From the outside looking in, it would seem like every heterosexual male would love to be in a relationship with Jennifer Aniston, right? She's beautiful, she seems very personable and funny, and she's aged pretty damn well (see "Striptease Scene," We Are The Millers).
And yet, for more than a decade now, going back to her famous breakup with Brad Pitt in 2005, it feels like a tradition that comes around every couple of years — we see a Jennifer Aniston breakup story on the covers of the tabloids. Justin Theroux, Tate Donovan, Vince Vaughn, John Mayer, the list goes on...why is this?
Well, we can't be totally sure of the exact reason (although some have surmised her breath might be an issue); we just know that this is the way it is, and quite frankly, it's been happening long enough to where we just assume there's a glitch in the Aniston Matrix that is visible only once you enter a relationship with the former Friends star.
So it's safe to say that perhaps Dwight Howard is the Jennifer Aniston of the NBA, right? (Just with his smelly, invisible flaw being fascinated with farts instead of chronic halitosis.) On the surface, what's not to like about Dwight Howard? He's chiseled from granite, he's been the best big man in the NBA for the past 12 years, and he seems like a swell and generous guy!
Yet, as with Aniston, we are treated to Dwight breakup stories on a regular basis going back to 2012, when he left Orlando for Los Angeles via trade, then left L.A. for Houston via free agency in 2013, and finally opted out of his deal in Houston in the past few weeks to go back home to Atlanta. The one thing the breakups in all those places had in common? When it came time for the "it's not you, it's me" conversation, the consensus generally seemed to be, coming from the team's lips to Dwight's ears, "Oh, it's YOU, Dwight…it's most certainly you!"
Self-awareness has never been a big thing with Dwight Howard. For years, the jovial "just being me" demeanor was written off because he was a force of nature every night, racking up All-Star appearances and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
However, Dwight's first slip into the abyss on a banana peel was that awful, completely clueless arm-around-the-shoulder with Stan Van Gundy, moments after Stan had clued in the media that Dwight was indeed trying to get him fired back in Orlando. Let's go back…
After this, it was all downhill in Orlando for Dwight. He would opt in on the final year of his contract, only to demand a trade just weeks later. In the meantime, his body was beginning to break down with shoulder and back injuries.
In Los Angeles, Dwight just didn't get along with Kobe, which, quite honestly, we can't fault him for. Everyone hates Kobe, even if they embarrassingly act like they don't. Kobe is the worst. Still, it was a horrible year for Dwight and everyone associated with that Lakers team, as it was truly the beginning of the castle's crumbling at Staples Center. Dwight left the floor for the final time as a Laker by getting ejected in a playoff game.
So Dwight left L.A. to come here to Houston in the summer of 2013, and for a while, it was good. Dwight even had a couple of postseasons when he looked like vintage Dwight again. But as in all of Howard's relationships, eventually the Rockets grew tired of his demands for the ball in the low post (where his touches often ended in failure) and his eschewing of a combined focus on rim protection, rebounding and going hard to the hoop in what could've been a deadly pick-and-roll combo with James Harden.
In short, for all of Howard's positive Aniston-ian traits — nice guy, charitable, aces the "eye test" — ultimately, he thinks he's still the Dwight of 2009. He thinks an NBA team should be built around him, and now Atlanta is the next team to briefly enable him (three years, $70 million) before the inevitable souring on both sides.
The souring will happen, because it always happens with Dwight.
To that end, Howard has been out in front of the narrative this time around, as the Rockets' breakup is the first one where his perception and contractual stock took a hit in the aftermath. The league was more hip to Dwight's act this time around, and to his credit, he knew it.
That's why you saw him on TNT during the playoffs, and why he did an ESPN interview during the playoffs in which he kind of threw Daryl Morey under the bus. That's why, since he signed with the Hawks, he's seemingly conducted more interviews with national outlets in one week — SportsCenter, Mike and Mike, Dan Patrick — than he'd done in the past year. That's why he did a big interview with the hometown paper for his new team in which he bristled at how painful losing was for him in Houston.
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We see you working, Dwight. You've got a new girlfriend, named "the Hawks," and you're trying to flash the "new you."
There's only one problem — you can't change how you're wired. Over an 82-game schedule, over three seasons in which you strive to be the alpha dog at this advanced basketball age, you will show yourself again, self-awareness checked at the door
Eventually, Dwight, the Hawks will smell your farts.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.