EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard has recently been tweaked by future Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O'Neal for not being enough of a traditional, back-to-the-basket center, but he is decidedly old school in another way.
He's not in favor of the new All-Star Game format which eliminates the center designation from the ballots. Beginning this season, fans will simply vote for three frontcourt players, rather than two players slated as "forwards" and one player as a "center."
"I don't like it at all," emphatically stated the three-time defensive player of the year. "We work just as hard as anybody else. I don't think it's fair to take away a position which has been here for life. You need a center on the court. So I don't think it's right. That's like taking away a guard. That's how I feel.
"It's been that way since they started All-Star Games, so why change it now? Because centers shoot 3's now?"
In the modern NBA, big men now often operate in space, shoot from behind the 3-point arc and develop guard-like skills. In the eyes of some fans and analysts, this has resulted in fewer players who should be regarded as legitimate centers. But Howard framed this development as centers becoming more well-rounded, rather than disappearing from the landscape.
"The game changes every day," insisted the six-time All-Star. "It changes every year. You look at the game back then and now, centers are bigger, stronger, faster. Guards are bigger, stronger, faster. So the game evolves. That doesn't mean you take out a position because of the game evolving, because the players that play center are evolving also.
"You look at some of the guys playing center, they're jumping out of the gym. And they're athletic, shooting the ball well. Moving around. It's a totally different game than it was back then, so I don't feel it's right to take away a position that we all work so hard at trying to make it better, trying to make it a point of emphasis for younger generations to come back and want to play center. The game is evolving. They teach you now you gotta have more than just a back-to-basket game. You gotta be able to face up and shoot and move the defense."
Howard also noted how guards and wings typically attract the most spotlight, which can make great centers feel more scarce.
"There are so many great guards and great forwards that they just overshadow what these centers can do. I feel like there are a lot of centers that can really play, but you got guys like LeBron (James)
and Kevin Durant who are 6'8", Kevin Durant is 6'11", 6'10", who shoot 3s. It just overshadows a lot of the bigs that can play.
"There are a lot of great centers who play in the NBA today. There's just so many guards that outshine them. I think LaMarcus (Aldridge) is a good center. DeMarcus Cousins. A power forward-center. Al Jefferson. There's a lot of guys who can play down there... It's not a flashy position. You never see a center on SportsCenter shooting a fadeaway. It's always the guards. Those are the highlights that everybody wants to see."
Lakers power forward and four-time All-Star Pau Gasol, who often plays at the center spot, wasn't as offended by the change as Howard, but nonetheless questioned its necessity.
"It's definitely weird," shrugged Gasol. "I don't know what's the reasoning behind it... There's always been a center position. I think it's something that's always been that way. I don't know what the issue was with it. There's not as many dominant centers, maybe, as there used to be. I think there's some great centers in this league, but I don't know. I don't know why it's not being recognized as much, because there are great players in that position, too."