Denton: Howard Desires to be Magic's "Closer"

By John DentonFebruary 13, 2012
ORLANDO – Sounding more and more like a player committed to the Orlando Magic for the long term, superstar center Dwight Howard reiterated his desire to be the team’s go-to scorer late in games and the one to lead the franchise to a championship.

Howard spoke for more than 12 minutes on Monday night after the Magic’s 102-89 defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves about his wanting to become more of a dependable fourth-quarter player.

Often, the Magic ride Howard in the post early in games, but go away from the six-time all-star late in games because of his free throw struggles. Howard wants that to change and he wants to get to a point where the team is comfortable dropping the ball down to him late in games knowing that he will make the right play.

``My point is that I want to be the guy to carry the team. I don’t think that’s bad,’’ Howard said after scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds on Monday. ``I want to be the guy to carry the team in the fourth quarter. That doesn’t mean just scoring the ball, but making plays. I want my teammates and everybody to have confidence in me. That’s not me being cocky or me saying me, me, me.

``I want to lead this team and be that guy. Kobe (Bryant) is that guy for the Lakers, Carmelo (Anthony) is that guy for the Knicks and (Michael) Jordan was the guy for the Bulls,’’ Howard continued. ``I want to be great. Great players want to take that load and put a team on their backs. That’s what I want to do for this Magic team. … I want to carry this team to a championship and I want them to ride my back. I want to lead this team.’’

Howard, who has played all eight of his NBA seasons in Orlando, issued a trade request before the season. Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, gave the Magic a list of three teams he’d prefer to be traded to – the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers. Speculation has run rampant all season that Howard has expanded that list to include the Bulls, Clippers and Knicks. But the Magic have resisted making any deals, hoping to sway their franchise player into sticking around Orlando for the long term.

Howard sounded like anything but a player looking to leave the Magic late Monday night. He said he’s talked recently with Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy about wanting to have more plays run for him late in the games, and he’s hoping some changes are made in the near future.

``We’ve talked about this before (with Van Gundy) and I’m going to continue to be patient. I just want to have opportunities where I can lead my team,’’ Howard said. ``This is my team, and that’s not being cocky or anything like that. But I’m the captain and the leader of the team. I want everybody to have total confidence in me. And I don’t think that’s bad.’’

Howard first broached the subject with a reporter from Fox Sports Wisconsin on Saturday night following the Magic’s thrilling 99-94 defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks. Guard Jason Richardson was the star of the show by making nine 3-pointers and scoring 31 points, while Howard struggled through a five-of-15 shooting night. Howard said his pleas for the ball in late-game situations were misconstrued for him being frustrated following a big team win.

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Howard, 26, said the only way he will ever get better at being a closer for the Magic is having the chances to go through those situations now with the Magic. Through the years, he has developed a relationship for L.A.’s Bryant and he uses him as an example of a player learning how to properly close games.

``If you want to be great you have to go through situations that bring greatness out of you,’’ Howard said. ``The only example I can give you is Kobe. The early stages of his career he air-balled a lot of (late-game) shots, but he never stopped taking them. Now, everybody in the arena and watching on TV knows that Kobe is going to get the ball and make the right decisions whether it’s shooting the ball or finding somebody wide open.’’

Howard is a career 59.2 percent shooter from the foul line and he’s struggled this season while making just 49.4 percent of his tries from the stripe. But Howard doesn’t think poor shooting at the foul line should prevent the Magic from running the offense through him with games on the line.

``I’ve played basketball since I was three, but you have to go through phases to get to where you want to get,’’ Howard said. ``You don’t just get there by stepping in and all of a sudden being great. It’s like saying you have to crawl before you walk. Basketball is just like life. You have to crawl and start at the bottom to get to the top.

``I’m going to go through games where I miss a lot of shots. Kobe went through it, Jordan went through it. But after doing it so much they got confidence in themselves to make any shot,’’ he continued. ``I want to have that (confidence) and I want my teammates to have that (confidence) in me. I just want to be that guy for our team and let them know that they can count on me.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com
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