Dwight Howard blames “Dwightmare” on broken promises

Dwight Howard gave his side of the story about his departure from the Orlando Magic recently with The Undefeated, blaming it on broken promises.

It is hard to say where the “Dwightmare” began. It is easy to say and see how it ended.

Five years ago, Dwight Howard left the Orlando Magic and neither player nor the franchise has been the same. Howard struggled after forcing his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers with injuries and a changing NBA that began to view his relatively meager post game as a hindrance rather than an advantage.

There is still a bit of nostalgia. If only the Magic could have kept Howard, still an effective defensive player and solid player overall — 13.2 points per game and 12.8 rebounds per game with a 2.7 defensive box plus-minus for the Atlanta Hawks this year — perhaps they would be on a better path. There is still a faction of Magic fans who believe the Magic should have brought Howard back as a free agent this summer.

That debate will be left on the scrap heap of history. Something that could have been.

What Magic fans are still trying to parse through and figure out is exactly what happened in that ill-fated 2012 season — the “Dwightmare” year.

It inevitably started with Howard holding a press conference shortly after the lockout ended, announcing he had requested a trade from the Magic. It seemed both sides would move quickly to honor this request.

And then it did not happen and the oddness began.

Howard continued playing that season — 20.6 points per game, a league-leading 14.5 rebounds per game and a 3.7 defensive box plus-minus before a back injury knocked him out the final month of the season — but the strangeness persisted throughout.

There were the constant trade rumors — and demand to go to three or four specific teams — and the waiving of his early termination option and the press conference with Stan Van Gundy and on and on and on.

It left fans embittered over the whole process, their emotions toyed with and the franchise in shambles. The Magic are certainly recovering and Howard has never been the same — both as a player and in the eyes of the public.

Eventually, the Magic washed their hands of it, trading Howard to the Lakers in the summer of 2012, kicking off this massive rebuild.

Recently in an interview with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, Howard tried to explain his side of the story. He said the Magic did not keep their promises and let him twist in the wind, playing him off fans to keep themselves in a positive light.

“I really hate going back with it. There were a lot of different things that happened in Orlando that people never talked about. Before the season even started during the lockout, I asked them privately, I even talked to [teammate] Jameer [Nelson] and [then-general manager] Otis [Smith] and I said, ‘Hey, I just want a change in my life. It has nothing to do with [then-coach] Stan Van Gundy. This has nothing to do with the players here in Orlando. It has nothing to do with Orlando itself.’ I just felt I was too comfortable and I wanted more for myself and more for basketball.

It had nothing to do with the team. They said they were going to try to move me. I thought it was going to happen. They came in and said, ‘We’re going to trade you.’ They shook my hand and said, ‘God bless you. You were here for eight years and you did a great job.’ They asked me to go shake my teammates’ hands. I went and shook their hands and told them that the team was going to trade me. I woke up the next day and they said, ‘We’re not going to trade you.’

Indeed there were a few times where it seemed the Magic were set to trade Howard. And that initial press conference both Howard and Magic CEO Alex Martins confirmed the trade request. Martins, in that press conference, said the team would try to trade him.

But that did not necessarily absolve Howard from everything that would happen next — or the Magic, for that matter.

Howard, of course, during the summer held a big Bar-B-Q at a local Orlando park and promised fans he was going to stay and win a championship. Even after declining his early termination option, Howard talked about “Loyalty” — the Magic’s team store actually sold shirts with Howard’s image and that word across the chest — and sticking with the team.

Things obviously deteriorated from there.

The problem likely began with that initial promise the Magic failed to keep. There was a clear fracture — for whatever reason.

Howard wanted a change of scenery. And the Magic’s championship window had clearly closed as the team failed to get out of the first round in 2011 and committed to virtually the same roster the next year.

Orlando as a franchise let him twist in the wind a bit. But Howard did not stand firm to his decision. He did waffle because it appeared he truly loved Orlando and its fans.

It may be a while before this relationship is ever repaired. Both player and team are still finding their way to move on.