By Rob Mahoney
Another All-Star weekend, another round of prodding Dwight Howard about his future. One can hardly fault Howard for waiting to sign a full, more lucrative free agent deal this summer as opposed to prematurely inking an extension with the Lakers, but in doing so he knowlingly invites the media horde in Houston to press and prod for even the slightest indication of his thinking. We've lived through this scenario once before as Howard contorted through media session after media session on his way out of Orlando, but Howard's strategy is noticeably different this time around.
Here's what Howard had to say on the subject during his All-Star media availability, via Matt Moore of CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball:
"I should have the opportunity to make my own decision. I shouldn't be pressured or criticized for waiting 'till the end of the year. It's not fair to the fans, or the team."
The Lakers star center correctly senses that fans haven't fully embraced him, but he doesn't see how easy it would be to win them over.
"I understand why they're hesitating," Howard said after the Lakers' 91-85 victory over the Phoenix Suns. "Because I haven't signed a deal."
"What's needed to be said, I've said," Howard said. "Right now I'm committed to this team, and the only thing that matters is right now. Nothing else matters beyond what we do the next game and what we do for the rest of the season. There's no need for us to go back and forth and cause a circus about anything."
That's his blind spot. The circus exists because he won't talk about life after his current contract.
"I'm here right now, so there's no need for me to have one foot in and one foot out," he said. "I'm here. I'm going to do everything I can to help this team win right now, and that's the only thing that matters."
All of which comprises an oddly reasonable perspective from a player who could hardly be characterized as such during the PR disaster that was Howard's 2011-12 season. His words don't come with any veiled hints as to his preference to be elsewhere and he's presenting a perfectly cogent case for his own desire to enter free agency. For a player with an earned reputation for saying and doing the wrong things, Howard is largely hitting the right beats as he trudges through yet another season with an uncertain future. (In so far as his free agent fate, Howard says that he has been assured he would not be dealt before the trade deadline, according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports.)
Howard is now playing with two separate and serious injuries, both of which have taken a visible toll on his play. Howard elaborated a bit on the nature of his shoulder and back ailments on Friday, per Daniel Buerge of Lakers Nation:
“The shoulder’s not going to change. It’s torn. It’s not going to change. It’s not going away.”It's easy to read Howard's comments as being a bit self-congratulatory, but he's not wrong; back injuries can be utterly debilitating for NBA players, and a major surgery only creates a greater need for rest and rehabilitation. Howard wasn't given the luxury of either, but it's hard to earn points for "playing through pain" when the result is a horribly underwhelming 25-29 record. Nevertheless, Howard went on to clarify, per the Houston Chronicle, that "[he is] the best center in the league, even at 75 percent (healthy)." Whatever you say, boss.
Howard went on to talk about his injured back, which required surgery last offseason and forced him to miss his final postseason as a member of the Orlando Magic.
“Whoever has had back surgery knows, it takes awhile, it takes a full year to recover from back surgery. People don’t understand, me coming back early and playing was a blessing in itself. For me to be doing what I’m doing coming off surgery is big. I just feel to be doing what I’m doing now, there’s not a lot of people that can be doing that.”