Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Dwight Howard Pipedream

Two weeks ago, I started a post agreeing with Jeff Schultz that the Hawks should make a play for Dwight Howard and then, in the process of writing it, realized that Howard would never come here because he would end up in a situation that is worse than the one he was leaving in Orlando.  Here was my conclusion:

Additionally, Howard has to be thinking that the biggest obstacle to gaining a higher Q-rating is that he hasn't won a championship and has only made the Finals once.  He needs to go somewhere where he will win.  His issue in Orlando is the supporting cast.  Will it make sense for him to come here to play with Jeff Teague (a player whose promise is based on a six-game series against the Bulls last year), Joe Johnson (holder of one of the worst contracts in the NBA), Marvin Williams (average small forward who escapes being non-descript only because of his Draft position and the careers of the players taken after him), and a power forward to be named later?  And then you add in the fact that Atlanta Spirit has expressed an aversion to paying the luxury tax and in light of the team's revenues, they can't really be blamed, can they?  The end game could well be that Thorpe wants to send Howard to Atlanta, but can't make the trade happen because Howard refuses to agree to a potential extension with the Hawks.
Yesterday, Bill Simmons framed Howard's decision in the same way:

Put it this way: If I'm Dwight Howard, I'm thinking about titles and titles only. I don't care about money — that's coming, regardless. I don't care about weather — I have to live in whatever city for only eight months a year, and I'm traveling during that entire time, anyway. I don't care about "building my brand" and all that crap — if I don't start winning titles soon, my brand is going to be "the center who's much better than every other center but can't win a title." I care only about playing in a big city, finding a team that doesn't have to demolish itself to acquire me, finding one All-Star teammate who can make my life a little easier (the Duncan to my Robinson), and winning titles. Not title … titles. I want to come out of this decade with more rings than anyone else. I want to be remembered alongside Shaq, Moses and Hakeem, not Robinson and Ewing.
Tellingly, Simmons listed five destinations for Howard and Black Hollywood was nowhere in sight, except for a brief mention of the fact that the Hawks were able to beat the Magic last year with a "let Dwight get his; we need to make sure that the Magic shooters don't get theirs" strategy.  For instance, he pooh-poohs the prospect of Howard ending up on the Lakers because he would be playing with Kobe Bryant and a gutted roster.  Would Howard be any more likely to have a desire to play with Joe Johnson, Jeff Teague, Marvin Williams, and then a similarly gutted roster, only in this instance, you have Atlanta Spirit instead of Jerry Buss filling in the remainder?

Simmons' interest in stars going to play for the Bulls is interesting to me.  As he mentions, he wanted LeBron to go there and now he wants Howard to make the same decision.  This preference is to Simmons' credit, as a superpower in Chicago would be detrimental to the prospect of the Celtics winning a title in the next decade.  Simmons is often derided as a Boston homer and he does plenty of things to earn the label, but he is able to put that aside when he pines for Derrick Rose to have a superstar wing man like LeBron or Howard.  I think that there are two things going on here.  First, Simmons is more of a basketball fan than a Celtics fan and he would like to see a memorable team come together instead of the NBA's stars being isolated and surrounded by poor supporting casts.  Second, he wants that memorable team to play in uniforms that mean something and in an environment that makes for good TV.  The Bulls uniform evokes memories of the Jordan dynasty and the United Center has a great atmosphere when the team is good.

I have to admit that I feel the same way.  It's hard for me to reconcile my feelings about Major League Baseball with my current feelings about the NBA.  In baseball, I get very annoyed by the constant focus on the Red Sox and Yankees.  This annoyance extends to those two teams sucking up free agents left and right to cover for the failings of their own farm systems.  In basketball, I liked the idea of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard going to the Lakers because that team would be highly entertaining.  Again, I am going to point to two factors that drive my thinking.  First, basketball is a team game.  Like soccer, it's more interesting to watch great players play with one another because they bring one another to a higher level.  Baseball, on the other hand, is a game with a minimal amount of teamwork.  This makes baseball more conducive to reaching stat-based conclusions with confidence, but it also means that there is no great joy in watching superstars play with one another.  Mark Teixeira driving in A-Rod isn't the same thing as Messi finding Cesc with a defense-splitting pass or Paul hitting Howard with an alley-oop.  Second, I have a lifelong disdain for New York teams.  If the Knicks were the ones assembling a cache of talent, then I would be annoyed because Mike Lupica would be happy.  I don't feel the same "oh G-d, this is going to be intolerable" pangs with Chicago or Los Angeles.

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