Can Dwight Howard lead the Magic this season?

6 Comments

Orlando did not look very impressive in their first preseason game, a 118-85 drubbing at the hands of the Heat. To which the normal — and correct — response is: so what? It’s their first preseason game, it’s meaningless. Dwight Howard was off for a night and we should not care. Nobody expects playoff execution levels and focus here.

But over at ESPN, Brian Windhorst raised an interesting question — can Dwight Howard motivate and lead this team to overcome these kind of situations in the future?

The Magic starters got run over by the Heat’s bench (which is not a terribly impressive collection) with very little fight. Even in the preseason that should lead to a little fire from the Magic going forward.

Howard said he wanted to rally the troops.

“I told the guys we’re in this together … we’re going to stay on the path to win a championship,” Howard said. “Like I told the guys, at the present time we’re all on the same team and we’re all in this together. Until that changes, we should go out and play hard every night….

“[I’m] keeping the guys in line and not letting them lose focus of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Howard said. “I’m not really focused on [the trade] right now.”

But are his teammates listening? Howard has a trade request out there, do his teammates really feel like he wants to be there and be one of them playing hard every night? It’s easy to imagine a scenario where they do not.

One preseason game offers no real indication, but that doesn’t make the question any less valid. Every team faces adversity over the course of a season and one of the things that defines the best teams is how they respond to it.

Howard and Jameer Nelson are not going to combine to go 2-for-19 most nights like they did in this first game of the preseason. The Magic are better than that. But how this team deals with the swirling trade rumors that will go on all season — until Howard is traded or agrees to an extension — are going to be a challenge to play through. The team needs a leader.

Can that be Howard?