With Dwight Howard there are two questions to be answered, and only one of them will be answered in the near future. The other one will take longer, and it will provide comic relief as it unfolds. Well, comic relief for everyone but the answer to the first question.
1. Which team does Dwight Howard pick?
2. How will he screw it up?
It's inevitable, you know. Unless he grows up -- which could happen; he's only, ahem, 27 years old -- Dwight Howard will screw it up because that's what he is: a screw-up. He's not a lovably well-intentioned screw-up either, a guy like JaVale McGee or even Tony Romo, trying his best but just ... screwing it up.
Dwight Howard isn't that. He hasn't been that for years, since he flipped whatever switch was in his head and transformed from an enjoyable, fun-loving, Barkley-imitating dunker to a dislikable, finger-pointing, coach-killing loser.
Dwight Howard is a loser. This is the guy NBA teams have turned into the No. 1 object on the free agent market. This is the guy the Lakers -- the Lakers, for God's sake -- abandoned their Los Angeles cool to chase like a 13-year-old dork going after the prettiest airhead in school. They're doing photo-shops on Twitter with his jersey on the Beverly Hills Hotel. They're putting up billboards all over town with a huge picture of Dwight Howard's favorite player, accompanied by a single word: Stay.
Makes me think of four more letters:
I'd have said "loser," but that's five letters. Coach-killer is 11. Chemistry-sapping egomaniac? That doesn't fit nicely on a billboard, and anyway, none of the teams involved in the pursuit of Dwight Howard is interested in the truth. They're interested in the myth that a great center can anchor a great team and lead it to an NBA championship, and that Howard is that center. Other than Shaquille O'Neal (playing alongside all-time great Kobe Bryant in his prime), the NBA has seen just one such center in the last 20 years.
And Dwight Howard is no Tim Duncan.
He's actually the mirror image of Duncan, as in the exact opposite. Howard smiles and emotes charismatically but stabs teammates and coaches in the back. Duncan shows no emotion but is an amazing teammate, a delightfully coachable player.
Duncan is a winner.
Howard is a loser.
This is who NBA teams are pursuing, and pursuing in a way that will just make his delusional narcissism worse. Already Dwight Howard sees himself as noble and heroic, a guy who led a team of misfits, coached by an idiot he eventually got fired, all the way to the 2009 NBA Finals.
"My team in Orlando was a team of guys who nobody wanted," Howard said earlier this season, "and I was the leader and I led that team with a smile on my face."
And a knife in their back.
Several of Howard's teammates recoiled at those comments, but J.J. Redick put it best: "I'd be more surprised when Dwight starts taking responsibility," Redick said. "You can't take all the credit and not accept any of the blame."
Sure you can, when you're Dwight Howard. Because he doesn't see the world the way people see it. Look at the Stan Van Gundy thing during the 2012 season, when Van Gundy was telling reporters that Howard tried to get him fired. Moments later Howard walked up, having no idea what Van Gundy was saying, and smiled broadly and draped an arm around the coach as if he had his back.
Howard thought he was fooling Van Gundy. He wasn't. But apparently he's fooling the Rockets, and Mavericks, and Lakers. And Warriors and Hawks and anyone else willing to make Howard the centerpiece of an NBA title pursuit.
Ball don't lie, and neither does history. And history shows Howard is a loser. He did lead the Magic into the 2009 NBA Finals, where he did shoot 48.8 percent and average only 15.4 points (but 15.2 rebounds) and four turnovers a game. The Magic lost to the Lakers in five games.
In 2011 he led the Magic to a first-round flameout. They flamed out without him in 2012 when he was injured. By 2013 he was gone to the Lakers, forming a super team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Injuries happened -- and Dwight Howard happened. The Lakers went 45-37 for all kinds of reasons, not all of them having to do with Dwight Howard, although my position is that it comes back to Howard anyway. Because he's a loser. His coaches get fired. His teammates get tired of him. He gets technical fouls because the referees aren't giving him what he deserves, which is a foul called on the other guy whenever something doesn't go well for Dwight Howard.
This is the guy the Rockets are begging to play alongside potential NBA scoring leader James Harden and rising star Chandler Parsons, neither older than 24, forming a Big Three to match any in the league. Of course Howard wants more. He wants the Rockets to pursue a fourth star. He wants it even easier.
The Rockets countered by offering him his very own TV show. So did the Lakers. And the Lakers had those billboards.
Because at the end of the day, teams really do know what Dwight Howard wants. He wants to see himself up in lights. Dwight Howard is all about Dwight Howard.
Why so many NBA teams don't understand what that really means, I have no idea.