Probable free agent Dwight Howard continued his soul-baring redemption tour, sitting down with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan for an extensive interview. Anything about Howard that you’re interested in—his relationships with Stan Van Gundy, Kobe Bryant, and James Harden or his exits from Orlando, L.A., and possible exit from Houston—is touched upon, most of the time with unusual candor.
The most interesting response from Howard, though, comes when MacMullan asks why in 12 seasons his game has never expanded beyond six feet from the hoop:
Howard: “I used to shoot 1,000 shots a day. I called Kobe when I was still playing in Orlando and asked him what I should do. He’s the one who told me to do take 1,000 a day. So I’d practice and practice them but then I’d be so afraid to take them in a game because I was so worried I would miss. I hate messing up. I hate failure. I was just talking to (WNBA) star Tina Thompson the other day about it. I told her about my fear of missing and she said, ‘Dwight, you’re gonna miss. Everyone does.’ But I want to be perfect.’’
ESPN: So you don’t take perimeter jumpers because you are afraid you will miss them?
Howard: “I don’t like messing up. I didn’t want to turn on the TV and see people say, ‘Dwight is taking all those outside shots, he’s screwing around, he doesn’t care, he doesn’t want to win.’ So that’s the war I’ll be having in my head. I’m working on it. I have a sports psychologist I used in Houston and I have one in Minnesota. If my spiritual and mental game is right, the physical part will follow.’’
Howard is usually portrayed as an over-sized kid, with a love of candy and farting, and comic book nickname, so it’s interesting to see him admit to a crippling fear of failure, and how much he is affected by fan and pundit opinions.
The answer that will probably get the most attention, however, is the one where Howard savages his GM:
Howard: “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.’’’
Howard has a year remaining on his contract, but he can opt out of it and all signs point towards him doing so. Players generally don’t go on the record criticizing their general managers—especially not general managers who think anonymously leaking negative things is a good strategy—and according to Adrian Wojnarowski the Rockets are close to hiring Mike D’Antoni, the coach Howard probably least wants to play for.
In that regard, then, Howard is trying to both win over fans tired of his shtick, and prove to 29 other teams that he is a mature and introspective human being, worthy of handing a roughly $170 million (!) max contract to. It’s probably not enough to overcome the fact that his on-court game stagnated five years ago, but it’s fascinating to watch him try.