“What can that guy know about basketball?” goes the familiar refrain. “He never played.”
As though the success of Red Auerbach, who never played beyond college, in building multiple Celtics dynasties or all-time legend Michael Jordan‘s incompetence in Washington and Charlotte weren’t enough to put the lie to that line of thinking, along comes Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and a bit of news that jarred even the most credulous NBA observer.
If Howard signs an extension with Orlando, the team will grant him the power to decide whether to retain coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith, ESPN reported Tuesday.
A nation of fans who hate the idea of a player determining the fate of his bosses went up in arms. LeBron James‘ decision reinforced that there’s nothing more intolerable to sports fans than a star athlete with the liberty to decide where he works and lives.
That sort of indignation was the primary reaction to the ESPN report, and it wasn’t unpredictable or entirely unreasonable. But beyond the unfathomable idea of a player lording over his coach and G.M. is another, more basic issue:
Any team in which Howard had any say over personnel decisions would be absolutely, unforgivably terrible, bordering on unwatchable.
The players on Howard’s wish list, according to various reports, include Warriors guard Monta Ellis, Bucks swingman Stephen Jackson and Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. Howard already reportedly affected a trade that brought Glen Davis and Von Wafer from Boston in exchange for Brandon Bass. Bass has flourished in an ideal situation with the Celtics, while Davis has been booed on his home court.
Take a look at that list again. Ellis, Jackson and Boozer are great players from the perspective of a 14-year-old building his team through an NBA 2K fantasy draft. In real life, where you can’t force Ellis to pass by pressing the “B” button or hold down the left trigger to place Boozer in a defensive stance, these players would make up one of the most beatable playoff teams in recent memory.
Oh, of course they’d make the playoffs. Virtually any team with Howard would. The current Magic are Exhibit A of that.
Jackson might be the most puzzling of the group. He’s had two amazing playoff runs with the Spurs and the Warriors in his 11-year career, but his nightly 20-point potential has seldom been worth the headaches he causes. He has an absurd habit of signing a contract extension, demanding a trade, joining a new team and requesting another contract extension with several years left on his existing deal. As one might imagine, Jackson usually does not have a good relationship with his general manager.
On the other hand, maybe Howard likes the idea that if a fan throws a beer at him, Jackson would be ready to defend him by stampeding into the stands.
Howard is the greatest big man in the NBA today, by a wide margin, and however much money a team is prepared to throw at him this offseason, he’s worth it. He is an incredible player, a once-in-a-generation player — possibly, one day, a Hall of Fame player.
But players know how to prepare their bodies and hone their crafts. They do not specialize in putting together component roster parts to manufacture a winning whole.
Howard may not see world-beaters when he looks around at Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson. If his dream lineup ever came to fruition, though, he would look back on these days with fondness.
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