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It’s hard enough to believe there is an award called the Rich and Helen Devos Community Enrichment award. Given the turmoil Dwight Howard put Magic fans through in both wanting the beloved Stan Van Gundy fired and then getting traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s hard to remember the Dwight Howard who was once a shoo-in to win the award.
But think back to the start of the 2011-2012 lockout-shortened season and remember the goofy, fun-loving, and dominant player, fresh off a career year in 2011 which culminated in him taking home the distinction of Defensive Player of the Year for a league-record third consecutive season.
One thing was clear. The Orlando Magic was Dwight’s team and nobody had any problem with that. He was the future, not the problem. He was the hero, not the thorn in the side of a city. He not only won Community Enrichment awards and Defensive Player of the Year awards but he probably deserved more individual accolades, particularly the MVP.
Then things took a turn for the worse. The Magic became average. The lack of new blood and perpetual lethargy from veteran players wore out the franchise. Orlando was going nowhere as a team. You know the rest of this story. One quick (yet seemingly drawn out) downward spiral later and Dwight is the enemy, posted up in his ivory tower in Los Angeles.
But let’s not make the mistake of forgetting the Dwight Howard that was almost universally praised at the end of the 2010-2011 season.
I’m not even talking about the career-high 22.9 points per game and 14.1 rebounds per game he averaged for the season. Dwight also boasted a career-high PER (26.0) and his WARP was through the roof (20.5).
I think back to March 2011 when everyone and their mother (save for this blog) declared Derrick Rose as the MVP. Dwight destroyed Rose’s production that season. Everyone knows it. It was a travesty that Dwight didn’t win the MVP. Even Eddy Rivera wrote about it in a lengthy, yet spot-on novella.
The point is this: we’re not just talking about a solid season in 2011. We’re talking about an MVP-caliber season.
It’s time to play devil’s advocate for a second. I’m going to purposely ignore the flip-flopping that Dwight did, the coup d’état on Stan Van Gundy, and the dismissiveness of his fans and the media before departing to Los Angeles. Let’s look at this at face value and how it really went down. This is a guy who poured it out to the city of Orlando on multiple levels. He never took a game off (before 2012, that is), he continually improved as a player, and he won awards for his efforts on and off the court.
The bottom line is that I’d be about ready to take off too if I was still no closer to a championship two seasons after my 2009 Finals run, as well as after the best season of my career in which I probably should have won the MVP alongside my third straight Defensive Player of the Year award. The perspective we should try to see is that from Dwight’s point of view, during and after the 2010-2011 season, a season of individual greatness, he was surrounded by mediocrity with the Orlando Magic.
Let me put it this way. Like it or not, Dwight had every good reason to leave and join ranks with Kobe, Nash, and Pau. The best way to see this is by looking at his season in 2011.
The justified criticism of Dwight was his foolish way of going about things leading up to his exodus. The Van Gundy episode coupled with his flippant attitude with the media and his unwillingness (or incapability) of being forthright and decisive hurt his credibility. But don’t blame the guy for heading to Hollywood. Blame the process, sure, but not the end result.
The man poured it out for Orlando on and off the court for nearly the entirety of his tenure. He peaked in 2011 both statistically and as a man. He was lovable, kind, gentle, playful, and dominant. Remember that. Don’t let go of that. For Magic fans, don’t let your anger for how things played out before he left dictate and fog your memory of the truth.
Because the truth is that you probably loved Dwight Howard immensely for about 99 percent of his career in Orlando. You understood if he wanted to leave for greener pastures after playing like an MVP in 2011, only to be rewarded with a first-round flameout in the playoffs.
It’s just how he terribly botched that last one percent that still remains fresh in everyone’s mind.