JJ Redick: Stardom Changed Dwight Howard

J.J. Redick dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday to discuss numerous NBA topics, including the intervention that Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith had with Dwight Howard on “Inside the NBA” Tuesday night.

Barkley asked Howard, who appeared in place of Shaquille O’Neal to discuss the Spurs/Thunder series, among other playoff topics, a fairly direct question: Why do you think people don’t like you?

Redick, who played with Howard in Orlando from 2006-12, found the segment riveting. He also didn’t think Barkley or Smith were out of line with their questioning.

“I didn’t mind it,” Redick said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It certainly made for good television. Charles asked some tough questions, and Dwight handled it pretty well.”

Howard said – and Redick agrees – that people started to dislike him toward the end of his tenure in Orlando. Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, but his final three seasons there were a mixture of disappointment and drama.

“I said to my wife last night, ‘Do you realize how good Dwight was in Orlando?’” Redick said. “Dwight was awesome. He was a top-five player. In 2011, I think he was second in the MVP (voting). He had a legitimate case that he should have been MVP that year (ahead of Derrick Rose). The reason, to me, that people may not like Dwight is because of how things ended in Orlando and how things happened with the Lakers.”

Barkley commented that Howard often looks “disengaged” with the Rockets. Of course, that can happen when James Harden dribbles his way through just about every possession.

Howard, who spoke for several minutes off the cuff, responded to Barkley, “I’m always interested in winning.”

“I don’t think (the dislike for Dwight) has anything to do with him being disengaged in Houston,” Redick said. “I think Dwight hit it on the head. It was like this long, drawn-out Dwight-mare. Dwight’s last season in Orlando, it was a tough year. I don’t fault him, though, because it was his prerogative as a player to want to play in a bigger market, to want to become a free agent. And because the executives in Orlando were pulling at him and trying to get him to stay, Dwight’s nature is that he wants people to like him. He wants to please people. I get that he was confused and unsure about what decision to make, and so this whole opting in and opting out thing – ultimately we ended up trading him – it was annoying. It was annoying to be a part of, but it worked out. Look, the guy’s going to get another great contract. He’s still playing, to me, at a high level. We’ll see what happens this summer with him.”

Howard entered the NBA as a good guy with an infectious smile. Then he became a star. Doug Gottlieb wonders if stardom changed Howard.

Redick’s take? Of course it did.

“I don’t know that there’s anyone in the world who can honestly say that coming from grassroots basketball and then becoming a worldwide star doesn’t change,” Redick said. “People change. Of course Dwight changed. Of course stardom changed him. It changes every superstar, so I don’t think he’s unique in that. I don’t know that he did anything that wrong. Maybe it was just his indecision about whether or not to opt in or opt out of his contract. . . . Charles asked the question, and Dwight said it was because of how things ended in Orlando. It’s interesting because I would, in a sense, agree with Dwight that that’s the reason people started to dislike him. I don’t know that he’s done anything wrong since that, but people continue to dislike him. Why is that?”

Gottlieb has a theory: Although Howard led the Magic to the Finals, ultimately, it didn’t work out in Orlando. It didn’t work out in Los Angeles, either, and Kobe Bryant didn’t want Howard to return after a disappointing 2012-13 season. Now it’s not working in Houston. Yes, a lot of players have had issues with Bryant, and yes, a lot of players probably wouldn’t want to play with the ball-hogging Harden, but Howard has been the common denominator in all three scenarios. Perhaps people don’t dislike Howard, Gottlieb said; perhaps they just don’t respect him as a player as much as they used to.

“I’m not going to disagree necessarily,” Redick said. “But ultimately, a GM, an owner – somebody this summer – has to decide, assuming he opts out of his contract in Houston, what they’re willing to pay for him at his current production level and looking ahead going forward. You brought up Kobe.There’s not a perfect player out there. There’s not a perfect guy out there. Let’s bring up LeBron. The things that were written back in 2010 with LeBron were awful. The backstories about things happening in the locker room or how he acted (toward) teammates – every guy has faced this scrutiny. But maybe you’re right in a sense that a player’s level of play and level of production ultimately determines other people’s perception of him, not necessarily just his attitude.”

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