For the first time since 2007, Dwight Howard will not start the NBA All-Star Game.
To his credit, Howard has said all the right things since learning of his starting lineup snub, per the Rockets' Twitter account:
D12 on not being named All-Star starter: "I didn't come to Houston to be a starter in the All-Star game. I came here to win a championship"— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 24, 2014
Under the old voting rules, in which voters chose a center and two forwards, Howard would have been named a starter.
But Howard was chosen to the starting squad last season, the first year of the three-forward, two-guard voting system. And when a longtime starter is voted off the squad while still in his athletic prime—believe it or not, Howard is still only 28—people will take note.
At first blush, perhaps Howard simply lost the "Laker bump." The Los Angeles Lakers have a massive fanbase, both here and abroad, and they showed their voting muscle in 2013-14 by voting Kobe Bryant into the All-Star Game starting lineup despite the fact that he has only played six games on the season.
Howard incurred the ire of the entire Laker-hating world by forcing a trade to Los Angeles in the 2012 offseason. Then, he turned around and angered Lakers fans by spurning the team for Houston in the 2013 offseason. Once a player has pulled off the rare double feat of alienating both Lakers fans and haters—i.e. 98 percent of the known world—he isn't likely to fare well in many popularity contests.
But Howard's decline in votes has not been an isolated, one-year thing. NBA.com's Jeff Caplan noticed the precipitous drop in Howard's voting numbers since 2009, when Howard was the NBA's top overall vote-getter. According to Caplan, Howard has lost votes in each subsequent year:
The 2008-09 season was the height of Dwight-mania.
The 23-year-old center was at his dominating best, leading the league in offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds, blocks and defensive win shares on his way to his first of three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. He would go on to his lead the Magic to a shocking upset of LeBron James and the favored Cleveland Cavaliers en route to the second NBA Finals in Magic history.
At the time, Howard was a relative newcomer—a G-rated alternative to popular-but-polarizing players like Kobe Bryant. But the more NBA fans learned about Howard, the less they liked.
Howard's last few years in Orlando were a nonstop barrage of negative press: trade demands, waffling, back-stabbing and more trade demands. His popularity will probably never recover from his final season in Orlando, 2011-12, when his own head coach, Stan Van Gundy, accused him of working behind the scenes to get Van Gundy fired.
The incident led to perhaps the most awkward, disingenuous (on Howard's part) interview in NBA history.
But should the real story here be the decline of Dwight Howard or the rise of the center/forward position in the Western Conference? According to Basketball-Reference.com, Howard ranks eighth in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among Western Conference forwards and centers:
- Kevin Durant: 30.7
- Kevin Love: 27.2
- DeMarcus Cousins: 26.4
- Anthony Davis: 26.2
- LaMarcus Aldridge: 23.9
Dirk Nowitzki: 22.9
- Blake Griffin: 22.7
- Howard: 21.6
Perhaps NBA fans are voting for other players not out of spite for Howard but because they think other players are more worthy?