Dwight Howard: Winning Cures All
Rasheed Wallace. Bonzi Wells. J.R. Rider. Rod Strickland.
Every one of those names represents two things to me: winning and attitude problems. Did you notice which of those two I put first?
Which brings us to a name that is dividing Blazers fans more than any other I’ve seen in my lifetime. Dwight Howard. Nothing’s been able to fire up Blazers fans more than the hypothetical of Howard coming to Rip City.
Realistic or not doesn’t matter, what does is whether or not Portland should consider giving the 12-year veteran center a chance to help them get further than the second round.
On Wednesday morning Howard did what most expected him to do — he opted out of his contract with one year and $23.2 million dollars remaining. A move that makes a ton of sense considering what he’s going to get now that the NBA salary cap is going to jump to $94 million this summer. By opting out, there are some around the league that believe Howard could be looking at under-the-radar teams (Milwaukee, Orlando and Dallas) instead of the usual suspects that are linked to a player of Howard’s caliber (Los Angeles, Miami, New York).
Thus leading to the fans complaining about Howard even thinking about coming to PDX.
Enough is enough. I’ve read and heard a lot of people’s opinions on why Howard coming in is such a bad idea for this young roster, led by 25-year-old Damian Lillard. But I wholeheartedly disagree with those notions and I asked this question on my radio show — did anyone worry about character issues with LaMarcus Aldridge last off-season in free agency? Did Neil Olshey? No and no.
Let’s not pretend that LA doesn’t have his flaws. Take a story from earlier in Aldridge’s career when it was said that during a road trip, Brandon Roy went around to his teammates rooms and invited them to dinner. And who was not invited? LaMarcus. As the story goes, that pretty much ended any chance of a relationship between the two cornerstone players. You also have the time during the Memphis playoff series in 2015 when he took a separate flight back — a night prior — to Portland instead of getting on the team charter. And my favorite example was after Aldridge chose to leave the Rose City for San Antonio and suddenly there had been about 9-years worth of tiredness involved with dealing with him within the organization.
Did any of those examples deter Olshey, Stotts, Lillard from still trying to keep Aldridge? The answer is no. Did fans text, tweet, call, email, etc with a “don’t re-sign him, he’s got character issues!”? No.
Because winning cures all. From the front office to the fans, everyone knew that keeping Aldridge was priority No. 1 to having a viable Western Conference contender.
This is exactly why Howard should be welcomed in Portland. Sure, he’s had a rough last four seasons off the court, but are we really going to look at the Los Angeles situation with Kobe and an aging Nash and just blame Howard? C’mon. Kobe proved time and time again the inability to accommodate teammates he would have benefitted from and yet it was all Howard‘s fault?
What about Houston? All on him, right? No way. Being a big man playing with James Harden has got to be brutal. That Rockets team fell apart before the season even started. Ariza, Terry, Jones, all came in worse than the year prior, McHale wasn’t a great coach, and James Harden decided to come into camp out of shape.
Let’s not forget though — on the court — Howard delivered for the Rockets. Two seasons ago when Houston got to the Western Conference Finals Howard averaged 16 points, 14 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game and was playing with a somewhat bum knee.
Does Dwight have his personality issues? Sure. Most players of his status have something, but does that mean Portland shouldn’t go after him? Uhh, no.
After all, this is Portland. A city that hasn’t exactly brought in the big names in free agency, but instead has had to rely solely on the draft for its talent. Ultimately Neil Olshey’s going to have to make the decision — is Howard worth the money and the gamble? In a league that’s star driven you say yes 99% of the time if it means getting your team closer to a championship (something Portland hasn’t won in almost 40 years).
We can argue about character flaws, locker room relationships and even contract value. But if Howard answers a phone call, agrees to a meeting, you take it. You know the saying ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’? Portland’s the 40-year old bridesmaid in this scenario. The clock is ticking. Give the guy a chance.
Nobody like’s losing, but when it happens that’s usually when “cancer in the locker room” or “character issue” narratives are leaked. Howard wants a fresh start, the Blazers must improve their interior and we all want to see this team get better. If having Howard means getting Portland closer to another banner, I say go for it.
Let’s stop acting like winning isn’t what we care the most about.