It is unfair to ask this. It really is.
Dwight Howard already does so much for the team. He is the defensive and offensive lynchpin. The team is a mess on both ends of the floor, stagnating offensively and allowing teams to drive at the basket at will. Brandon Bass’ absense has magnified these faults in the current makeup of the roster.
This is not to criticize Howard’s play on the court. It has been fantastic this season. He has proven he is at the forefront of the MVP discussion this year in averaging a career high in points and making a good run at his third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award. There is very little to be upset with Howard about on the floor — aside from a few missed free throws here and there.
There is no denying everyone has their eyes on the summer of 2012. It is the elephant in the room and it is not going away, especially with a media that is willing and in the business of speculating it seems. There is simply not a lot more Howard can do and, agree with the trades or not, Otis Smith can do.
Smith has provided Howard with a competent (if not complete) roster and has freely spent Rich DeVos’ money to give him a chance at a title. Howard has turned into the best center of the league and has done just about all he can to lead his team to a title. The Magic really are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this.
There is one thing Howard can do better. One thing he must do better. Or else this team is going to fall apart and he could skate out of town, claiming he did everything he could and blaming his teammates, management or whoever for his failure to win in Orlando. Not that he would do that.
That one thing is becoming a leader. A true leader. Not a lead by example guy. Not a complainer and “give me the damn ball” guy. He needs to be someone on the team who will hold other players accountable. He needs to be Stan Van Gundy’s voice on the team, a guy who will echo what his coach says and keep players focused on the goal.
Watching the Magic’s game against the Celtics and the Heat these past few weeks have revealed all the weaknesses in this team. They become even more readily apparent when the team is struggling offensively. This team is too good and has too much talent to be settling for poor shots. Even then, the missed shots lead to lapses on defense, making things worse.
Stan Van Gundy yelling is one thing. Dwight Howard getting on his teammates could be another.
Howard has made some complaints to the media about his team’s shortcomings — most notably its defense and the over-reliance on his shot-repelling abilities. He has said little about the offense, at least to the press.
We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Howard could be doing pushing and prodding of teammates there and it may be falling on deaf ears. We don’t know.
What we do know is what we see on the floor. And it appears there, he is as much a part of the problem as everyone else on this team’s recent slide. It is, again, not for his play. But his demeanor on the court and his ability to lead this team.
He needs to hold players accountable and demand the ball more. That means working a little harder to get oiar position. It may mean calling somebody out — maybe even a key player like Hedo Turkoglu or even his good friend Jameer Nelson — to show he means business. it means he has to play even harder than he is already (if that is even possible).
But his demeanor on the court during Thursday and Sunday’s games leaves you wanting a bit more out of him. He disappears. And your superstar cannot do that.
Now, it is OK if Howard sometimes does not get the ball. That is not the issue. It is his complete invisibility on some occasions that seems most striking.
You don’t see him bringing his team together when things get really bad and you don’t see him hold his teammates accountable to his jobs. If this team is not willing to listen to its coach, its star player has to be the one to do it. Everyone in the league recognizes, Orlando is only as good as Howard is. And Howard needs to do more to reach his teammates.
Jameer Nelson can’t do it. Nelson has always been viewed as the quiet leader behind the scenes. But his play does not suggest so far this season that he can reward players for listening or back up what he is saying. Howard has to be that guy pushing and spurring his team to play the right way, play hard and get the job done.
Howard can. Howard must. Or this season will be lost beyond repair.