The Magic are not going to escape Dwight Howard for some time. He will haunt the franchise as it moves toward its future and as the team tries to recover. Until that next superstar center comes, Howard will be the one who got away. And everyone will want to know how the hell that fish got off the line.
Everyone is weighing in trying to pick up the pieces over a wrecked Magic franchise.
Charles Oakley was something of a junkyard dog in his day and he is one to eat some of the scraps laying on the floor of any basketball game. Oakley is good friends with some of the NBA's best — notably Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing — and he is probably the official poster child of the physical, rough and tumble mid-1990s of basketball. A member of the old guard and last enforcer of the great age of centers.
And Oakley does not think so highly of Ewing's protege, Dwight Howard. Howard is the antithesis to the way Oakley and his crew played in the mid-90s. Howard smiled and danced his way through the NBA without much of a challenge from an NBA changed by a lack of big men and a complete embrace of the 3-point line. It is a different NBA.
Still Oakley wishes the days of tough love still existed. Then the Magic might not be stuck where they are. Instead, appeasement reigned and the Magic got left with a child crying until he got his way. And get his way he did. Oakley was not surprised as he told ESPN Radio (h/t Ben Golliver of Eye on Basketball):
"A lot of guys cry in this league these days. I try not to get caught up in that. The management in Orlando let him get away with it. Most times, they put kids in timeout. They never put him in timeout. He just kept crying and got his way. Now he's in LA with Kobe so they got a chance to win a couple championships in the next two or three years.
"They could have traded him and got something better for him last year. I think they just tried to play along. They just pleased him anyway they could but he never did anything to please them."
Indeed, even the Magic might have to admit now that their little waiting game with Howard cost them a better trade package, or at least a shorter trip to the NBA's basement. The Magic quite likely are paying for their fickleness and denial as much as Howard's public perception is paying for his fickleness and indecision.
There is certainly an argument for it if you want to make it. And Oakley will make it.
A large part of his beef with Howard and his criticism comes from Howard's playful nature on the court, but it also appears to be with an apparent rift between Howard and Patrick Ewing, a coach on Stan Van Gundy's staff who was more or less devoted to working with Howard.
As Golliver digs up, Oakley said Howard struggled to take criticism from Ewing and Van Gundy back in 2010 when everyone thought the idea of Howard leaving Orlando was silly. This was before the wheels fell off the Magic's roster and past the point of no return from salary cap hell. Oakley, at that time, was incredulous as to why Howard would not listen to an NBA legend like Ewing.
To Howard's credit, after those comments came out Howard went to see and work with Hakeem Olajuwon for about a week and took those lessons to heart to put together his best offensive season in his career. Some of it was certainly sour grapes from a friend. But you can see how the seeds were laid and only needed catastrophe to sprout.
Orlando really did reap what it sowed.
In the franchise's attempt to please its superstar, it made mistake after mistake. It traded away all of its assets for perpetually disappointing performances from Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas. It then compounded that mistake by re-signing Richardson to a long-term deal and then bringing in Glen Davis on a four-year deal apparently at Dwight's bequest.
The mistakes only got worse as the franchise clung to the idea that it could convince Howard to stay after he had made his original trade request in December. And so on and so forth through the whole press conference after he decided to opt in to that morning press conference from Stan Van Gundy to the injury and his escape to Los Angeles.
The Magic made a lot of mistakes and Charles Oakley is holding them to task for fostering the baby inside Howard.