Of all of DC’s superheroes, none was more boring than Superman. How can a hero who can do anything, who is all but impervious, be interesting? Superman was always perfect, yet perfection really isn’t all that compelling. Rather, it’s humankind’s imperfections, our successes in spite of and failures because of them, that make for good stories.
DC, perhaps realizing this, recently took a different tack with the Man of Steel. They depowered him greatly, grounding him and leaving him with basically just superhuman strength, though even that was diminished. They also revealed his identity to the world. Essentially, they asked the question: is Superman still Superman without his powers? The answer was an obvious yes, because in comics, powers alone do not make the hero.
In the case of Dwight Howard, who once fancied himself the NBA’s Superman, the answer isn’t quite so clear.
Despite rumblings of a deal with several possible teams, Howard remained a Houston Rocket after the trade deadline came and went on Thursday. A combination of the Rockets’ high asking price – a frontcourt player and a first round pick – and Howard’s age made teams wary of acquiring the center.
In the past, a rotation big and a first round pick wouldn’t have been remotely reasonable for Howard – it would have been highway robbery. At the height of his powers, Howard wasn’t just the most feared defensive big in the game, he was quite possibly the most-feared defender overall. He was like a tiger: immense size with wondrous agility. He could leap out onto a guard and recover to his man in the post with seemingly little effort. When Howard was prowling the lane, opposing guards simply were nowhere to be found.
That Howard hasn’t been around for some time, and Houston’s relatively meager asking price is a clear reflection of that. He’s still a good player, still swallows rebounds and capable of hitting another level come the playoffs, but injuries have taken a heavy toll on the former Defensive Player of the Year.
Howard hasn’t played more than 71 games since signing with Houston, and while he has appeared in 44 of the team’s 55 games this season, it hasn’t really helped, with Houston stuck hovering around .500, barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the West. His points, rebounds and attempts per 100 possessions are the lowest since his rookie season and his PER ranks 14th among NBA centers. He is still good, but he’s far from super.
Couple that with Howard’s impending potential free agency, not to mention the fact that he’s never been the best teammate, and it’s understandable why teams wouldn’t want to take a chance on him, regardless of how much he may have left in the tank.
Even though a third of the season remains, the NBA title race all but comes down to the Spurs, Warriors, Thunder and the Cavaliers. None of the teams who reportedly engaged with the Rockets in talks for Howard – the Hawks, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Mavericks, Heat or Bucks – would have become a contender by adding Howard. If he was the Howard of old, a few of those teams probably would have fought harder to acquire Howard. Imagine the Hawks with a full-strength Howard, or even the Hornets. But this version, the one who can’t stay healthy and tries to get his teammate traded, isn’t worth the high cost of doing business.
In the comics, Superman eventually regains his powers. The problem, as it turns out, was that a layer of cells in his body had mutated to the extent that he could no longer absorb the power of the earth’s yellow sun. His solution: exposing himself to massive amounts of Kryptonite in order to burn off those unwanted cells. It worked, though what consequences that method will have are yet to be revealed.
In NBA terms, there is no extreme remedy for Howard. He can opt out of his contract and be a free agent this summer, which he’ll probably do to secure one last long-term deal. But if teams were already scoffing at giving up just a first round pick and a front-court player for him in a trade, then they’ll likely be just as reluctant to give Howard the massive, $30 million per year pay day he desires. Teams would gladly pay that for Superman, they just won’t give it to a 31 year-old big with creaky knees and a track record of ruining team chemistry.