LeBron's dominance was at a level where he actually had people believing that Antawn Jamison could be the missing piece to a championship team. The Akron Hammer got Mo Williams into an All-Star Game. Oh yeah, and by playing with James, Anderson Varejao is now considered "untouchable." No wonder LeBron took his talents to South Beach.
Anyone who watches the NBA, or even listens to what some of the announcers have to say, can tell you the impact that an elite player can have on his team.
Prime example—LeBron turned a team full of average role players into a No. 1 seed and title contenders. As soon as he leaves town, they're a team struggling to even compete on a nightly basis, landing the top pick in the NBA draft. And as soon as people saw this, we all understood why LeBron left.
These special players are at a premium, even in today's superstar league. And with the recent alignment of star players, very few are left on their own the way LeBron was in Cleveland. One of these players is due for free agency in one year. You may have heard of him: Dwight Howard.
Howard is an absolute monster on both ends of the floor who is as capable of taking over a game as anyone in the league. Opposing teams guard him with at least two players at all times, usually with very little success. Teams have resorted to recycling defenders who simply foul D12 in hopes that he won't make his free throws. Given the shortage of quality big men in the league, Howard's ability is even more valuable considering he gets to exhibit it against many low-quality big men.
We'll start just by looking at his basic statistics. This past season, D12 averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and even 1.4 steals. Mind you, this is on 59 percent shooting. Pretty efficient if you ask me. If you look at John Hollinger's Advanced Statistics, you'll find that Howard added a staggering 22.7 estimated wins to the Orlando Magic in 2010-2011, second only to James.
Not too shabby. The second current Magic player on this list is shooting guard Jason Richardson, with an estimated wins added of about six, making him 79th in the league. Yikes. Not to mention that judging by PER, player efficiency rating, J-Rich was pretty close to the definition of an average player. And he is considered by many to be the second-best player on the Magic.
Simply said, the numbers will tell you that D12 is a superstar trapped with a bunch of average players. Nobody can tell me that Jason Richardson, Brandon Bass and Jameer Nelson are a championship-caliber supporting cast, even when they are put around the league's most dominant big man.
More importantly, let's move past the numbers for a second. Coach Stan Van Gundy has built his team by placing a lot of shooters around his inside force, based on his belief that three-pointers, dunks and free throws are the most efficient plays in the game.
Let's be honest here—the Magic will never win a championship with that belief and this kind of roster. This is a team filled with a bunch of washed-up shot-takers with enormous contracts—and yes, I'm looking at you, Gilbert Arenas.
The Atlanta Hawks acknowledged this and exposed the Magic for what they really are, which is a one-player team. The Hawks rotated defenders and allowed Howard to take over the game while the rest of his team stood around and watched. And his numbers were spectacular during that series. He was dominant. Yet, the Magic fell without much of a fight to an above-average Hawks team.
The sad part is that the Magic have almost no flexibility to improve through trade. Their roster is infected with so many average players and terrible contracts that no team will be willing to do business with the Magic. They were able to dump Rashard Lewis and his massive contract, but also had to take on Gilbert Arenas and his equally daunting deal.
Jameer Nelson might have some appeal to teams, but the point guard position is so loaded nowadays that the demand for a point guard is highly diluted.
It's sad to say, but Howard is doomed to rot in Orlando for as long as he is there. Take a note from Shaq, Dwight, and get out of there while you can.
With the way the lockout is going, that time might be now. Because we may have seen the last of Dwight Howard in a Magic uniform. Now let's see him dominate with a new team capable of winning a championship. Where that will be, nobody knows.
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This can also be seen on The Fan Manifesto