Dwight Howard can't win. Whatever happens next, it's a lose-lose proposition for the best big man in the NBA.
As well it should be. Because this is his fault.
After picking up his 16th technical foul in 63 games, reaching the NBA's single-season threshold and being automatically suspended for Monday night against Portland, Howard is screwed. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. And hallelujah for that, because this is a problem of his own creation.
|Dwight Howard isn't shy about confronting officials when he disagrees with a call. (AP)|
Those are 18 huge games, but Howard probably will miss two more between Tuesday and the end of the regular season.
Unless he can control himself. Unless he can stop drawing technicals at his ridiculous rate. That's the conundrum facing Howard:
• If he controls himself and doesn't get four technicals in the next 18 games -- or shoots high and avoids even two more technicals -- he stays eligible for the stretch run. But that would make everyone wonder why he couldn't show restraint before now.
• If he doesn't control himself, if he picks up the four technicals his pace suggests he will draw, he would miss two more crucial games. Making everyone wonder why he can't grow up already.
See? He can't win. Nor should he. Dwight Howard is no victim here, so don't be gullible. Don't be ridiculous. Yes, he's a charismatic guy with a handsome face, cartoon body, glowing smile and explosive dunks.
All of which tends to obscure the fact that Dwight Howard is, in fact, a dirty player.
Sixteen technical fouls in 63 games? That doesn't lie, folks. That's Rasheed-like. That's Stephen Jackson territory. Kevin Garnett. Ron Artest. Show me a crude player, and I'll show you a guy who picks up a technical foul every fourth game. That's Dwight Howard.
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Howard's fans will say he's victimized by officials or the league, but that's what fans do. They ignore evidence against their hero, evidence like this: Howard has actually been called for 20 technicals this season. Four were rescinded by the league. So even if officials do have it in for Howard, every technical they call -- on Howard, on anybody -- gets reviewed by the league. Four have been overturned. You know what that means?
It means 16 were not.
Howard's fans will say the NBA spoils its accepted stars, sexy wing players like Carmelo and Kobe, and that a big man like Howard can't get away with anything. To which I would say: First, Howard is an accepted star, too. The NBA gains nothing from his suspension from Monday's game. The NBA is hurt by it.
And, second, here are the seven players with the most technical fouls this season, all accepted stars: Howard, Amar'e Stoudemire (15), Kobe Bryant (11), Carmelo Anthony (10), Chauncey Billups (10) and Kevin Garnett (10). How many is that, six? Oh right. Well, six accepted stars. And one idiot: Stephen Jackson (14).
Other stars in the top 20 for technicals, with at least six: Blake Griffin, Richard Hamilton, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook.
Howard also is tied for the league lead in flagrant fouls with three. Two more, and he misses a game. So for anyone out there who thinks the offensively limited Dwight Howard isn't versatile enough, I would point out that he has found two different ways to get himself suspended for important games.
No, three different ways. Don't forget the 2009 playoffs against the 76ers, when Howard was suspended for Game 6 -- fairly important game, right? -- after trying to split open Samuel Dalembert's face with an elbow from hell. Watch it for yourself. Howard, of course, said afterward that, "I didn't intend to hurt anyone."
Maybe he thinks his elbows are made of Silly Putty.
Howard was slinging those baby-soft elbows last week against Chicago, when he picked up his 16th technical. He rose for a dunk and was stopped by Kyle Korver, who grabbed his arm. It was a blatant foul, intentional as could be, but it wasn't malicious or dirty. It happens in the NBA. What happened next? Howard threw a tantrum, and his elbows, swinging all of them -- with the ball extended -- in Korver's face. Here it is (1:15 mark).
Some wonder whether Howard's suspension Monday should hurt his MVP candidacy. A colleague of mine says no.
Me, I say yes. Absolutely it should hurt Howard's MVP candidacy. On the one hand, Howard is clearly one of the NBA's two or three most valuable players, right up there with Derrick Rose and (sigh) LeBron James. Maybe Kevin Durant belongs for his scoring, and Rajon Rondo for everything else. Whatever the case, Howard is having an MVP-type season at 23.1 points per game, 13.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 60 percent shooting from the floor.
But a player that good, that valuable, cannot be getting himself suspended for a game in March simply because he can't control his temper. It can't happen. And since it did happen, it can't be rewarded with MVP votes.
And maybe it won't happen again. Maybe Howard will go the final 18 games with just one technical foul, avoiding a second tech that would cause him to miss another game. If he pulls that off, don't give him applause. Give him grief. Because if he can control himself now, why couldn't he control himself then?