. So, if the Magic would just click their heels together and chant "there's no place like home," they'd end up with the Larry O'Brien Trophy, right? If you didn't think Dwight was delusional before...
The month of May was a rough one for the Magic, to say the least.
Orlando was bounced from the playoffs in five games by the Indiana Pacers on May 8. Shortly thereafter, head coach Stan Van Gundy was fired, and GM Otis Smith agreed to part ways with the organization, thereby signaling a new beginning of sorts in the Magic Kingdom.
Meanwhile, little was heard from Dwight's camp until June 6, when a source told Larry Ridley of WESH 2 News in Orlando that Howard "still loves Orlando and isn't seeking a trade." The report also indicated that Dwight was "hurt by all the negativity surrounding him (and) doesn't understand why he's blamed for everything that happens inside the (Magic) organization."
Apparently, Dwight was still unaware that nobody cared about how he felt, nor did anyone believe a single positive word about the Magic that would ever come out of his camp.
As soon as free agency opened on July 1, Dwight Howard was back to demanding an escape from Orlando.
Well, maybe not right away. On July 2, Howard met face-to-face with new Magic GM Rob Hennigan for the first time, and according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, he demanded that he be traded, presumably to the Brooklyn Nets. As he told Yahoo! Sports by phone:
There’s only one team on my list and if I don’t get traded there, I'll play the season out and explore my free agency after that.
This was not the first time [that I asked for a trade]. I communicated this to [Magic president] Alex [Martins] and [former general manager] Otis [Smith] way before Friday that I wanted to be traded—months before this meeting with Rob Hennigan. That was all way before Stan [Van Gundy] got fired.
Trouble is, the Nets had already relinquished much of their financial and roster flexibility to acquire Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks in a successful attempt to convince Deron Williams to re-sign.
Of course, that didn't stop Dwight from fixating on Brooklyn as his next home, nor did it halt Nets GM Billy King's desperate attempts to aid him in that endeavor.
Still, how nice of Dwight to give the new regime a chance, eh? I wonder if even John Lennon could've changed Howard's fickle mind.
Dwight didn't do himself any favors when, on July 16, he allegedly sent a string of private messages to a former Amway Arena employee by the name of Markee Randolph.
In the messages, Howard disparages the Magic for essentially throwing him under the bus and failing/refusing to communicate with his doctors.
(Warning: the following tweets and images contain graphic language.)
Jus bout to post the shit twitter.com/MagicMarkee/st…— Markee Randolph © (@MagicMarkee) July 16, 2012
The very next day, Howard showed up at Dodger Stadium in L.A., and when he was summarily ambushed by Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers and some prying fans during the game, he seemed to milk the situation for what it was worth:
Dwight Howard stood outside a Dodger Stadium suite Tuesday night trying to decide what to eat off the dessert cart.
He took forever, and when he began to recite out loud, "eeny, meeny, miny, moe," I asked him if that was how he was going to pick where he played.
He mimicked as if he would, saying "this team and that team," but unfortunately stopping when his attention returned to the desserts.
Then his security guard got in my face and told me he does the talking for Howard. That will be fun if he comes to L.A.
A fan yelled to Howard, "Are you coming to L.A.?"
And Howard replied with the consent of his security guard, "I'm here now." He paused, and then added, "to rehab."
That's right, folks: Dwight broke down the fourth wall of trade speculation. He went meta on the media, poking fun at his own public image as an indecisive child.
And the rest of the world trembled at his feet.
Magic GM Rob Hennigan is nothing if not exhaustively persistent.
He made that much clear when, on July 25, he returned to L.A. to try once more to convince Dwight to give his blessing to the new regime in Orlando.
Howard's response? In short, "Heck no!" Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Howard emphasized that he would eventually leave Orlando in one of three ways:
1. Via trade to the Lakers before the start of the 2012-13 season.
2. Via trade to the Nets in mid-January, when Brooklyn would be able to trade newly re-signed center Brook Lopez.
3. Via free agency next summer, with the Dallas Mavericks as the most likely front-runners for his services.
In typical "Dwightmare" fashion, Howard neglected to acknowledge that the Magic still held all cards and could send him wherever they darn well pleased.
Or (dare I say it?) keep him and dare him to take less money to play elsewhere when he becomes a free agent in July of 2013.