Players looking for the template of how not to leave their first team of course look to LeBron James‘ production of “The Decision” of 2010. It was nationally televised, egregiously self-contratulatory and mocked until LeBron and Co. won the NBA title in June. However, has it found its match in Dwight Howard? Both were No. 1 picks who felt or feel as if their first team is not a big enough stage to shine on or win titles at. We don’t want to rush to judgment on Howard’s my-way-or-I’ll-get-you-fired strategy, but we don’t think we’re being myopic when we say it’s set a precedent for tension. It’s going on a year since he hinted he wanted out. Now it’s a full-blown command: Trade me. So we put it up for debate: Who’s handling of their exit was worse?
In the NBA, it’s going to be a big deal any time one of the league’s biggest superstars could possibly change teams. How that player handles the transition is really important to his image and overall likeability. There’s no question that after LeBron James made his “Decision” both his image and overall likeability went south. But in LeBron’s defense, when you compare it to the way Dwight Howard handled his situation in Orlando this past season, “The Decision” wasn’t as bad as it looked after all.
LeBron drew an immense amount of criticism. Journalists all over the globe were in a frenzy blasting him for his unprofessionalism. Many felt that the one-hour special all about LeBron was uncalled for and extremely prolonged. Fans felt betrayed, and hometown Clevelanders felt disrespected.
However, in LeBron’s defense, this isn’t any other free agent we’re talking about here. James may have been the highest coveted free agent the game has ever seen, especially at that juncture in his career. His PR people knew that, so they handled it accordingly. “The Decision” raised $2.5 million for that charity, and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue.
For any player of that caliber, free agency is always the best way to switch teams. Rather than disrupting the flow of an entire franchise and becoming the center of attention in the midst of a season, why not choose to commit 100 percent and deal with it all after the season is over, especially if you’re a contender? Howard and the Magic had made it to the NBA Finals before, there’s no reason he had to quit on them early like he did.
LeBron was also criticized for not communicating with his team and letting them know his decision before hand. Well frankly, he didn’t owe the Cleveland organization anything. He had grown to resent the organization for several reasons. After “the Decision” those reasons became clear. Owner Dan Gilbert would prove how unprofessional and classless of an owner he was with the statement he made after “The Decision.” And judging by Lebron’s team of choice, you could tell he was tired of doing it all by himself, he wanted some legitimate help. Help that the organization was unable to get him. So why would he want to give them any sort of an advanced notice? So Gilbert could be the one to leak the info to the world prematurely? Looking back on the it, LeBron handled it the only way he could have. No other free agent has ever been important enough to have a one-hour special to raise $6 million dollars for charity. Yes it was a different way of doing things, but for a player of LeBron James’ caliber, you couldn’t imagine a typical anti-climactic conclusion.
The Howard dilemma in Orlando this past season has been much worse. First of all, James’ decision really only affected himself. Howard’s immaturity handling his situation poorly affected his teammates and his coach during the season. Before becoming a free agent, James was 100 percent committed playing out the season. He wasn’t entertaining trade offers, his teammates were sure he was going to finish out the season as a Cavalier.
Howard on the other hand was so indecisive. He put his team through such turmoil by being halfway committed. His teammates knew he wanted out, and his coach knew Dwight wanted him fired, despite how much he tried to deny it. He disrupted the focus of his entire team, and single handedly dismantled any chances they had of being a contender. Not to mention he was playing mind games and finger pointing with the media, blaming other people for his actions. In an effort to keep Dwight on board, the Orlando management promised him anything he desired, including firing coach Stan Van Gundy. Well eventually, after Howard decided to remain in Orlando for another season, coach Van Gundy would get fired. But Dwight would continue to deflect the responsibility, and place the blame on the media. Now, he reportedly is demanding to be traded all over again, and has put Orlando in a difficult predicament by immaturely prolonging the situation.
After Miami has won their first championship together, and Dan Gilbert was made a fool out of for claiming Cleveland would somehow win a championship before LeBron, people have started to like him again. Although his decision wasn’t exactly the easiest transition, LeBron always dealt with the consequences and accepted full responsibility for his actions. Dwight Howard has always placed the blame upon somebody else, and as a result put his franchise through sheer misery, while they were on the brink of success. There’s no question that LeBron handled leaving Cleveland better than Dwight has handled his situation in Orlando.
— Jaimie Canterbury