How quickly does the average fan forgive a guy that acts like Dwight Howard did?
That's a trick question.
If you guessed, "As long as it takes the guy to start winning championships," pat yourself on the back.
Inevitably, Dwight Howard will go through a period of decline in popularity. It will begin and end with the capturing of his first ring. That is to say, it will not even last a full season.
Howard is going to make the Lakers scary good. You see, by pairing a prime Dwight Howard with a still very effective top-10 all-time NBA point guard, the Lakers have set themselves up for a dynasty, even if it will be a short one.
Steve Nash could give the Lakers three more good seasons, as he is under contract for two more seasons beyond the 2012-13 campaign. If he did give the Lakers three good seasons, that could result in a trifecta of rings, because I truly believe this:
Either Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant could go down with a season ending injury, and the Lakers would still win a championship. A Howard to Nash pick-and-roll will be that good, and when fans see Howard being the recipient of Nash passes, I think the smiles that follow his thunderous jams will warm even the coldest of Grinch-hearted fans.
But maybe not Magic fans. I was a 14-year-old boy when Shaq left the Magic, but I forgave him. He left the Magic getting nothing in return, but he was never fully respected by Magic management anyway. Dwight Howard was worshipped in Orlando, and he will be in L.A., too, in time. Fans just don't hold grudges unless they are directly impacted…
And Magic fans won't forgive Howard. Both players jerked their teams around and left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. It's not just the kind of thing where they can repair their image by winning another dunk contest, making a huge charity contribution or having a really good commercial for their shoe company. It takes wins. It takes rings. And it takes continued success.
Will Howard be lucky enough to get that gambit of luck? Will he win championships and stay healthy?
Staying healthy is the key. Howard missed the entire 2012 playoffs with herniated discs in his back. He had to rehab the entire offseason and didn't get to participate in the Olympic basketball experience. He is already a wounded soldier, but he's as strong as an ox, and tougher, so people know he can work through it and play through pain.
The thing is, it's scary that he has to. At only 26 years of age, Howard is just getting close to entering his prime, but Magic fans remember all too well the way Tracy McGrady was during his final years in Orlando. He had back spasms and eventually deteriorated over time after being traded to Houston.
Will Howard, like McGrady, fall victim to one of the most difficult to maintain portions of the human body — the back?
Really, it almost seems like a long shot that Howard will be healthy. It would mean he had fully rehabbed from an injury bad enough to make him miss the most important part of the season. Is that likely or is it wishful thinking?
Howard works hard. But sometimes hard work isn't enough, and unless he wins, his individual success won't be enough. The thing is, he is going to win.
All factors considered, Howard will be absolved of villainy status. He will make fans forget he ever played in Orlando after winning multiple rings in Lakers purple and gold.
Like Shaq, faithful Magic fans will remember he once donned pinstripes and had a skinny wiry frame.
Just the same as the first Superman, Howard's ego ballooned with every fiber of his newly added muscle, eventually encompassing a mass large enough that those same Magic fans will wish to become apathetic and to forget he ever played for their team at all. It just won't be a league-wide epidemic.