LOS ANGELES — The latest in the Dwight Howard saga is a beauty: he and Phil Jackson are texting buddies.
Howard has never played for the former Lakers coach, although he reportedly wanted Jackson to take over when Mike Brown was fired. And Jackson has been a huge advocate for Howard, saying that Mike D’Antoni and his staff aren’t using Howard’s skills in the most beneficial way for the Lakers to win.
After Tuesday’s loss in Oklahoma City, Howard added another few gallons of gasoline to the verbal fire that has surrounded him all season long when he told reporters he and Jackson have indeed been staying in touch through text messaging.
“Just two big guys who share back problems,” Howard explained.
I’m sure that makes D’Antoni feel a lot better about it.
“Phil, he texts me and he understands how it is to come off back surgery,” Howard told the Los Angeles Daily News. “He just said it takes a full year to recover, so you can’t beat yourself up over the things that have happened this year.”
No, you can let the fans and the media do that for you.
For Howard, it’s the second time this week he’s ruffled feathers.
During an interview with Los Angeles’ KCBS-KCAL TV, Howard knocked his former Magic teammates, who he helped lead to the NBA Finals in 2009, where they lost to the Lakers.
“I always tell people, hey, our team in Orlando was a team full of people who nobody wanted and I was the leader,” he said. “I led that team with a smile on my face.”
“At some point, when are you gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Nelson said to the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday.
“I would be less of a man to comment on certain things that people comment on about me and my teammates,” Nelson continued. “We had a great run as a group, as core guys, and he was a part of it and for him to say things about anybody in a negative manner, that’s up to him.”
On Wednesday Howard responded, saying it was the media that “twisted” his words.
“My statement was just to say that our team that I played with in Orlando, we were the underdogs,” he told ESPN following the Lakers’ win over New Orleans. “I would never say anything disrespectful to those guys and I think a lot of people took that and ran with it, twisted it into a negative thing. I love those guys. We’ve had some great memories and we thrived off people saying that we weren’t going to make it to the Finals, we weren’t going to be a good team. That’s what pushed us.”
During his interview with KCBS-KCAL TV, Howard was also asked about an adidas commercial he filmed recently, saying he was “all in for L.A.” Did that mean he was committing to sign a new deal with the Lakers after the season?
Not in the least.
“I’m all in. Trying to win a championship. I’m committed to helping this team win,” Howard said to the TV reporter.
“At the end of the day, (GM) Mitch (Kupchak) and everybody knows, it’s my decision to make. It is my choice, and that’s what free agency is.”
Therein lies the crux of the Dwight Howard dilemma.
Being around him since August, I’ve found that he really is a nice guy, and he’s not the type of guy who would purposely try to hurt or offend anyone. I believe him when he says, “I don’t have a bad bone in my body.” It’s just when he chooses to make certain comments – or just the way he says them – that causes trouble.
What Howard needs to do is either make a decision to stay with the Lakers, announce it and move on, or just not talk about it anymore until he’s ready to announce something.
When reporters ask him about his relationship with Kobe Bryant, he should just say “it’s fine” and not try to explain himself every time. It makes Howard appear defensive and gives critics one more thing to jump on. Then there’s the texting back and forth with the former coach.
It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep his interactions with Jackson as far off the radar as possible.
Just two years ago, Howard was arguably the most beloved player in the NBA. He was Superman. He always had a huge smile on his face and he seemingly got along with everybody — teammates, coaches, fans and the media.
But last season the world caught a glimpse: A human being who wasn’t happy despite overwhelming success at his chosen profession. He was controversial and headstrong — a man looking out for his own interests, pretty much like any one of us who isn’t 6-foot-11 and blessed with amazing basketball skills.
He didn’t want to play in Orlando for Stan Van Gundy anymore, and three Defensive Player of the Year awards along with six All-Star appearances allowed him to wield a large hammer to use when he decided he was done with the Magic and wanted to move on.
However, just because you have the tool and the ability to use it doesn’t mean you’ll do it the right way. Howard certainly didn’t.
Demanding a trade before last season’s deadline, then signing an agreement that he’d stay put and play out his contract. Denying that he wanted Van Gundy fired, then looking foolish when he was outed publicly by the coach for saying exactly that to owner Rich DeVos. Finally, rescinding his commitment to stay in Orlando and forcing his way to Los Angeles in a four-team trade last summer. Howard’s too-good-to-be-true image was trashed as he put on the Lakers uniform for the first time.
It hasn’t gotten any better for the big man as he tries to recover his skill set and stamina after back surgery 10 months ago.
Howard is averaging 15.9 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, one season after averaging 20.6 and 14.5. Now, after going 1-for-7 in Tuesday’s 122-105 loss to the Thunder, Howard is in New Orleans with the Lakers for Wednesday’s game with the Hornets. At 30-31, the Lakers will be scratching and clawing for a playoff berth the rest of the way.
For Howard, saying the right things might help the Lakers’ cause. Doing the right things would be even better.