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The title of this post is a bit facetious but lets not kid ourselves: With every Orlando post-season loss, Dwight Howard becomes that much closer to either leaving the team in free agency or demanding his way out of Orlando ala Carmelo Anthony. Howard is been open with his thoughts on the play of his teammates this season and the talk of him leaving town has surrounded the Magic all year long.
There are few players, if any now that LeBron James is in Miami, that are asked to do as much for their teams as Howard is asked to do for Orlando. Not only is he expected to be the league’s best defensive player despite having no help from his perimeter players or even his other big man, Howard is now Orlando’s most used offensive player.
Last season both Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson posted higher usage percentages than Dwight Howard but this season Howard has made the leap to first, using up 27.2% of Orlando’s possessions on the offensive end.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Howard has become the Magic’s go-to offensive player, thanks to the improvements he’s made he actually is their best all-around scorer. That being said, the problem with Howard using up the largest number of possessions on his team is that he’s doing so because he’s getting little help from his guards.
The Magic dropped from the third best three-point shooting team in the league last season to the 10th best this year while the defensive personel on the wings also got worse, creating an even larger burden for Howard. In four games against the Hawks, Howard’s teammates have shot a ridiculously bad 22% from three-point range (21-of-96), which includes a two-for-23 performance last night in a must-win game four.
While his teammates have failed to show up, Howard has been busy putting together a masterful series. Through four games Howard has averaged a whopping 32 points and 18 rebounds on 67% shooting. By far Howard’s first round play against the Magic has been the most impressive individual performance throughout the first round – yes, even more impressive than Chris Paul’s first four games against the Lakers. And if it wasn’t for Brandon Roy‘s heroic performance in game four against Dallas, Howard would also boast the most impressive single game performance of the playoffs – his 46 point (on 16-of-23 shooting), 19 rebound game one stat line.
Orlando may rally to win a game or two over the next few days but the reality is that their performance will just be prolonging the inevitable: Dwight Howard is going to leave.
Maybe that’s a bold statement to make but based on his comments about the team, his situation and what he wants to accomplish all signs point to Howard heading West, with Los Angeles being the most attractive destination. There is a small chance that Howard may be able to recruit a star to come play with him – perhaps Chris Paul or Deron Williams, who are both due to be free agents in 2012 with Howard - but have you seen the Magic’s expected payroll for that season?
Assuming Gilbert Arenas picks up a ridiculous $20 million option for the 2012-13 season, the Magic will be on the books for $56,404,210 – a total that could very easily exceed the salary cap that the new CBA establishes. Even if it’s below the cap, it’ll be just by a little and there’s no where near enough money available for the Magic to go out and sign a player like Chris Paul. The only hope Orlando would have is to convince either New Orleans or New Jersey into do a sign and trade involving Gilbert Arenas’ massive deal but there’s no way either franchise would make that kind of mistake.
The most realistic scenario in the 2012 off-season is that Howard walks and chooses a new home off of a list that includes Los Angeles, New York or New Jersey.
You can’t really blame Howard for wanting out or for taking subtle jabs at his teammates all year long. To reiterate the point: nobody in the league is responsible for more of his teams success than Howard. Dwight led the league in defensive rating and defensive win shares this season finished behind only LeBron James in win shares per 48 minutes. With all that he’s asked to do you’d think his teammates could repay him by showing a little effort defensively or by knocking down their shots but that hasn’t been the case in the post-season, which has Orlando on the brink of elimination and Howard one step closer to skipping town.
Howard’s signature nickname may be Superman but the truth is that Dwight cannot do it all byhimself down in Orlando. And because the Magic have failed to find him a Jimmy Olson to team up with Orlando may be a city in dire need of a super hero when the off-season of 2012 hits.