Lesson No. 1–He’s not the Dwight of Orlando, physically.
Not that it’s easy to tell. If a lot of people say he’s not, it’s close enough for former Clipper and Laker coach Mike Dunleavy to say he thinks Dwight looks pretty much the same.
I wasn’t sure one way or the other until Monday’s game against Denver’s Javale McGee, who made him look like he was Aaron Gray while dropping out of the sky like some giant flying predator on any Laker who got close to the hoop.
That’s what Dwight looked like – before last summer’s back surgery.
Actually, Dwight was scarier. Built, as he is, like a 6’10” Arnold Schwarzenegger, compared to the actual Arnold who’s… (supposedly) 5’10”, and makes JaVale look like Twiggy.
For Laker fans used to this tippy-toe version of Dwight—which is still good enough to lead the league in rebounds and rank No. five in blocks—check out this 3:49 mix tape of Howard in Orlando, suggesting pointedly how different that Dwight is from this Dwight.
0:55—Howard spins around McGee in the post, turning him into a pillar of salt, which is what used to happen when they played.
1:57—-Dwight blocks Andrew Bynum’s shot, with his hand even with the top of the white square behind the cylinder.
2:07—-Dwight swoops down from the free throw line to devour Luol Deng’s layup.
2:50—-Dwight goes over the back of DeAndre Jordan, who has jumped too early, blowing him out of the way and throwing it down two-handed.
Luckily, DeAndre doesn’t see what hit him or he might still be traumatized.
3:22—-Dwight hesitates in the air before dunking over 7-0 Omer Asik, in what used to be a signature move.
3:27—Dwight comes from the other side of the lane, vaulting into the stratosphere to eat up another of Deng’s layups.
Actually, you have to give Deng credit for having the courage to take him on twice in the same career.
Lesson No. 2—For a nice, fun-loving, talented, approachable guy, Dwight is no public relations genius.
Before approaching free agency, he was one of the NBA’s most lovable stars, donning Superman’s cape and coming out of his phone booth in the dunk contest, flashing the readiest smile since Magic Johnson.
Then he became a free agent and it all went to hell.
The way to do it was the way Kobe Bryant did it in the spring of 2004 – refuse to discuss it period.
Instead, Dwight, who likes being liked, or, actually, adores being adored, announced he “hoped” to stay in Orlando—even though he didn’t, figuring he could say things just didn’t work out, as everyone else always had.
By spring, he’d been beaten up in the press so badly, he disregarded the advice of his agent, Dan Fegan, promised to stay—and signed away his opt-out clause.
It only took a few weeks for him to decide he really wanted to go to Brooklyn after all. Since he was no longer a free agent, the Magic and Nets had to agree on a deal, which didn’t happen.
Fegan finally got Dwight, who had decided he didn’t want to follow in arch-rival Shaquille O’Neal’s footsteps, and go rebound for Bryant, to accept a trade to the Lakers.
Apparently deciding talking too much had gotten him in trouble, Dwight has since refused even to say he hopes to stay, which, of course, went over with the Lakers like a Led Zeppelin.
Last week Howard threw out his first hint he’s leaning toward staying, saying he and Kobe “have years” to learn to work together, as if assuming he’ll be here.
No, I wouldn’t exactly call that a commitment, either.