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NBA / Jul 27, 2012 / 1:00 pm

The Dwightmare Is A Necessary Evil

We haven’t agitated the Dwight Howard public relations monster too often around these parts just because every point, non-point and counterpoint has been vetted beyond our heart’s content. There’s Dwight’s childish defiance, Rob Hennigan’s slow-acting maturity and a sect of NBA consumers loitering in anticipation, hoping to land the biggest piece of Orlando’s junk at the garage sale. And if that means they have to add an outdated, one dimensional and overpriced tag along, so be it. It’s all good and well, and there’s not much left to say. But the conversation has hardly disappeared.

We’re a part of the problem, too. We’ll always keep you apprised of the latest developments via Smack or otherwise, because no amount of Dwightmare inundation can demote Howard from the NBA’s top five – which, by default, makes him interesting, because enormous talent is interesting. If, say, Ramon Sessions, had pulled the same stunt, we’d laugh him off as his career languished right before our eyes.

This is where you intervene on behalf of moral grandstanding, claiming not to be a part of this every-move-scrutinization media culture. That, you don’t care when a non-deal doesn’t happen or a player makes a mildly invasive or offensive comment. You’re above it because you’re a hardcore fan who only gives thought to the on-the-court product. Well, I call bullsh*t. The NBA, as with every other professional sports league, is a revolving door of hired mercenaries. We cling to homegrown products because they flirt with our romanticized visions of fealty and righteousness. That, players who stick with their original teams are on the right side of karmic justice, and those who aren’t win out of pure luck alone. I think everyone quietly adores this wry chess match, hoping their own team executives can out-finagle the competition. But it only works if the pieces remain in motion.

There are always multiple ways to win the game – free agency, the draft, trades, what have you – but checkmate is the ultimate goal. Except we don’t have access to team strategy. We simply observe the moves made and interpret thusly, with the occasional scrap of inside information pawned off to a reporter.

Dwight Howard’s ongoing saga has been the quintessential example of non-news turned news turned utter confusion. Trying to keep up with the non-linear vacillations here at Dime has been challenging. Here’s an update we posted a month ago, and here are some more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more. You get the point. What do they have in common, these minor tremblings in a story yet to break? None of them have come to fruition. Sources have prattled on with updates on top of updates on top of breaking news, which have led us through this endlessly cyclical labyrinth where the start is the finish. At present, we’ve watched these trade negotations take two steps forward and two steps backward, with Rob Hennigan now returning to Dwight in supplication to beg for his undying loyalty.

The Dwightmare is the NBA’s latest heel – his fall from magnanimous and jovial superstar to dispassionate employee has been shocking. But some part of the armor had to crack. His physique was too perfect, his smile too big, his personality too friendly. There was no place for him in the good guy narrative, not until Kevin Durant breaks our hearts. But at least he’s now trying to play a role, and there’s some semblance of emotional connectivity.

The worst part of this is his unwavering effort. If anything, the only thing he hasn’t been accused of is not playing hard. But basketball isn’t just the workplace for the majority of those invested in it. Dwight Howard the person and Dwight Howard the basketball player have to be the same person for all of this to function properly. Basketball wouldn’t take hold of our lives if we just watched the games in an emotional vacuum, and that’s the Dwight Howard we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years.

But this post-trade demand Howard is not Howard’s newest evolutionary model – it’s been mindlessly whirring along for the last few years, emotionally irrelevant. A fourth-ish seeded team flaming out by round two at the latest, rinse, repeat. Sure, this entire Dwightmare has been nightmarish, but at least you remember nightmares. Howard will eventually find a new team and play with a renewed ambition, and we’ll boo the hell out of him. But he’ll refocus his mind on winning and shutting up the naysayers, so he’ll have a purpose beyond fulfilling his contract. That’s all we should really be looking for.

Because sometimes playing hard just isn’t good enough.

What do you think?

Follow Dylan on Twitter at @DylanTMurphy.

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