Dwight Howard finalized his decision at roughly 9:30 PM if you consider reports from ESPN viable and accurate. There were some whisperings from Alex Kennedy that no decision had been made however Kennedy had also famously plugged the Lakers as Howard's destination and gotten very catty about the Rockets in the process. If you put your faith in Wojnarowski, Amick, and Aldridge then you knew that Houston had gotten their man. We're less than 24 hours after the signing and already we're seeing something wonderful about "the worldwide leader in sports."
They have more in common with a washing machine than they do with journalism.
What I mean by that is they're great at ripping through a spin cycle but please stop taking them seriously for much else. They're a subsidiary of the Disney group and their stories are about as fantastic as a mermaid growing legs and ditching her sweet underwater friends for a happily ever after. Why do I bring this up? I wanted to talk about how Howard made his decision about his career and did it his way. For the first time in years a marquee free agent has selected the Houston Rockets as their preferred destination. Howard met with teams he was seriously considering, took a short break to consider his options, and then he contacted teams he wasn't going to join and inform them of the decision.
What's stunning is that less than 24 hours after making that decision and having been victim to the 24 hour news cycle throughout the entire time ESPN features J.A. Adande's piece railing Dwight for how the situation went down. Let's get this straight, the same network that broadcast "The Decision" where Lebron James so willingly spit on the franchise and the city of Cleveland, then aired the championship parade and circus around the collusion of Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and Lebron James, had the audacity to criticize Dwight for taking a few days to quietly make his decision? Dwight didn't even extend this out to the moratorium on signing. He still left five days for get their ducks in a row on deals and he did so without the fanfare of a nationally televised ego-trip.
Much more to the heart of the matter Adande levies the criticism that this free agency shows a lot about Dwight's character. How? It's the ESPN spin machine that has performed the hatchet job on Dwight's maturity. Yes, in Orlando he did waffle back and forth and had a maturity issue. We're now 3 years older and wiser from the initial Dwightmare. If how Howard handled this whole ordeal is indicative of who he is as a person ESPN better start praising the man for quietly going about his business and being second only to Kevin Durant in announcing his free agency. Howard had the good common sense to let teams know they were out of the running. He had the good common sense to avoid the self-aggrandizement of an hour long TV special thinly veiled as a charity act.
No, instead Adande chose to attempt to bury a hatchet into Dwight's character because he had the gaul to tell the Los Angeles Lakers that they are not the only team in the NBA. Through a tortured chain of logic Adande suggests that due to Dwight's issues of two seasons ago that he doesn't want to win (By not forcing a trade to the Thunder or his desire to go to Brooklyn could not have turned that team into a contender, somehow). Somehow, according to a featured writer with ESPN, in order to compete for a title as a max level (possibly franchise talent) you have to go to a team that is already in the title conversation. That reminds me of the WWE's hackneyed booking when they stated that to get a WWE title match you need to beat the WWE champion in a non-title match. So to merit a shot I have to beat the guy I would beat anyway? Just give me the shot if I'm good enough to be in the conversation. Please, this passes for journalism?
Sadly ESPN is not the only major outlet to feature a story of angst. Perhaps the most disgusting display of what passes for journalism oozed onto the front page of CBS Sports from Ken Berger. Clearly a Lakers fan he launches into his complaint about Dwight Howard with a certain brand of naivety that can only really be donned by a jilted Lakers fan or an average Dallas Cowboys fan. Berger posits that Dwight can never return to the Lakers because once you leave there's no turning back. Apparently Mr. Berger has never heard of Derek Fisher. Disregarding the most recent player to have left LA, come back, then get shipped out by a franchise that apparently demands the utmost loyalty and respect at all times earns him some major points in credibility to start.
He attempts to further his point by comparing Dwight's situation with Lebron's (I kid you not, what follows is an exact quote) "since validated The Decision". My jaw nearly hit the floor at this apologetic piece of writing on par with ESPN's rehabilitation of the King's image. No, it hasn't been validated since it happened because you can't re-write history. It was wrong, pathetic, and egotistical at the time it happened but James has won a few rings since. Berger tries to buffer his ignorance with the theory that if Howard wins a championship ring or three that Howard will go down as the man who wrote his own script. Apparently an NBA title isn't as glamorous if it doesn't come with a Lakers logo on it. Unfortunately for 23 of the NBA's 33 titles they lack such luster. I can only imagine how he feels about the rings with emeralds on them.
If I may return to the idea of naivety from earlier... Berger suggests that the only way Dwight is justified is if the Lakers never win another title again. Bold claim, sir, bold claim. I suppose after a divorce the only way one party is justified is if the other partner dies alone, too, right? The Lakers apparently have enough cap space to assemble a US Olympic team of talent. Apparently the US Olympic team will be headlined by the likes of Ben Gordon Marcin Gortat, and Amare Stoudemire because the likelihood of players like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce not retiring is minute and the chances that Lebron James actually uses his early termination option are smaller than my chances of spending a weekend in Monaco with Kate Upton. I hate to inform Mr. Berger of his delusional behavior but if this trend continues he'll lose his capacity to enter into legal documents.
Good ole Ken decided to rail on Dwight for potentially quitting on becoming a legend playing beside a five-time champion in Kobe Bryant and disqualifying himself from being part of the Lakers club for "greatest to play the game." Much like Kobe Bryant's presence on the All-NBA defensive team Berger is relying on outdated truisms to up some value here. Kobe is a five-time champion. True. He's also a 34-year old 16-year NBA veteran coming off a busted Achilles. Sorry Kenny but there's no NBA title for nostalgia. Worse off yet, if I'm looking to get into the conversation of NBA greats and I'm a center Houston is an awfully appealing place. Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson (Shut up, I'm including him), Yao Ming, Hasheem Thabeet (All-Time Human Victory Cigar Champion). Any of those names ring a bell? Ralph Sampson should, Ken. He should ring a very clear bell made circa 1986. Let's move past those greats and talk about another.
Leaving the Lakers apparently creates legacy and regret, or so Berger claims that Superman will find them. What of the original Superman? This author seems to remember Shaquille O'Neal leaving the Lakers and never looking back or showing much regret. He carved something out in Miami by way of a title and then played journeyman in Cleveland and Boston. I doubt the big fella regrets his decision much in the same way another powerful center will come to live his career out. Ken's article is heavy handed on the fact that these sorts of decisions need time to pan out yet Dwight doesn't get that allotment; he gets the full fury of a jaded fan. Apparently Lebron James gets the media apologetic treatment but a man with the same style of criticisms gets the full rebuke.
The last thing really leaning into on this piece of journalistic drivel is that Howard fled from Los Angeles to play with a man who "voluntarily left Oklahoma City". Really, Ken? Really? Really. James Harden was traded out of Oklahoma City while he was still under contract and that's is voluntarily leaving? There was a contractual question in Oklahoma City and Sam Presti pulled the trigger on a deal that would have essentially netted them a net push this season. I understand you're hurt that Dwight spurned your beloved Lakers but when you fail to control that damage and start letting your ignorance leak out to other parties, we should really check ourselves lest we indeed wreck ourselves. Also, when your editor realizes you're wasting company bandwidth with pieces like this you better write a letter about how you were voluntarily unemployed.
Lastly, before I make my final point here, I want to talk about Sports Illustrated. I love these guys over here. Ian Thomsen got in on the cautionary game regarding the Rockets but the piece overall is fantastic and he makes a couple of points that he didn't follow through with or apply evenly. Those points are first that the Rockets aren't done (And they aren't even done with their roster moves) and second that there's no proven track record of leadership in Harden yet (Which when you only had a year to prove and you demand a larger sample size you're forced to conclude as much, no?). He begins his article hedging against the Rockets chances by citing the obstacles in the way of an NBA Title. Those obstacles are the Miami Heat (Who were obliterated by Roy Hibbert and I assume Howard is as good as Hibbert, going out on a limb there), the Spurs (Never count them out but we are capable of abusing them, proven in the regular season), the Thunder (beaten by a critically weakened Rockets team post-deadline), the Clippers (Still not sold here), the Bulls (Bringing Rose back helps but they're not stopping Howard and Harden), and the Pacers (I think what they do with Granger will really decide this). Each team he listed is a team with a major exploitable hole for the Rockets. I really like that Thomsen is trying to get Rockets fans to not put the wagon before the horse but I think this cautionary tale is premature.
The last warning we get is that the team must develop leadership and discipline. The Rockets look loose on the court but how many times has this team shored their play up? They were young but they showed several flashes of a team that holds each other accountable and loves what they do. They separated themselves from other young teams by showing remarkable discipline under head coach Kevin McHale. Thomsen discounts the adversity that the Rockets faced this year by not at the very least paying lip service to it. As informed as Sports Illustrated tends to be on these write-ups it became very telling that there's not much familiarity with Houston... Familiarity that the rest of the league better develop quickly.
What's the point?
You may ask why I bothered to go through all this. Well, first, I'm a jerk. Second, however, there is a point to be made. The Houston Rockets have arrived. The Houston Rockets aren't even done yet. We stand poised with James Harden and Dwight Howard set to expire on their current deals in four years time with reason to believe they can re-up on this team and still produce at that time. Dwight went about his decision in a rational way. Rockets fans cringed with the rampant amounts of reports that The Dreamshake's own Patrick Harrel correctly attributed to recency bias. Ultimately the people leading the charge on the Dwight Howard character assassination train were ESPN (Chris Palmer, Chris Broussard) reports and it caused Red Nation to panic. What cannot be ignored are the plain facts that we have of the events. Those facts are that Dwight met with the Mavericks, Hawks, Rockets, Lakers, and Warriors. After meeting with those teams he isolated himself in Aspen and contemplated where he was going to play. He contacted each team after he decided so as not to leave them in limbo. He was man enough to fly to Los Angeles to inform his former boss that he would not be returning. He signed with the Houston Rockets after it was all said and done. ESPN can twist the story as much as they want. In a way, they have to. Los Angeles is a major market consumer for them and it's the home of Disney. They need to bury that dagger as deep as they can get it into Houston because it drives consumption of the network. People like Ken Berger should relegate pieces like he put on offer to personal blogs or fan-sites (I wouldn't even wish that kind of stuff on Silver Screen and Roll). Ian Thomsen was the most level-headed of the crop but he still ignored some pretty glaring holes. Folks, at the end of the day let's just give it up to Dwight Howard and take the approach I've advocated for a while, he's matured and he had to think a lot about a major decision. After all, he said it best himself when asked if he thought he could win a title in Houston:
"I bet 30 million dollars on it."