Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cruise and Katie Holmes.
But the beauty of a tabloid marriage is fleeting at best, as stars known for great talent and otherworldly looks find out there's too much commitment and not enough attention to go around.
The idea of Dwight Howard finally finding happiness with the Brooklyn Nets — and the Nets finding reciprocal happiness by signing Howard — has all of the same signs as a bad Hollywood marriage.
After years of whining and flip-flopping, of jettisoning coaches and drawing attention away from teammates, Howard is not going to find peace, even with the Nets. Brooklyn could be a super-contender with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, whomever — but once a whiner, always a whiner. Howard has inundated the NBA with his qualms over the past few years, and a new home where the club eats out of his hand even more than the ever-acquiescing Orlando Magic is not going to make Howard a happy man.
But a trade would also be perilous for the Nets. As Brooklyn rebuilds its brand and its image, it now has the chance to erase years of futility — and make a serious run at an NBA championship. But as its New York neighbor, the Knicks, have shown all too well, it only takes a few stupid, high-priced free agent signings to beach the team for another half-dozen years. The Nets cannot let their exuberance drive them into gathering players that will not be a good long-term investment for the team.
Stats-wise, Howard is as good as they come. He is beyond the Anistons and Holmeses of the NBA, in fact, being a center in a league long devoid of dominant big men, and a center who has lived up to his billing, at that. Howard puts up video game numbers regularly. Last season, he averaged 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game. He also has a great personality, with both friendliness and marketability.
But Howard has a dark side, and he hasn't been shy about showing it. As much as his likeable demeanor reminds people of a big kid who's just having a good time, it also reminds people of a big kid who's just having a good time. Howard moans at foul calls, has been known to take plays off and has had his work ethic questioned. And that's on top of the endless complaining he's done about his parent club, from being upset about who he has as teammates to demanding trades to getting one of the quality coaches in the NBA fired. This is a man who's said he feels loyalty to Orlando, only to have another trade request in within the month.
And if Howard has been petulant until now, just think about what a place like Brooklyn will offer. New York City does nothing to dull the hubris of those who think they are exceptional, and its hyper-criticism will leave little room for missteps. Players do not go to New York to get their work done — they go for glory.
Howard has the goods, and he'll contribute for sure, but he is also the greatest living example of the word "diva" in the NBA today. One trade request or two would have been permitted, or taken with sympathy, as every player wants to be on a great team and have his chance to shine. But the incessant charade that NBA fans have had to endure — which came rushing back as free agency opened — is another matter entirely. This man shows nary an inkling of being able to button down and play hard when needed.
Howard was a considerable force when the Magic went to the Finals in 2009, a true phenom in carrying the team in his youth. But he's destroyed his stock in years since, showing less that he has what it takes to be a leader and win games, and more that he knows what it takes to be the center of attention.
The Nets need to add some pieces. Keeping Williams is obviously key, and a great investment, but that begins with gathering a supporting cast. Whether it be Johnson, Gerald Wallace or any of the other names floating around, Brooklyn should be lauded for making forceful moves into free agency. The Nets can again be relevant, and that starts with Williams and whoever else comes along.
But it doesn't include Howard, as it shouldn't for any serious team right now. Howard's time in Orlando needs to be over, but not because he wants it that way — rather, the Magic need to stop the love-hate affair and just cut him loose. And Howard's time with the Nets needs to never start, because a championship contender can't get its hands sticky with a star that obviously cares more about self than anything else. Howard is an incredible player, but even incredible players who want to join up with other good players and win it all (ahem, Miami Heat) have found out how hard it is. Imagine what happens when true selfishness reigns.
Before contenders, or the Nets, take a bite on Howard, he needs to show he knows how to settle down and play for a while.
Otherwise, the next few years will only bring a messy divorce.
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