Dwight Howard became a villain of sorts among basketball fans, for the way he chose to exit two separate organizations.
His divorce from the Magic was as messy as possible, and involved him asking for the team to fire then-head coach Stan Van Gundy, and going back and forth about opting in and out of the final year of his deal before finally demanding a trade out of town.
In a new documentary entitled “Dwight Howard: In The Moment”, Howard candidly explains his side of the story.
From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
Dwight on asking Magic management to make a coaching change after Orlando’s first-round exit in the 2011 playoffs:
“We shouldn’t be losing like this. I wanted to win. And I went to management and I said: ‘Guys, I’m a player. I just want to give my two cents. I think that our coach has lost his touch with the team. Great coach, but I think he’s lost his touch, I think he’s lost his voice. And I think it’s time that you guys get a new voice.’ I said, ‘I love him as a coach, but I think we need a new voice.’ … Six weeks [later], they finally respond [and say], ‘We’re gonna keep Stan.’ So I’m like: ‘OK. That lets me know how you guys feel about your leader expressing how to make the team better.’ ”
Dwight on the trade demand that soon followed:
“That summer I just thought about what I needed for my career. And when I got back [to Orlando], I let those guys know that I wanted to be traded. … I just wanted a change for myself. I didn’t want it to be done publicly. I just wanted it to happen silently. And I’d go to a new team, start fresh. Well, it didn’t happen that way. … The season comes around and they asked me to come to the office, shook my hand and they said, ‘We’re gonna trade you tomorrow.’ The next day the trade didn’t happen, but they came out and said I wanted to be traded. And that’s when everything went downhill. And I feel like I should have came out and said some things at that point to let people know what was going on, but in that situation I really didn’t know what to do.”
Howard has a right to tell management how he perceives the team’s relationship with its head coach, but management has the right to realize that really good coaches at the NBA level are few and far between, and keeping one (as they wanted to do with Van Gundy at the time) was far from something that should have caused Howard to be as offended as he was.
As for the part about wanting his trade demand kept quiet, it’s tough to envision that happening under any circumstances, even if the organization had the best intentions. Anytime a player of Howard’s caliber is on the market, for whatever reason, it’s going to be national news that’s impossible to keep under wraps. But where Howard was wrong about Van Gundy, he’s right in that if the team “came out and said” he wanted to be traded, that caused an unnecessary firestorm that he was (perhaps unfairly) forced to deal with.
Howard also left the Lakers under less than pleasant circumstances, although as an unrestricted free agent, there was no reason for him to call for the coach to be fired or demand to be traded; he could simply leave an extra $30 million or so on the table to play somewhere else. That’s the path Howard chose, and as has been well-documented by now, his relationship (or lack thereof) with Kobe Bryant played the biggest part in his decision.
The quote, again via Stein:
“Before I got to the Lakers, I would talk to him [and] he would really help me out on the [down] low about how to become everything that I said I wanted to be. And I looked up to him and I looked up to everything he, as a basketball player, stood for. … [By the end of that season] I just felt so hurt and disappointed in the fact that the guy that I was expecting to be somebody who was gonna pass the torch, somebody to say, ‘Dwight, I’ll take you under my wing and I’ll show you how to get it done’ … it was none of that.”
Kobe Bryant is not in any way the singular reason the Lakers franchise finds itself where it is today. But the way he clashed with Howard is undoubtedly the reason that Dwight now plays for the Houston Rockets.