When news broke earlier this week that Houston Rockets (and possible soon to be free agent) center Dwight Howard was going to be appearing on TNT's post-game show following Game 5 of the Spurs-Thunder series, I not-at-all jokingly said on my radio show that I would be setting my DVR that night to make sure I missed nothing.
With no Ernie Johnson nor Shaquille O'Neal on the show, it appeared to be a slightly watered-down version of the NBA on TNT crew that has treated Dwight like a piñata for the past three years, but with Charles Barkley and (to a much lesser extent) Kenny Smith there, that would be good enough. Dwight would now finally get his day in court!
I will admit, given Dwight's tenuous contract status (he has an opt-out clause for the upcoming season that he is likely to use), the Rockets' disappointing season and Dwight's reportedly shaky relationship with James Harden, I had no idea what to expect on the show. I was compelled by the mere thought of Dwight being on that show, but I was expecting, ultimately, a TV popcorn fart in terms of content.
Man, was I wrong.
Instead, what we got was about 20 of the best minutes of TNT's post-game show that we've seen in recent memory, ironically without Ernie Johnson (who is fabulous, but who was more than capably replaced by Matt Winer) and appropriately without Shaq (who is a 400-point boat anchor on that show). In those 20 minutes, we saw Dwight Howard analyze the Golden State Warriors, take us inside how he feels the world sees him, shed light on the dynamic between Harden and him, and receive career advice that bordered on an intervention from Kenny and Chuck.
In short, it was great. Here are the highlights...
1. Dwight on not being liked by the public
"I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt as though I'm just this bad guy. I'm all about myself; I'm a diva; I'm stuck on being Dwight Howard this famous basketball player — so people say, 'I don't like this guy' — and I hear that and it really hurts me, because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same. My drive has been there, because I will never forget the day I came in here and you [Barkley] told me I wasn't going to be good in the NBA. And I'll never forget the day Magic Johnson said I wasn't going to make it in the NBA, when I was in the tenth grade. And that stuff drives me every day to be one of the greatest players to play the game. You know, so that part — to hear people say that, it pisses me off, because that's not who I am. I've never been a bad person."
2. Dwight on looking "uninterested" at times this season
"I'm always interested in winning. But as a big, you want to feel a part of what's going on. And you know, if I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes and go between the legs, do all that stuff, that'd be great. But I have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get the ball. Now, there have been times I have been upset, and I've taken myself out of the game in certain situations, and that's on me. And I have to grow and become a better player. So I'm always interested in the game, and I've had the problem with smiling too much, or I play too much on the floor, so when I'm not smiling, and all that stuff, it looks like I'm not interested in the game. So it's like a think line, and I'm like, man — do I not smile? Or do I smile and have fun? And so that's always been a struggle for me personally."
3. Dwight on whether he and James Harden can play together
"I think we can, I believe we can, but both of us have to put our egos and our pride to the side and say we need each other to win. That's the only way we're going to win. We need each other and we need the other guys on our team to win. I was very upset to lose to Golden State the way we did. It just irked me that we didn't have a great season. You have two great players in James Harden, myself on the same team, and we were not able to be great this year like we wanted to — together. And that really pissed me off."
4. Dwight on his contract status and whether he plans to opt out
Howard is sitting on an opt-out clause for the final year of his Rockets contract, a season in which he would stand to make $23 million. Tuesday night, he left open the possibility of returning to the Rockets, saying that he hasn't made any decisions on opting out of his deal, instead saying that his focus is on his personal health at this point: "I've already started training. My focus is making sure I'm in the best shape and my body is better than ever because I want to come into next season with the mentality of dominating from the preseason all the way to the end of the season, wherever that may, wherever we end up as far as the playoffs."
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5. Kenny Smith appeared to be campaigning for the Rockets' head coaching job
Reportedly, Kenny Smith had a meeting with Rockets owner Les Alexander and GM Daryl Morey on Tuesday to discuss the team's vacant head coaching job, so it's natural to wonder what Smith and Howard discussed behind the scenes last night. We will never know, but if the telecast is any indication, Smith appears to want the job badly and he would love for Dwight to stick around Houston. I say that because Smith's portion of the advice for Howard was delivered very coach-like, and you got the sense there was a genuine affinity for Howard from Smith. Just my personal read on the situation. (SIDEBAR: It's worth noting that Charles Barkley, for the second time, said that he's fine with the Rockets, Tad Brown, Les Alexander, and even admitted that he was a fraction of himself the past couple of years of his career, although it didn't stop him from mentioning that the Rockets still "owe [him] $3 million.")
6. Dwight, as an analyst, had some interesting thoughts on a potential Golden State-Oklahoma City conference finals matchup
Before they began to psychoanalyze Dwight, the TNT crew asked him for his take on some basketball items, and I thought he was great in breaking down a potential Warriors-Thunder matchup in the Western Conference Finals. He thought that Golden State's ability to play "small ball" sucked other teams into thinking that they could and should do the same, but that if he were coaching OKC, he'd play to the Thunder's strengths with their size — Westbrook and Durant being long and athletic at their positions, with Kanter and Adams as bulk underneath — against Golden State's finesse. I'm not sure if it's a winning strategy, but it was actual basketball analysis delivered thoughtfully and clearly, which is light-years ahead of what you normally get in that chair from Shaq.
All in all, I think viewers learned more about Howard in those 20 minutes than we have in his three seasons as a Rocket. It makes you wonder why he didn't go on this show years ago, as it might have made the past three seasons of Dwight analysis on that show actually tolerable.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.