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Fran Blinebury

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Dwight Howard's on-court skills are unquestioned, but his off-court personality of late is worrisome.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Howard's off-court antics a cautionary tale for his suitors


Posted Jul 3 2012 10:11AM

Here's a word for the basketball minds in Brooklyn or Dallas or Houston or Los Angeles or any other NBA outpost that has even the slightest inclination to reel in Dwight Howard.

Beware.

Not of the winning smile, but the losing act. Not of those three Defensive Player of the Year trophies, but the defensiveness that rises up to explain away every latest impetuous act.

So now Howard wants out of Orlando again. After he wanted back in. After he wanted out. After he wanted, oh, never mind.

And now he's offended again, mostly at the people who take the words that he utters and repeat them.

There are demolitions experts who couldn't have set charges to Howard's image and done a better job of blowing it up. The bigger concern if you're a team ready to offer him an $80- or $100-million contract is whether that razing has revealed the cracked reality behind a facade.

Barely 18 months ago, Howard was a carefree, brilliant young All-Star center who could dance through downtown Orlando wearing his Superman cape and the citizens followed him. Now, they are holding the door open for his departure.

Little has changed except Howard's demeanor and yet, that is everything. Signing him to a max-level contract is akin to turning over the keys to the arena and franchise to him ... and that's a considerable gamble when you track the past seven months.

Howard has hemmed and hawed (and danced and tip-toed) around a situation entirely of his own making that began last season by never clearly stating whether he was staying or leaving Orlando.

By the time he had twisted the Magic organization into pretzel knots and arrived in San Antonio on March 14, the night before the trade deadline, Howard had managed to turn himself into the victim ... at least to himself.

"You're trying to make me someone I'm not," he said then in the locker room.

This was the same person who stood the media throng and would not answer a direct question: Did you tell your teammates this morning that you were going to stay?

"You all have sources," Howard replied. "Why don't you ask your sources?"

Because, he was told, we're asking what should be the most reliable source: you.

He shook his head and walked away.

A few weeks later, there was Magic coach Video Stan Van Gundy dropping the post-practice bombshell that he knew Howard had tried to get him fired.

Of course, when Video Howard awkwardly stumbled into the interview moments later and was asked about it, he demanded to know the source. When told it was Van Gundy, again he walked away.

There are too many times when Howard seems to be a tall, chiseled 26 going on a typical 16 -- confused and self-centered. Quite simply, he can't make a decision or doesn't want to live with the consequences.

Nobody questions Howard's basketball skills, though there is the matter of being unable to steadily feed your big man the ball late in close games because of his .588 career free throw rate.

But none other than LeBron James is the slam-dunking, three-time MVP evidence that it takes more than sheer talent to win an NBA championship. If the move to Miami and all of the subsequent negative attention nearly consumed James, what might it do to Howard? His fragile ego -- more than his surgically-repaired back -- might not be able to carry the weight.

The Magic appeased him by axing Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith and that wasn't enough. Or maybe it was too much pressure to bear having to stand and deliver after Orlando cleared the deck for him.

Though his eight seasons in Orlando produced six All-Star appearances, it also brought about only one trip to The Finals. In short, Howard, like everyone else, can't do it alone. While that explains his desire to form a union with free agent Deron Williams in Brooklyn, it does little to justify most of his other recent actions.

If you are going to demand to be paid as a franchise player, it requires that you act the part of on-court leader rather than off-court equivocator.

On one hand, he loves Orlando. On the other, he wants the bright lights of the big city. On one hand, he wants help. On the other, he can't stomach sharing the spotlight and the ball with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. With his latest pronouncement that there was only one place he wanted to be traded -- Brooklyn -- he appears more petulant than powerful. After all, it was Howard who gave up his leverage when he signed away his opt-out rights.

What now for a guy who more than anything seems to want a hug?

There will, of course, always be takers coming with buckets of money.

Maybe a few word of caution from Magic G.M. Rob Hennigan:

"We want guys who are about the team...We want guys who are committed to something that is bigger than themselves."

At 7 feet, Dwight Howard has rarely looked smaller.

Buyer beware.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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