Denton: A Reunion With Dwight in L.A. (Part 2)


By John Denton
December 1, 2012

NO PHIL AND KOBE IN CONTROL

Howard’s personal struggles on the court have somewhat mirrored those of the Lakers early in the season.

Despite what many in the NBA might think because of the way stars have always historically flocked to the Lakers to play on arguably the league’s glitziest showcase, Howard was always somewhat hesitant about playing in L.A. It’s why when Howard initially issued a trade demand last season, playing in Brooklyn or Dallas always ranked ahead of Los Angeles.

Quietly, Howard feared that Kobe Bryant would never want to share the stage of being a go-to player, and some of those fears have been realized already. As a perennial all-star and the undisputed best big man in the game, Howard didn’t relish the thought of having to play second-fiddle to anyone – not even a star of Bryant’s enormous stature.

Being ``The Man’’ was part of what he enjoyed most about being in Orlando. Every draft-day decision and free-agency find the Magic made was done while wondering how it would affect Howard’s play and status on the team.

In Los Angeles, Howard ranks second on the team in scoring (18.6 points per game), but shockingly third on the squad in field goal attempts. Bryant has taken a whopping 111 shots more shots, while even the struggling Pau Gasol has gotten up 10 more attempts than Howard. And considering that the aging Metta World Peace has attempted only 11 fewer shots, it’s not hard to understand why Howard has had games where he’s attempted just four, six, seven (twice) and nine shots. And when he scored just seven points against both Sacramento and Memphis on Nov. 21 and 23, it was the first time since 2010 that he failed to crack double digits in scoring in consecutive games.

``I do understand that sometimes I have to get fed now and then,’’ Howard told the Los Angeles Times last month, referring to him needing the ball. ``A big man should eat.’’

Howard made little secret in Los Angeles of the fact that he hoped Phil Jackson would be hired by the Lakers after Brown was whacked five games into the season. Howard liked that Jackson’s triangle offense was always anchored by a dominant center and he hoped that Jackson could help him win titles as O’Neal did from 2000-03 while with the Lakers.

The Lakers met with the 11-time champion coach, but ultimately decided to hire D’Antoni. That had to be somewhat unsettling to Howard because of D’Antoni’s history of designing his offenses around point guards and lithe forwards.

The move was considered a somewhat risky one for the Lakers because Howard can still become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and he could look elsewhere if this time with the Lakers ends poorly. (Some in Orlando have even started to wonder if Howard would entertain the thought of a return to the Magic.)

While vowing to make the best of things under D’Antoni, Howard pulled out a line that his first NBA coach, Johnny Davis, used to tell him during his rookie season in Orlando.

``I’m fine if I’m supposed to score. If not, I’ll just go get it off the glass. There are always ways to get buckets, not just somebody calling plays,’’ Howard said recently.

FILLING THE VOID

Redick is one of the Magic’s holdovers from the Howard era who knows best the impact a star player has on a basketball team. Redick’s dressing stall in the Magic locker room was near Howard’s for the better part of six years and he was the beneficiary of countless open 3-point shots because of the attention the dominant center received on the inside.

Even with the daily drama resulting from Howard requesting a trade in training camp and waffling throughout much of last season, the Magic were still one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference with the dunking, shot-swatting star in the middle.

Howard shocked the basketball world last March when he waived his opt-out clause and chose to remain with the Magic beyond the trade deadline. But ultimately, a rift between he and then-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy worsened and Howard left the team, in part, because of his ailing back.

Though some feared it at the time, no one affiliated with the Magic or rooting for the franchise knew fully that April 7 – the night of an 88-82 defeat of the 76ers in Philadelphia – would be the final one that Howard would don the blue and black of the Magic.

It’s only now that Redick said he fully realizes the impact of having and not having a player like Howard on the roster. Even with all of the zaniness that went on last season during Howard’s will-he-or-won’t-he-stay drama, the Magic were still very much a factor with Howard on the roster.

Now, they are left trying to fill the enormous void that his Aug. 10 trade caused. And Redick, for one, knows that won’t be an easy thing to do for the Magic. After all, he said, in the NBA it’s all about having ``a guy.’’

``Last year was trying at times and the whole thing was a distraction,’’ Redick remembered.

``For us, as we move forward into the future, we will need a player like (Howard),’’ Redick continued. ``That’s just the truth that you need a guy. When I think about our team in 2009 that was very close to winning a championship and we had a guy, we had Dwight. We also had good players around him, but we didn’t have a `Big Three’ or superstars. To win at this level, you need a star, a guy, and good players around them to play their roles. In 2009 and 2010, we had that.’’

What Redick didn’t say was that the Magic don’t have that type of dominant player now, and the mission ahead is to try and develop, draft or lure one to Orlando as soon as possible.

Until then, Magic fans will be left with their memories of Howard’s time in Orlando and showdowns like Sunday’s against the dominant big man. This time around, Howard’s white jersey won’t feature stars and (pin)stripes and will instead be trimmed in purple and gold. And maybe, just maybe, those garish purple armbands and the crooked gold headband will help distract Magic fans from remembering the past.

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