The great Don Draper once said, “We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.”
Dwight Howard wanted more when he left Orlando. He ultimately got what he sought: big markets, star teammates, and now a championship ring. But it all came at a great cost, perhaps leaving him to wonder how his career would have played out if he had stayed in Orlando. To wish for what he once had.
It’s been more than eight years since Howard was a member of the Orlando Magic. During that time, Howard became a member of seven other teams (if you count the Lakers twice and his brief 24-hour stint with the Brooklyn Nets in 2018).
Dwight Howard looking through his closet for his old Lakers jersey... pic.twitter.com/t2udRQSYJ3— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) August 23, 2019
As the transactions section on Howard’s Basketball Reference page reached novel-length, and he continued to change teams and jerseys and hair colors, his nomadic ways turned his Hall of Fame career into something of an afterthought.
He became a cautionary tale for the NBA superstar who forces his way out of the small market he believes he has outgrown — even Stephen A. Smith recently said Paul George is in danger of becoming “the next Dwight Howard.”
“The next Dwight Howard” should have been a prestigious label that stood for so much more, bestowed upon the league’s next elite rim protector and rebounder. Instead it’s used on the big-fish-small-pond turned small-fish-big-pond championship chaser.
Yes, we now live in a world where Dwight Howard is an NBA champion. That he won it on a court in Central Florida is a poetic but cruel twist.
Should Magic fans care? Probably not.
Do Magic fans care? Probably. One way or the other.
How it started: How it’s going: pic.twitter.com/OUjVSMF2Ib— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) October 9, 2020
There will be those who are disappointed to see Howard win a championship after his messy divorce crippled the organization to the point where it still hasn’t fully recovered...even as one of the players the team received in the Howard trade, Nikola Vucevic, just averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
There will be those who are satisfied to see Howard win a championship after he did more for the Magic on the court than any player in franchise history. I fall into this category.
There will be those who couldn’t care less.
Either way, it’s a credit to Howard that 11 years after starting in the NBA Finals, he did so again. When his career was going off the rails, he managed to work his way back, climbed off his perceived superstar pedestal to embrace a lesser role and become an effective player on a championship team.
Howard started the first five games of the Finals, but averaged just 2.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14 minutes per game. He was replaced in the starting lineup for the clinching Game 6 in favor of Alex Caruso. Howard didn’t check in until the final minute, and in true 2020 fashion, hit a three for the Lakers’ final basket of the season.
Piggybacking his way to a title was not the way this was supposed to play out when Dwight held open the Magic’s championship window for three years or when he first joined the Lakers in 2012, teaming up with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Howard was supposed to be to Kobe was Anthony Davis became to LeBron: the star big man who helps keep a legend in championship contention over the final years of his career. Howard was supposed to win championships much sooner than this. Howard was supposed to be the next great center to have his number raised at Staples Center, getting a heroes welcome as he entered the arena years after retiring.
He won’t get that welcome in L.A. He will — eventually — in Orlando.
Because despite the way it ended, and all of years that passed, and all of the different jerseys he wore, Dwight Howard will forever be remembered for his days as a member of the Orlando Magic.
And even with the championship ring he now has, Howard will probably forever wish for what he once had.