Updated Feb 20, 2013 - 10:12 am
Defending Dwight Howard: A Phoenix viewpoint
I don't think the media helps much, specifically Shaquille O'Neal (whose constant callouts of Dwight show zero self-awareness of his playing days and a complete disregard of what actually transpired), infiltrates a lot of fans' minds when discussing the Lakers center.
Before even getting into this I have to point out the logistics of getting Dwight Howard to the Phoenix Suns is unlikely and he would have to pick them over several teams which will present better situations. Not only that, but from a salary structure point of view, the Suns won't have enough space to offer him max money according to the numbers at ShamSports.com. Without even including two potential lottery picks, Phoenix already has $41 million in salaries committed for next year. The salary cap ceiling this season was a tiny bit over $58 million. Unless there is a substantial raise in the ceiling (really unlikely), Phoenix won't have enough room to pay Howard outside of working out a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers or moving significant amounts of guaranteed salary for expiring contracts before Thursday's trade deadline.
Now let's pretend the previous paragraph doesn't exist and go along with the hypothetical.
Doug and Wolf posed the following question on Arizona Sports 620 Monday: if the Suns had an opportunity to get Dwight Howard would you want him? They even posted the question on their Facebook page. There were 54 comments and this is a sample of some of the responses:
• No... Overrated... Can never be counted on down the stretch, cause he cant make his free throws and is very limited on offense... He should be happy being a Dennis Rodman type player and the pay rate of a second tier player... Than maybe
• HELL, NO!
• NO, NEVER.
• Noooooooooo!!!! We need to rebuild thru the draft. Not bring in an over paid, whining baby to be hurt both physically and emotionally!!!
• He is a big cry baby. Don't want him.
• No. But most likely the Suns will wait until he is way past his prime. Pick him up, then trade him for nothing. Can't wait.
• No. Injury prone. Ego to big. Plays for himself. Can't hit jump shots or free throws to save his life.
There were some positive comments mixed in, but the majority looked like that. Read those one or two times and then remember the Suns current roster features Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye (not playing currently, I know), Diante Garrett, Marcin Gortat, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, Jermaine O'Neal, Luis Scola, Sebastian Telfair, P.J. Tucker and Luke Zeller.
Now comprehend the people who don't want Dwight Howard are the fans who have to watch the above roster for 82 entire games.
I think the best way to explain this, and in this instance, yes, the capitals are all necessary -- WHAT!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news during this time when hating on Howard is the hip thing to do, but he is still potentially a transcendent talent.
In Howard's current form, with a bad back, one arm and questionable effort on a nightly basis, he averages 16.3 points with a .578 FG percentage, 11.8 rebounds (leads NBA), and 2.3 blocks.
The drop in points can partially be attributed to a reduction in his role in the offense (Hellllllllooooooooooo Kobe Bryant). According to basketball-reference.com Dwight's usage rate (estimate of the % of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor) is the lowest it has been since his second year in the NBA.
Saying that, there is no question Howard isn't who he once was. If your argument against Dwight is the risk of paying max money to a player whose explosiveness still hasn't returned after back surgery would be absolutely reasonable.
My problem is with the notion Howard isn't a winner or can't be the best player on a team.
You would think after what happened with LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, who flipped the unfairly developed narratives the media once built about them, that a lesson would be learned -- but it hasn't been.
Here are some facts that can't be disputed:
In Howard's rookie season, the Magic won 15 more games, going from 21 wins to 36.
In seven full seasons, leaving out last year and this season, Howard was the best player on teams that won 50 games four times, two of those four they won 59 games. Six playoff appearances, three conference semifinals, two conference finals and one NBA Finals.
The Magic beat the Cavaliers to get to the NBA Finals in a series LeBron James averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game (remember guys, LeBron wasn't clutch). Note the other four starters in that series were Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Dwight was good enough that a team with 'Skip 2 My Lou' playing a significant role was able to get within three wins of winning a championship.
When you dive into the on/off court numbers from his second year until this year Dwight has had a positive impact on his teams, and from year four (age 22) to year eight, the impact was significant.
At his best, Howard is the best center in the league, and it isn't even a debate.
Like many before him, Howard still needs to go through a process of maturing and learning -- he is only 27 years old.
Getting a talent like Howard is the type of move that if you have minimal amount of luck (the complete opposite of what has happened with the Lakers this season), it will change the direction of your franchise for the next 10 years.
Even with Dwight's potentially hampering injuries, the reward of acquiring him outweighs the risk. If you choose to judge Howard on his play from a small, injury-riddled sample size, that is your choice. There are years of evidence that says this isn't the norm.
The Suns passing on a player of Howard's status would be a gigantic mistake. When a franchise falls flat, being forced into a position of rebuilding, cap space hoarding and asset compiling, it's done with the focus of best-case scenario acquiring someone of Dwight's stature. In most scenarios you end up with something much less.
If there is an opportunity for the Suns to acquire Dwight Howard, they must pounce on it without the slightest hesitation or they would be doing their fans and organization a disservice.
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