Through it all, Dwight Howard still might get his way. The Brooklyn Nets still might end up with an off-the-rack version of the Big Three, and Howard's whirlwind tour of his own mind could end in his personal version of the happily ever after. Yet there's no one who doubts Howard's ability to mess this up. So now might be a good time to dispense some unsolicited and undoubtedly unwanted advice to Mr. Howard.
If I could distill it into one word: Stop.
First of all, stop talking. I know that people in my business should be fine with you continuing to open your mouth, since it's become a sort of verbal Russian roulette. We never know what you're going to say, mostly because you never know what you're going to say. Is the chamber empty, or are you going to take one more step toward killing your credibility? If we're being honest, it's kind of fun to watch in a horror movie kind of way, but here's a partial list of the people to whom you should stop talking: the media, Orlando Magic management, the NBPA, the voices in your head.
Next, stop acting as though playing for the Magic is like being a political prisoner. Seriously, it can't be that bad, can it? You've had some great years, the playoffs are pretty much a guarantee, and when you pitched a fit about coach Stan Van Gundy, they eventually fired him and tossed away GM Otis Smith for good measure. There's no indication you even said thank you.
Moreover, there is no better way to alienate fans than to make yourself out to be a $19 million-a-year indentured servant. Nobody wants to hear that. Generally, you're worth whatever someone is willing to pay you, which is why most of the time it's nobody's business what an athlete makes. But you've put yourself in a position to have people throw your salary back in your face. Human nature's like that.
Remember, you were the one who signed the opt-in agreement that added a year to your Magic contract. To recap, since you might have forgotten and it's just fun to write, this is what you did: demanded a trade, undemanded a trade, demanded a trade, signed an extension, demanded a trade and demanded the trade be made to the Nets and only the Nets -- the only team you would consider signing with long-term.
And then, in what seemed like hours after the whole Nets demand hit town, the Nets went ahead and traded for Joe Johnson. This seemed to close the door on your Brooklyn thing, until ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that the Nets are willing to trade some of their present (Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries) and most of their future (first-round picks in '13, '15 and '17) to get you. That's how good you are.
But you made enemies, Dwight, and it was completely unnecessary. New Magic GM Rob Hennigan probably thought he had walked into the worst mess possible when you redemanded a trade just as he put his feet up on the desk. First couple of weeks on the poor guy's dream job and you go and change your mind again? Are there odds on the next mind change in Vegas?
But if Hennigan has a sense of humor -- and if he doesn't, he's going to need one -- then he probably sat back and realized what an awesome position he's in. This guy could go on to general-manage for 25 years and never face a no-lose situation like this one again. People are still openly rooting for him to trade you to the Bobcats, and many of those people probably didn't even realize there were Charlotte Bobcats until you forced them to look at the standings and pick a team they'd like to see Hennigan call. And because you didn't have a no-trade clause attached to your opt-in agreement, Hennigan was and is free to work a deal with anybody in the league. If the Nets thing works out, don't be surprised if a lot of fans are disappointed. Human nature's pretty consistent that way.
Dwight, rarely does public opinion galvanize so quickly against an athlete as it has against you. There's almost no one taking your side, probably because there are so many sides to your side that it's difficult to pick one to defend.
There are those of us who make it a personal philosophy to side with the player on nearly every player-management dispute. From the macro (big labor issues) to the micro (Drew Brees), it's always best to go with the players. Whenever an owner intimates that players are greedy, or that he needs a new stadium, or that he's losing money, there's usually one proper response: You're part of a government-protected monopoly, so either get out of the business or run yours better.
But every so often, Dwight, someone like you comes along to be the rule-proving exception.
Which brings up another thing: Stop thinking you're LeBron James. The Heat might have led you to believe that all the league's uber-stars can create superteams on their own, but there are rules for that. For one, your greatest freedom comes when you are a free agent, hence the name.
There's also a difference in the backlash. Fans outside of Miami were angered by the manner in which James handled his decision to leave Cleveland and sign with the Heat, but the actual decision -- separate from "The Decision" -- was his to make. You are acting like it's time for you to make your decision, but your contract says otherwise. This seems like a basic point, but apparently the distinction needs to be made.
Finally: Stop defending yourself. You defended yourself to Yahoo! Sports on Monday, and you made things worse. Upset about a report that you told the NBPA the Magic "blackmailed" you into signing the opt-in, you denied using the word to describe the negotiations and felt compelled to say you know the meaning of the word. You said you object to being considered a "coach killer" and said you felt set up by Van Gundy during the world's most awkward media session in April. All that did was remind everybody of that surreal encounter.
You've whittled this down to your word versus everybody else's. And if the Nets thing works out, you might have managed to do something unprecedented in the annals of modern sport: You've blackmailed yourself into the position you wanted all along. So along with everything else: Bravo.
Now stop while you're ahead.