Dwight Howard answers to becoming unlikeable since leaving


Dwight Howard was on Inside the NBA on Tuesday and was grilled a bit about his career since leaving Orlando and how he became unlikeable since his departure

Dwight Howard is trying to do a little bit of damage control with his image (finally) as he prepares to enter free agency at 30 years old. Coming off one of his worst seasons of his career, questions about Howard and his drive for the game and his maturity continue to haunt him.

The days he spent in Orlando seem a far distant memory to him. His Finals run when Sports Illustrated asked “Does Dwight Howard smile too much to win?” is now seven years old and he has been out of Orlando for four years, following a nightmarish season of will-he, won’t-he leave that soured the entire fan base on their once superstar and still dregs up big emotions.

Howard has not been the same player since.

Injuries have sapped him of much of his strength and athleticism that made him such a truly gifted defensive player. He has regressed in many ways since his Orlando days — whether it be age, injury or even the playing style of the teams he joined in Los Angeles and Houston.

Howard’s image is in need of a rehabilitation ahead of his free agency both on and off the court, stemming from his muddled departure from Orlando.

He has become a truly unlikeable player even outside of Orlando. And it is something that has miffed Howard.

Tuesday night, while Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson were at the Sports Emmy Awards, Howard filled in for O’Neal on the Inside the NBA desk. And Charles Barkley asked him directly: “Who do you think people don’t like you?”

Howard answered:

"“I would say people see me and they see the success I had in Orlando and they see me now and they are like, ‘What’s the difference?’ I think I was very likeable in orlando and the way that situation ended, I feel people felt I was this bad guy. I was all about myself. I am a diva. I am stuck on being Dwight Howard the famous basketball player.“It really hurts me because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same. My drive has always been there. I will never forget the time I came in here and [Barkley] told me I wasn’t going to be good in the NBA. I will never forget the day Magic Johnson told me I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA when I was in the 10th grade. That stuff drives me to be one of the greatest players to play the game.“That part, to hear people say that, it pisses me off because that’s not who I am. I have never been a bad person. It’s not like I want people to like me because I know people are not always going to like me. You get to know me, I’m laid back, I want to have fun.”"

It was certainly an introspective answer. Howard admitted that the accusations of disinterest may have some merit only because as a center he would sometimes get frustrated he would not get his diet of post opportunities or let other aspects of the game distract and affect him.

This is certainly at least a part of Howard trying to get himself to be viewed as a solid option in free agency. It is a bit of marketing for sure.

Howard said on Inside the NBA he has not even begun thinking about his free agency or whether he will opt out of his final year of his contract. This despite reports Howard had reached out to the Magic, at least, through back channels and that many believe there are a few teams that would be favored landing spots for Howard, including Orlando. That decision, if it comes to it, seems up to the Magic.

Howard can still help a team. He still has that strong defensive presence in him. He can still collect rebounds at a high rate. Maybe not at the rate he did in Orlando.

This little bit of rehabilitation could help Howard in some way in front of a general manager as he begins the process of getting into free agency or piecing his career back together.

Barkley and Kenny Smith both gave advice to Howard on the air. A lot of it had to do with finding away to be part of a winning team. That would almost certainly eliminate the Magic as they are still a few years and maybe even players (including or not including Howard) from competing for championships.

Howard noted in talking about what drives him into this next phase of his career how pissed off he still is that Kobe Bryant won a title on his floor in 2009. He still seems a bit peeved the Rockets lost to the Warriors.

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Howard is saying all the right things right now. It is good public relations. Whether the public — and Magic fans — is going to buy it is another matter.