Dwight Howard is having himself a moment right now. It's not a particularly good moment, but it's a moment nonetheless.
Last week, he appeared on Inside The NBA and admitted that he didn't play as hard as he could have because of his touches. Now, he said in an interview with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan that he asked Daryl Morey for more touches, and Morey told him that wasn't happening. Apparently that didn't sit well with Dwight, who moped and loafed until just around playoff time:
"I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, 'I want to be more involved.' Daryl said, 'No, we don't want you to be.' My response was, 'Why not? Why am I here?' It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, 'No disrespect to what you do, but you've never played the game. I've been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'''
Just before he said that, he said he was "disinterested" as a result of that conversation. And just like that, all the rumors of back-room bickering from the Rockets season that helped tear the team apart were confirmed.
First, let me go on a little rant here. Dwight Howard went to the GM to ask for more touches, and then when Daryl Morey responds, he says "It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach." Why?! YOU ASKED HIM, DWIGHT. Maybe Dwight asked Bickerstaff and Bickerstaff told him to ask Morey. Either way, not shocking.
Futhermore, does Dwight know what it takes to be effective? He called former NBA big men Robert Parish and Clifford Ray during the season for advice, and Parish told him to do the exact thing the Rockets wanted him to do: be in good shape, crash the boards, defend and run the floor. Dwight says his friends told him the same thing. "And they were right," he said.
This brouhaha is going on while the Rockets seem to be playing coach checkers while the league around them plays coach chess. Frank Vogel — in my mind, the best coach on the market and a lot of people's first choice for Rockets coach — was fired before Scott Skiles even resigned from Orlando. Now, Vogel will be coaching Dwight's first team, and the Rockets look like they're going with Mike D'Antoni.
In Dwight's interview, he said he lobbied for Phil Jackson, and when the Lakers brought in D'Antoni during Dwight's lone season in L.A, "I'm thinking, 'Well I guess what I say doesn't matter.'" So, yeah, this situation can only get worse.
Amazingly, Dwight says he hasn't thought about whether he'll opt out of his contract for next year. Maybe he's so pissed at Daryl that we wants to opt in to force a trade, just to mess with the Rockets. Or maybe he's just being opaque because it makes it that much harder for Morey to do his job, and Dwight wants Morey fired out of spite. Or maybe he's being sincere. Everything else he's said in these two very public forums has seemed sincere, at least.
Like this bit, which is open, revealing, and shows why Dwight has always been, and will always be, a flawed player.
Howard: "I used to shoot 1,000 shots a day. I called Kobe when I was still playing in Orlando and asked him what I should do. He's the one who told me to do take 1,000 a day. So I'd practice and practice them but then I'd be so afraid to take them in a game because I was so worried I would miss. I hate messing up. I hate failure. I was just talking to (WNBA) star Tina Thompson the other day about it. I told her about my fear of missing and she said, 'Dwight, you're gonna miss. Everyone does.' But I want to be perfect.''
ESPN: So you don't take perimeter jumpers because you are afraid you will miss them?
Howard: "I don't like messing up. I didn't want to turn on the TV and see people say, 'Dwight is taking all those outside shots, he's screwing around, he doesn't care, he doesn't want to win.' So that's the war I'll be having in my head. I'm working on it. I have a sports psychologist I used in Houston and I have one in Minnesota. If my spiritual and mental game is right, the physical part will follow.''
There is figuratively a war going on inside Dwight's head. No wonder he can't make free throws. No wonder he's so easily side-tracked by not getting the ball from his teammates, not getting the calls from officials and not getting kowtowed to by Daryl Morey. Dwight is 30 years old — despite McMullan's reporting to the contrary, unless she got the scoop of the century — and for a player of his age and stature to still be so mentally frail is pretty damning.
But he is. Despite "Playoff Dwight," despite the public platitudes during the season of "coming together" and "putting egos aside" — something Howard might have said 30 times during the year, which looking back now seems like a self-help mantra rather than advice for others — he still let his mind wander, he still was disinterested. For all the talk about James Harden's loafing, he at least never admitted to being disinterested, simply saving himself for offense.
I wrote not long ago that this was the most critical offseason for the Rockets since the Steve Francis-Tracy McGrady trade. Since then, it's gone way, way downhill. Not only are the Rockets one of the last two teams without a head coach — joining the Grizzlies, who fired Dave Joerger after the Rockets had already started looking for Bickerstaff/McHale's replacement — but now this whole cloud is hanging over their head.
What looked like a possibly appealing landing spot for free agents is looking more toxic and chaotic by the day. Morey has been outed as giving basketball direction (not that we didn't know that already) from the front office. It's unclear if he and Les Alexander are on the same page. It's unclear if the favorite for head coach can even coach anymore.
The Rockets are blowing it, and Dwight has a lot of blame in that. Maybe this is just the way he wanted it.