Dwight Howard told the Associated Press on Sunday that there is a “huge possibility” that he will play overseas if the lockout continues, perhaps singling out China as a possible destination.
“I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” he said. “But there’s a huge possibility about me going to China or me going overseas to play basketball. The big thing for me is not giving too much information away, but at the same time I still need to let people know what’s going on with me. I don’t want to just sit over here and forget about basketball and waste, you know, opportunities for me to get better.”
Howard likely will not go to play for an overseas team unless the lockout lasts long enough to cancel part of the season. He wants to keep himself in basketball shape — not that he needs much to stay in shape, seriously.
Howard has gone to China pretty much at least once a summer since before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It is someplace he has looked to expand his marketing reach and build a following. He is one of the most popular athletes in the league and in the world.
It was only last week that Howard opened the door to playing in Europe. At that point, I felt he was simply hedging his bets while conducting an interview in Spain. You know, trying to appease hungry fans in a market that looks to be hungering for more NBA talent. That is what Howard does a lot of during the summer — connect with fans and work out incessantly.
A move overseas would largely be one to help him improve his game. How much? That is the real question.
Howard was never dominant in the Olympics the same way he is in the NBA. European basketball just does not fit his game. In the 2008 Olympics, he averaged 10.9 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game. With USA Basketball he is averaging 9.2 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Obviously the international game is a little different. It does not quite cater to Howard’s skills. There are very few true back-to-the-basket players like Howard in Euroleague and very many centers can pop out and hit from the 3-point line. Howard sometimes struggled with that in the Olympics. You would likely see whatever team he plays for go to a zone.
Of course, that is also remembering Howard was not the focal point of the U.S. Olympic team in 2008 and he surely would be this time around. I have always been of the opinion that the Euroleague does not fit Howard’s game, but you can find a way to fit a game around Howard. He is Dwight Howard.
You also do not have the same concerns in the much easier league in China. That seems to be the more likely destination for Howard because of the marketing opportunities China presents.
There are multiple reasons these players are looking to go overseas. Trying to stay in shape is certainly one of them. The other is leverage. Maybe the players are heading off to Europe to try and scare the owners into agreeing to a deal quicker as their million dollar investments make money for another owner. That might be what it comes to.
This is a double-edged sword though as John Karalis of Crossover Chronicles writes:
“But there’s also another aspect to this. In talking to our editor Jeff Garcia about players going overseas, he brought up whether David Stern would be willing to let them go as unwitting ambassadors of the brand. Chances are fans of Turkey’s Beskitas club will watch NBA basketball when they can, but now they’ll also be New Jersey Nets fans, which opens up a new market where one didn’t exist. And China to the NBA is what California was to prospectors in 1849 or what Texas was to oil men in the early 1900′s. Dwight going over is like tapping another rig. Just sit back and watch the money roll in.
“And that applies for Dwight, too. Stern can sit back and enjoy some of the fruits of these guys bringing some star power to foreign markets, the stars can also enhance their own brand and set themselves up quite nicely for long haul. So while there is certainly a valid argument to be made for Dwight Howard ‘risking too much’ to play in China, there is also a valid argument to be made for him ‘expanding his global reach’ to a point where he’s raking in some very, VERY serious endorsement money.”
As Karalis points out pretty well, NBA players are brands now. That is the “Post-Decision world” we live in. Winning a championship is very much a part of building the brand and becoming more marketable than securing a legacy. That could be one reason LeBron James opted for the change he did in Miami last summer.
That might also be the thing Magic fans fear the most with the summer of 2012 on the horizon. It does not need much more mention because, frankly, we still do not know the rules or whether the influence Howard would gain in China during this lockout would be enough to keep him happy in Orlando.
All we know is that he wants the Magic to make him a winner. The marketing stuff will take care of itself, during this lockout and after it.
Photos via DayLife.com.