Oct 25, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) guards Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

A Conversation About Dwight Howard and Him Not Being a 'Winner'

“…but until he proves he can lead a winner, I’m not ready to buy their status as a contender.”

If he had proven to us he can lead a team to a championship wouldn’t Dwight Howard be a winner already? I mean no disrespect to the writer who chose these words to speak , but the public perception of Howard is beginning to bother me.

Sorry for the abrupt beginning, but it pains me to see him or any NBA player labeled as a “non-winner”. Everyone can’t win in the NBA. Out of 30 teams, only one will win a championship each year. Since Michael Jordan won his sixth and final ring with the Chicago Bulls in 1998 only eight franchises (SA, LA, DET, MIA, BOS, DAL). Of those six, the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have accounted for 12 of the championships. In FIFTEEN years! So before you want to label someone a “non-winner” don’t be picky or move the goal posts.

To be honest, public perception and recency bias has a lot to do with the criticism and labels that have been thrown Dwight’s way the past two years. If you’re not sure this guy can return to his status as a top three or five –depending who you ask — player in this league based on how he’s played due to injuries then fine. That’s where the recency bias takes effect. It is fair to think that a big man dealing with back and shoulder injuries while entering the prime of his career can do that. But the constant label of him not being a winner? That’s all public perception.

No one says Kevin Durant isn’t a winner. Considering what both Durant and Howard have done in their respective careers, they have pretty much accomplished the same thing in the league. Durant won three straight scoring titles displaying his scoring talents and Dwight has won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards displaying his defensive talents. They’re both 0-1 in the NBA Finals and have both finished as runner-ups in the MVP voting. What’s the difference here? One of these players didn’t have their former franchise by the neck causing havoc within the media with his indecisiveness and then force himself to the most prized franchise in league history only to scrape to the playoffs and be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. People love Durant and the persona he’s portrayed in his career. He’s humble and the family environment that’s portrayed in Oklahoma City has the public enthralled in him (though after last years series vs. Memphis, that’s slowly changing). You know who else isn’t labeled a “non-winner”? Chris Paul.  And similar to Durant, the public has a huge liking for the point guard. Over their careers, Howard is more accomplished than Paul. Hell Paul has only been out of the first round twice in his career and hasn’t come close to the NBA Finals. But nope, not a non-winner. Just the “point God”.

Have people forgotten how good Dwight Howard was before his body began to betray him? People’s lasting memory of “good Dwight Howard” is the playoff series where the Atlanta Hawks’ strategy was to single-play Howard in the post shutting off the open three’s his teammates thrived on (Dwight averaged 27 points, 15.5 rebounds per game). Sure they lost. But Howard? He was eon’s better than any center is in the league now. And the team he led to the championship? They don’t get there with 2012 Marc GasolRoy HibbertTim Duncan or any other guy you think is currently better.

That 2009 Orlando Magic team? Rashard LewisHedo TurkogluJameer NelsonRafaer AlstonCourtney Lee,Marcin Gortat. None of these guys are Hall of Famers. And compared to all of the teams that have made the NBA Finals since 2007? It’s the second worst supporting cast after that Lebron James-led Cavaliers team. That’s how good Dwight Howard was. He allowed this team to be a top defense and play in the small-ball set that didn’t become notable until Lebron won with it.  It’s easy to credit Lewis and Hedo for that team’s success, but it started and ended with Dwight Howard.

It’s gotten to a point where the discrediting of Howard has become the cool thing to do. Comparing him to past greats? Of course Dwight isn’t Shaquille O’NealKareem Abdul JabbarMoses Malone or another hall of fame big. Those player were never as good as Howard is defensively as he’ll never be as good as they were offensively.

The funniest thing I’ve seen is that he’s the modern version of Ben Wallace. If the Detroit Pistons had Dwight Howard at center instead of Wallace we wouldn’t be talking about how Tim Duncanwas undefeated in NBA finals. “HE HAS AN 18 PPG AVG” and speaking on his “lack” of post-game has also become the fun thing to do. Sure he could be better, but most judging him are only looking at the season he decided to play with a bad back and torn labrum with. Know Jason Smith of the New Orleans Pelicans? He missed majority of the season due to the same injury Howard played through. Honestly Dwight shouldn’t have suited up until near-Christmas, but, we don’t talk about that.

And since 2008? Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds in a season has only been done seven times with Dwight being three of them. The others? Zach RandolphBlake Griffin and Kevin Love (2x). Sure, credit that to the league being thin in the middle, but he’s a product of the now. If Dwight Howard’s the best center it doesn’t mean he’d be the best center in this or that era. Comparing across eras is stupid anyways. Example? Put Dwight Howard in the 1960s and he’d be Bill Russell for all we know. Put him in the 1990s? Hell, he’s probably Dikembe Mutombo. Just because he’s a great center it doesn’t mean discredit him because he isn’t as good as the rest of the greats. All I know is that in this day and age, he’s been the best center in the NBA. I’m not taking that away from him because of some temper tantrum he threw while playing for a small-market team like Orlando or his spurning of the Los Angeles Lakers.

And no I’m no homer. Howard isn’t one of my favorite centers in the league. I’ve never taken a liking to D12 outside of the game he plays. His nonsense the past few seasons has annoyed me just as much as they have you. He often comes off as childish during the wrong times. I can go on and on about Howard, but I’ve yet to allow it to blind my judgement of the player. If he returns to form after battling injuries for a season I think this Houston Rockets team can be quite good. Dwight will be playing with the best teammate  career in James Harden and surrounded with shooters similar to his Orlando days. They may not get it done the first year like most superstar duos, but the sky is the limit for this group.

So yes, he isn’t a winner. But by my count only Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are based on that logic. He won’t be until he hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy. But that’ll take time just like it will take time for most to remember how good Dwight is going to be. I just hope an injury-free season is in store to allow him to remind most.

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