The wheels are starting to come off in Orlando.
Just one night after blowing a 27-point lead at home in a loss to the Celtics, the Magic pulled a complete no-show in New Orleans, and were blown out 93-67 by a Hornets team that entered the game just 3-15 on the season.
That effort (or rather, lack thereof) didn’t sit well with Dwight Howard, as he explained to reporters afterward (via the Orlando Sentinel):
“Looked like guys didn’t want to play,” he said. “I told them at halftime, if you don’t want to play, just stay in the lockerroom. It doesn’t make sense for a teams we should beat to just demolish us.
“You bring everything down,” Howard said, referring to a player who isn’t playing with heart and soul.
“It hurts me to get out there and play your hardest. I expect everybody to play the same. I’m not calling anybody out by no means because we all have to get better … but if you don’t want to be out there, don’t dress up.
“If you don’t want to play, stay home. People work too hard. I want to win a championship. I work too hard every night for anybody to not want to go out there and play hard. … None of the — whatever, trade stuff — none of that stuff matters. Play basketball. That’s why we all get paid to do this, because we love the game and it’s basketball, so why not give it your all.”
The “trade stuff,” as Howard put it — referring to his impending free agency this summer and the fact that the team has already explored options to deal him earlier this season — absolutely matters. If his teammates know Howard doesn’t want to be there long-term, and that the team may be blown up at any point this season to make that happen, it matters. It’s a distraction, and it’s not going to go away until the season is over, or until a deal gets done.
But Howard’s right — it is fairly ridiculous for any players at this level not to compete on a nightly basis, and a hangover from giving away the game against Boston the previous night is no excuse. Being the team’s best player, he has every right to call out the collective for not bringing the effort.
The only problem is, with Howard’s eventual departure being a likely matter of when and not if, his teammates probably aren’t listening.