Dwight Howard's business savvy is often misperceived as selfishness.
Going back to his final days with the Orlando Magic, his indecisiveness was misconstrued as excessive narcissism when really, it was just that, personal equivocation at its best.
With the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard is no longer vacillating (at least publicly). He's taken the self-imposed ambiguity out of the equation. He's remained noncommittal because that's what he is. The big man is going to become an unrestricted free agent this summer
And this is incorrectly recognized (by some) as selfish too.
No one in their right mind can defend the hellacious roller coaster ride Howard forced us to endure only last season. He danced to the beat of so many different drums, it was infuriating. But that's also why the distaste for his present demeanor is so vexing.
All we wanted last year was for Howard to make a decision: Re-sign with the Magic or leave. Force a trade or stay. Become a free agent or don't.
When he finally chose to waive his early termination option (ETO), a sense of relief spread over the masses. As we know all too well, that "relief" was short-lived. Howard immediately regretted his decision and the Dwightmare, the destructive fluctuation, continued.
Though it's true Howard doesn't know where he'll sign over the offseason, he does know what he wants. And speaking candidly with CBS Los Angeles' Kristine Leahy, he made it clear what he wants is to remain "all in" with Los Angeles now:
I'm all in. I'm here now and what I want to do is help this team win a championship. That's my goal for this season.
I'm not going to say 'I'm all out,' when I'm all in. I'm all in. I'm trying to win a championship, and I'm committed to helping this team win. That's why they brought me here.
Howard has yet to commit to that. He's been all about the now and keeping his options open, which has essentially left the Lakers in the dark.
Can you say "selfish?"
Of course you can, but the word we're looking for here is "ingenious."
If Howard learned anything from last season's soap opera (and I'm hoping he learned a lot), it's that there's nothing to be gained from closing any doors, from not keeping your options open.
Whether he was goaded or hornswoggled into making a definitive decision on his future last year doesn't matter. No good came from it.
He was berated for not committing to the Magic sooner. He was villainized for seeking a trade. And he was artificial for forfeiting his ETO.
As much as we'd like to believe that Howard was out only for himself from the beginning, the fun-loving behemoth (at least on some level) was trying to please everyone. He'd never faced such a quandary before and wasn't accustomed to being considered anything but infallible. It's only natural that he would try to preserve such a perception of himself.
In attempting to indulge everyone, though, it took him quite some time to realize it wasn't possible. Never being in the position of power he was then in, he was clearly unaware that he would be disparaged no matter what he did.
Had he remained in Orlando, he wasn't a winner. He was a coward, incapable of actualizing Big City dreams. Leaving the Magic, though, also rendered him gutless, someone who didn't have the stomach to lead his incumbent team toward prosperity.
Just as there was no universal resolution to this arduous process then, there isn't one now, something Howard (finally) understands (via Leahy):
At the end of the day, just like Mitch [Kupchak] and everybody knows, it's my decision to make at the end of the year...
It's my choice. That's what free agency is. You have the opportunity to decide what you want to do with your career.
People might get upset about it because their team might lose, or another team might gain.
Howard's epiphany is a bit overdue, but that doesn't discredit the accuracy of the revelation itself.
Dwight's exactly right. People are going to get upset no matter what he does. Just as some were bothered when he opted to remain with the Magic (at first) and just as some were agitated with his eventual decision to leave.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and nothing is to be gleaned from attempting to disprove reality. Howard can't beat it. He can't escape it.
By leaving the door open even ajar for him to do what he pleases, Howard is winning the game he refused to even play last year. His fate is in his own hands just like it has always been, yes, but he's no longer attempting to parlay said fate into celestial acceptance.
Because it doesn't exist. It's not just an implausible state, it's an impossible one. Even if he were to come out and state his intentions to re-sign with Los Angeles, it would be absolutely nothing. He can't sign anything until this summer.
This a losing battle not worth waging.
What is worth fighting for (if you're Dwight) is what Howard wants. If he can't assuage everyone, he should at least placate himself, fulfill his own desires. Not anyone else's, but his. Our perception of him is forever tainted (at least slightly) anyway.
"At the end of the day, this is our lives, this is our career," Howard said (via Leahy). "And we always have to what's best for us."
Perhaps that is selfish, but it's also realistic. And if being savvy dictates Howard also be selfish, then so be it.