x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Howard's way is wearing thin at Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic's star Dwight Howard has been reduced to a sideshow and is showing signs of the seven-year itch.

Orlando Magic can trade their star player Dwight Howard, right, but the All Star Weekend is happening in the city this year.
Orlando Magic can trade their star player Dwight Howard, right, but the All Star Weekend is happening in the city this year.

Superman, they call him. A more fitting nickname for Dwight Howard would be Man-Child.

If he were banished forever to a deserted island and could take one DVD, he said, it would be the animated children's film Finding Nemo. The towering practitioner of earthquake dunks and flyswatter blocks is fond of cartoon characters.

He has an advanced degree in class clownery.

Late in a recent loss, when athletes are expected to adopt a grim expression, the Orlando Magic centre goofed throughout a "Kiss-Cam" break.

He should attach a smiley face to his autographs. Even when an official's call goes against him, his lips are prone to curl up in a smile. (Not always, though. Among his dominant statistical categories is technical fouls.)

But while Howard endears himself to young and casual basketball fans, he grates on others. They rip into the guy with the ripped body, attributing his sparse offensive arsenal to a perceived shortage of dedication.

Unfair, all of it.

Finding Dwight is easier than finding Nemo. Always look first in the gym, where he works before and after team practices on post moves, jump shots and, somewhat fruitlessly, free throws.

Short of a personality transplant, he never will exhibit Kobe Bryant's scowl or Kevin Garnett's snarl. Accept the fact that his cheery attitude contrasts with the dour template set by his big-man ancestors Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The man is earning US$18.1 million (Dh66m) per year for playing a game. Give me the same job and salary, and it might take a soldering iron to erase the grin off my face.

That said, Howard would be better served to control his childlike impulses with remarks in the locker and media interview rooms. While his honesty in both settings is refreshing, the messages he sends have been off the mark.

With his Magic contract about to run its course, the pending free agent has scattered enough clues on preferred future employers that NBA observers have kept a running list. (The best guess on Howard's big three: the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, while the Chicago Bulls are considered in play.)

Howard has dropped no hints that extending his stay in Orlando is desirable. The locals who have embraced him would appreciate any sign of contentment, but he has conveyed the notion that his suitcases are packed and his real estate agent is readying a mansion for sale.

At the same time, he has lashed into teammates for supposed lack of effort. "If you don't want to be out there, don't dress up," he scolded them once.

The admonitions strike some as shallow, coming from a player who might not want to be out there with the Magic beyond this year.

Howard opened himself up to more criticism for mildly complaining after one game that not enough plays were run through him in crunch time.

"I want to be that guy whose team wants him to close games out for them," he said. "Coach [Stan Van Gundy] just needs to have confidence in me."

He might, if not for a statistical measure called True Shooting Percentage, which accounts for foul shots as well as field goal attempts. It places Howard in a six-way tie for 81st in the league. That is somewhere between go-to and stay-away-from.

That Howard is contemplating a change of scenery is understandable. This is what NBA stars do nowadays: wait until they are contractually unencumbered, then shop for a team based on putting a title ring on their finger.

During Howard's term, six-and-a-half seasons and counting down, the Magic have been in constant roster churn, always seeking a championship combo of players. They came close in 2009, getting Kob-eed by Bryant and the Lakers in the finals.

Howard has a common NBA malady - a seventh-year itch - and he seems inclined to scratch it.

Now comes All-Star Weekend in, of all places, Orlando. Were the festivities staged in any of the NBA's other 28 cities, the Magic might already have traded Howard.

They could not have tolerated the embarrassment of their long-standing star representing another franchise.

Much like the Colts quarterback Peyton Manning at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Howard looms as a media sideshow that could overwhelm the event. (Not that the NBA's dressed-up exhibition remotely compares to the biggest game of all.)

It would behove Howard to check his tongue. To speak kindly of his current bosses, teammates and city. To refrain from speculating on future mailing addresses.

It is asking too much for him to pledge undying commitment to Orlando.

His days appear numbered, and the number might not be much larger than his jersey digits (12) - unless the team decides to risk retaining him for the balance of the season, at which point they could offer more money than anyone else.

Still, the All-Star hosts must brace themselves for the likelihood that Superman will not be a Magic man much longer.