And then he opens his mouth.
It's really not clear how he can even fix this self-created mess. He's nearly burned up every bridge he has, with his coaches, his teammates and—most importantly when looking at it from a public relations standpoint—his fans.
If there's any real PR advice to give Howard, it's to shut up and play basketball.
Look, it's a tad unfair to pile on a guy and tell him to shut up and play the day after he gets hurt, but Howard's latest shoulder re-injury serves as just another bump on a tumultuous ride in Los Angeles that is riddled with infighting, overt complaining and the same kind of nonsense that saw the maligned star wear out his welcome in Orlando.
The most infuriating thing about Howard is as great as he is on the court, he has developed the misguided notion that his value exceeds his talent. Simply put, Howard thinks he's better than he is, and that has consistently gotten him in situations he isn't good enough—on the court or in front of a microphone—to escape.
It's exasperating to watch a guy like Howard, who has consistently proven to be one of the best and most efficient players in the game while simultaneously managing to somehow underachieve. Howard is a career 18-point, 13-rebound-per-game player—Hall of Fame-caliber numbers at this point in his career—but he's been fairly maligned throughout his career for not developing a better offensive game.
PR advice for that? Know how good you are, not how good you want people to think you are.
Howard may be one of the most talented players in the league when he's healthy, but—and this is important—he's not healthy. And let's please not forget that Howard may have Hall of Fame-caliber numbers through the early stages of his NBA career, but how many centers in the Hall of Fame got there without winning a title?
Top of my head, I can think of two: Patrick Ewing, who won an NCAA title, and Ralph Sampson, who was a three-time NCAA Player of the Year and a surefire Basketball Hall of Famer before lacing up a high-top in the NBA.
When he's healthy, Howard's issues have less to do with his talent than with his ego. It's as if the off-court stuff is a more important game than the one he actually gets paid to play.
Let's remember, this PR disaster isn't new. Howard could have opted out of his deal in Orlando early, but he chose to stay with the Magic, hijacking their franchise for two full seasons before forcing his way out of town. From a public relations perspective, Howard did everything wrong as he left Orlando, up to and including his deceitful impromptu press conference after Stan Van Gundy told reporters Howard had been angling to get him fired.
Howard thought that draping his arm around the embattled coach and flashing his trademark toothsome grin would get him out of that jam, but it didn't. Howard's lies and double-speak only served to reveal that his PR game was as one-dimensional as his offense.
The advice for that is the same as the advice he should heed now: Tell the darn truth.
His back-and-forth dalliance with Brooklyn was another disaster for Howard, making even fans of the Nets question if the guy is worth all the coddling and petulance.
Clearly—Twitter jokes aside—Kobe Bryant can't be bothered with Howard's antics in Los Angeles. Bryant has reportedly called out Howard on more than one occasion, frustrated with the way the big man is playing the game on and off the court. Sure, Kobe is notoriously hard to please, but Howard was expected to be part of something pretty special in L.A. Now, he's played just over half a season with the Lakers and has already worn out his welcome there too.
The mamba vs d12 !! It's on lol twitter.com/kobebryant/sta…— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 7, 2013
Let's not forget Mike Brown was run out of town five games into Howard's tenure with the Lakers, and with Mike D'Antoni at a less-than-stellar 15-21 after 36 games, the Lakers seem more likely to be interviewing new head coaches this spring than suiting up for the playoffs.
It may not be fair to blame Howard for Brown's struggles or D'Antoni's woes, but a pretty definitive pattern has begun to develop. Either way you crack it, Howard may be playing for his fourth coach in three years next season (fifth if you include the five games under interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff this year).
It could be more than that. Rumors have already started that Los Angeles will deal Howard during the season, especially if it doesn't plan to have him back next year and is hoping for something back in return. Then, depending on where the Lakers can dump the ailing center, Howard could sign with yet another team in the offseason, making that his sixth coach in less than three years, whoever that poor sap may be.
Maybe the PR advice at this point is to quietly ask as politely as possible to be dealt to Dallas or another team with a chance to make the playoffs, do a great job there and hope for the best in the offseason.
It might even be too late for that. Fact is, Howard should be considered damaged goods for every team in the league, on and off the court. This latest shoulder injury may need surgery, leaving him as a question mark physically for the Lakers, Nets or whatever team decides to throw max dollars his way.
If Howard doesn't need surgery or opts to play the rest of the season without going under the knife, the issue could persist, leading to an offseason rehabilitation (or repair) that will undoubtedly cut into next season, essentially putting him in the same exact situation he's in this year, where he claimed he was healthy enough to play until things went bad for his team and then it became nothing but complaints and excuses.
Shut up and play. Or don't play if you're hurt, but still shut up.
The worst thing is that Howard's health isn't even his biggest negative. He's become insufferable in every single way. He can't be coached, he's fighting with teammates, and when asked about his relationship with his coaches or his teammates, he lies to the media, hoping that smile will smooth everything over.
Jeff Van Gundy explained the Howard situation best during a recent ABC telecast, saying, "[T]his is what I've ascertained that he wants that will make him happy: [he wants to be the] highest-paid player, on a championship-caliber team, first option offensive threat, in a big market, with no pressure, no responsibility and no one to prod him from a coaching standpoint."
The smile isn't fooling anyone anymore. Eventually—sooner rather than later by the looks of his health this year—his immense talent will be overshadowed by everything else. If Howard truly wants to be considered one of the game's best, he needs to start acting like one.
The best advice for Howard: Quit complaining, quit squabbling, quit lying and start acting as good as you still think you can play.