|With Van Gundy gone, Howard will have to stand taller if he stays in Orlando. (Getty Images)|
Over the last several weeks, we have come to understand that basketball isn't always about one designated guy always having the last shot. We have come to learn that team play as defined by players who have been together for years is really quite useful. We have even discovered that Donald Sterling pays attention -- albeit at the worst possible times.
And now we know that Dwight Howard is the greatest player in the game. Hands down, no argument, don't even start.
Kobe Bryant has never taken out a coach and a general manager on the same day. Michael Jordan got one coach and no general managers in his entire career. Bill Russell never came close on either, until he actually replaced the coach himself.
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But Howard blew up the entire basketball operations department in Orlando Monday, getting head coach Stan Van Gundy fired and leading general manager Otis Smith to the same end, all before dinner. That's a lot of work, young fella.
So now we have a rooting interest. Either Howard leaves Orlando anyway, in which case the Magic will learn the cost of doing business with a demagogue -- even one of their own making -- or he stays, and he'd damned well better hire the next coach and general manager and lead the boys to the NBA title.
After all, with great power comes great responsibility, as Voltaire once whispered to Stan Lee.
Now it doesn't matter whether or not Van Gundy had it coming, so don't come with that one. Nor does it matter that Smith walked the same plank minutes later, also at Howard's indirect behest. They're gone, and he and his fresh back surgery scar remain, maybe, and either way he'd better prove that his basketball acumen is superior to theirs, or face the consequences of national ridicule.
And yes, national ridicule matters, eventually. It's too much weight to carry, and stronger men than Howard have carried it for a shorter amount of time.
And when Howard gets his, the Orlando management -- Rich DeVos, CEO Alex Martins and whoever else has had a hand in giving the franchise away -- should get its, too. In forgetting Van Gundy and Smith also served in their way, by siding with Howard to such an extraordinary extent, they are rolling the dice in such a way that if Howard leaves anyway, they will get the nothing they so richly deserve.
And frankly, either way, we win.
OK, maybe not Magic fans. They get a sticky end of the fork to be sure, but since when did fans' long-term happiness matter? For most teams, the fans are merely wallets with feet anyway.
But we win because we get to see the chaos that ensues as Howard realizes how badly he blew up his own position while firing on Van Gundy's and Smith's. We know Howard cannot be that champion he fancies himself being unless he attaches himself to an already powerful team, and is willing to shape his role around the great players he joins. And we know that whichever team signs him, he will be working for a coach who knows what he did in Orlando and will be unable or unwilling to speak up and speak out when Howard exceeds his portfolio.
In sum, Howard has made himself not worth the bother, except to owners who understand less about basketball than they do about making money (and that means all 30 of them, by the way). He is still a lure to them, because their eyes get big when they see a name they recognize, and they are convinced the right amount of love and tribute will cure him of his office-destroying ways.
They won't, of course. You get Dwight Howard, you get this. Toothpaste does not march back into the tube, not even if commanded.
Oh, he'll get paid, don't be fooled by that. But he was going to get paid anyway. He blew up the Magic as a freebie, because he could, and because he wanted the feeling of having done so. Now he has it, which is more than can be said for nearly any other player in history.
And certainly more than can be said for any player who was worth the bother.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com).