Dwight Howard had done a fine job of presenting to the media in recent weeks, at times conveying a maturity and perspective that had seemed to elude him over the past two seasons. Of course, he then proceeded -- as he has done so many times before -- to forcibly insert his foot into his mouth.
In a reflective interview with Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Howard couldn't help but opine on a triviality -- the fact that current Magic forward Tobias Harris dons his former number:
Howard said he was disappointed that, last February, after the Magic acquired Tobias Harris in a trade, the team granted Harris' request to wear No. 12, Howard's old number.
"I just think that despite whatever happened, there was a lot of things that I did and that we did as a team, and that number was special down there," Howard said. "And I was a little bit upset about that."
Frankly, this reaction isn't all that big a deal. As unseemly as Howard's exit from Orlando was, he was still one of the best players in franchise history and took the 2008-09 Magic to the NBA Finals. I can fully appreciate that he would want his jersey to hang from the Amway Center rafters one day, and that it might seem odd to him to see another Orlando player wear the same number so soon.
Still, Howard's objection serves little purpose and does little good, particularly given his penchant for pettiness. Talented though he may be, this is a player who for months attempted to push his way out of Orlando, target="_blank">sealed his coach's firing with a smile and completely sold out his Magic teammates upon his departure. Forgive Orlando team officials if they aren't rushing to promote the accomplishments of a player who so openly deserted their team while attempting to deflect all blame.
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Mentioning something like this publicly isn't likely to inspire any movement on the matter or curry any favor. And as much as I'd like for Howard to be able to riff honestly on something that bothers him, a man in his position needs to pick his battles. This is a topic worth revisiting in due time, but it's not as if active players often see their previous numbers retired. There are certain unwritten rules and matters of courtesy in play, sure. Yet neither seems all that relevant in the case of Harris, who -- as is noted in Robbins' piece -- chose to wear No. 12 as a tribute to a friend who died of leukemia. Howard shouldn't be held accountable for knowing that bit of information, but it serves to underscore just how silly this episode really is.
Only time will tell if Howard will eventually get the public respect he so craves from the Magic -- I'd merely implore him to leave that conversation for a later date. Wait for tempers to cool, and for Orlando to find its way back. This kind of case becomes much simpler then, absent the justified anger of the fans of an organization left behind.
Unfortunately, that's probably asking too much. Howard has never been one for restraint on media matters, making it only a matter of time until he's drawn into another grating sound bite or off-putting pull quote. His inability to step outside himself -- to guess how something he says or does might be interpreted by others -- remains striking. In Robbins' piece alone, Howard also bumbled his way through a comparison -- likely intended to be complimentary -- between the current Rockets and the 2009 Magic:
[Howard] thinks Houston has similar talent to the 2008-09 Magic squad he led to the NBA Finals.
On Tuesday, Howard compared Rockets small forward Chandler Parsons to Hedo Turkoglu and Rockets shooting guard James Harden to Courtney Lee but also added that Harden has more scoring ability. He compared Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley to Rafer Alston and Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin to Anthony Johnson.
Oof. Every single one of those comparisons is just baffling; Parsons and Turkoglu are entirely different players filling entirely different roles at entirely different levels of commitment; Harden and Lee share only the most arbitrary similarities; Beverley is already a better defender and more discerning shooter than Alston ever was; and I cannot call to mind a contemporary point guard more unlike Lin than Johnson.
Some of the analogues are downright insulting to Howard's current teammates, with the underlying implication being that both teams revolve around him. The players surrounding Howard -- be they Harden or Lee, Parsons or Turkoglu, Lin or Johnson -- are merely the backdrop. It wouldn't be difficult for Howard say that these Rockets are an entirely different team from the '09 Magic, largely because they are. But Howard connected A to B without much thought, just as he expressed his displeasure with Harris' wearing No. 12 absent consideration.
If Howard wants to say these things and own them, that's his right. But one can't well be hyper-sensitive to media reaction and this careless at the same time.