Dwight Howard's 'New Beginning' with Rockets Will Just Be More of the Same
Once officially introduced as a member of the Rockets, Howard spoke of change and a fresh start.
"It means a lot to me just to have a fresh start and have an opportunity to write my own story," Howard said, as quoted by The Associated Press. "I don't think people understood the fact that I got traded to L.A., and now I had a chance to really choose my own destiny, and this is the place where I chose and I'm happy about it."
Completely neglecting the fact that he wasn't forced into staying with the Orlando Magic for eight years and that the Los Angeles Lakers were actually on his list of preferred destinations one year ago, Howard talked like a man freed from prison after being convicted of a crime he didn't commit.
Really, Howard was incarcerated in a self-manufactured cell block of immaturity and, yes, incompetence.
Superman wasn't coerced into doing anything he didn't want to, at least nothing that he couldn't have put a stop to. He didn't have to sign an extension with the Magic in 2007, and he most certainly didn't have to waive his early termination option five years later.
On both occasions, Howard could have waited and left eventually.
But he didn't. Because he's Dwight Howard, increasingly indecisive and devoid of the capacity to lead a team the way Kobe Bryant and James Harden have, or how Jameer Nelson did.
Never forget that while Howard led the Magic statistically, Nelson was more of a leader than he ever was. Howard didn't just burn bridges; he torched the ones he built with his peers before and after he left Orlando.
Then, instead of allowing the Magic to trade him during the 2011-12 campaign or whatever else they had planned, and exploring free agency that summer, Howard willingly ceded his right to control his own "destiny."
He could have finished out the year in Orlando or somewhere else, then joined his buddy Deron Williams with the Brooklyn Nets, or found another unwitting team to pay him big money to be something he's not.
Not to say that Howard isn't worth the cash Houston ponied up for him. He is, or rather, he could be. It all depends on what the Rockets are asking of him.
Dwight talks of a new beginning, yet continues to perpetuate a delusion that he alone created.
People understood that he was traded to Los Angeles. They also understood he put himself in the position to where he needed to be traded after waffling back and forth on his loyalty to Orlando. And they continue to understand that he's yet to prove worthy of our unconditional affections.
In Orlando, he couldn't make it work as the primary scorer and secondary leader (again, Jameer). So he left, leaving a trail of lost jobs and irreparable relationships in his wake.
With the Lakers, he was playing next to a slew of seasoned leaders. Kobe and Pau Gasol are both champions, and Steve Nash is a former MVP. Howard couldn't make it work with them, speaking volumes about him as a teammate.
What's so new, so much better about this version of Howard then?
Let's assume that he'll be fine numerically, that the post game he's been developing for the past half-decade finally becomes something other than a transient concept, and his path to the free-throw line is no longer deemed the Walk of Shame. What then?
Howard still has to lead everywhere he goes, whether in the locker room or on the court.
At 27, Howard is the second-oldest player (along with Omer Asik) on Houston's roster, behind Francisco Garcia. The Rockets will look to him to lead them the way a veteran should.
James Harden has already proven to be a better commander than Howard, and I really mean that. Still only 23, he can't provide the kind of guidance like someone who has spent nearly a decade in the NBA. That responsibility now belongs to Dwight.
Houston is such a young team, and the Rockets need somebody to ground them, to help anchor still budding and uncertain aspirations. If he can't do that, they can't just look to Garcia and call it a day. Dwight needs to be that guy.
To date, he's yet to show he can be.
Howard, in some ways, inadvertently put more pressure on himself by choosing Houston. Orlando was ready to pave the ground he walked on in gold no matter what he did, and in Hollywood, he lived in the protective shadows of more established luminaries like Kobe and Nash.
There is no such safety net with the Rockets. Harden won't be blamed when Houston comes up short. He was solely responsible for transforming the Rockets into a playoff team again. Failure to make the jump to contender will be attributed to the one who was supposed to elevate Houston's status—Dwight.
Voluntarily choosing to subject himself to such standards would suggest that Howard is ready. That he can do this. That this is a fresh start for a new Dwight.
The way he talks about reverting back to how he used to be says otherwise.
"I want to get back to being that guy who was playing and having fun but at the same time dominating," Howard said, according to David Barron of Ultimate Rockets.
All that guy did was smile and dominate, though. He didn't lead. Even when he single-handedly carried the Magic to the finals in 2009, he wasn't the leader he needed to be.
He arguably still isn't.
Operating under a fleeting guise has become Howard's M.O. Say what the people want to hear. Make them think you've changed when you haven't.
Who will the Rockets rely on more to be an emotional leader?
With the Rockets comes a new beginning. Just like Howard had on countless occasions in Orlando, and just like he had in Los Angeles. Securing a fresh start was never the problem; making the most of it was.
“If we dedicate ourselves and sacrifice everything we’ve got for a championship, at the end of the season we should be holding up a trophy," Howard posited, per Barron.
Concessions like he never made in Orlando or Los Angeles. Like a leader should.
But like Howard never will.
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