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Column: Dwight Howard defines difference between injury and pain

April 24, 2012

Dwight Howard has exemplified throughout his entire career the glaring difference between playing hurt and being injured.

With that in mind, it’s amazing what Howard, who will miss the rest of the season with a herniated disk, has been able to accomplish as a member of the Orlando Magic.

In his time in Orlando, Howard has been able to accomplish nearly everything short of winning an NBA Finals ring.

Howard has been able to win defensive player of the year twice, make four All-NBA first teams and guide his team to the 2009 NBA Finals, which was closer than a five-game series would typically indicate. In a vital Game Four, down 2-1 in the series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard had 21 rebounds and an NBA Finals record nine blocks in an overtime loss.

Despite his situation, night-in and night-out, Howard has played as hard as anyone in the NBA. In his entire career, Howard has only missed two games due to injury (illness and sickness is not counted) before his back surgery last Friday.

Before his injury, Howard led the NBA with 14.5 rebounds a game despite all of the off-court shenanigans with Stan Van Gundy and Magic management.

With a coach who makes more headlines off the court than his team does on the floor and an inadequate supporting cast, is it any wonder Howard wants out of Orlando?

Don’t get me wrong, Howard still has the potential to be one of the greatest centers off all-time, but he must harness his physical gifts before it’s too late. At 26, Howard might be the most physically imposing center ever just based on sheer athleticism.

If Howard was transcendently great, he would have a title to his name. That might be a bit harsh to say, especially considering his two best teammates have been Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu.

The shame of it all is to see what the Magic would have been able to accomplish had Howard stayed healthy come playoff time, especially because of the oddities that occur during a shortened NBA season. During the lockout in 1998-1999 the New York Knicks went to the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Had Howard stayed healthy, this year’s playoffs would have been a great indicator of how Howard’s career will be remembered. Howard is currently off the hook because labeling him soft due to injury is unfair. Still, you can’t help but wonder, what if?

Van Gundy is probably gone after the season, especially if they have any intentions of retaining Howard. Really, it’s neither Van Gundy’s nor Howard’s fault. The Magic never had the roster to win it all. If you took Howard away from the Magic, you would have an abysmal defensive team.

The Howard saga will continue over the summer, as he will likely change teams this offseason. Hopefully, he will do this gracefully, and do the exact opposite of what LeBron James did during the summer of 2010, when he signed with the Miami Heat.

The reason why Howard is critiqued so often is that his potential is so immense. He doesn’t have a ceiling with the raw, physical talents he possesses. It might not be the reality basketball historians and fans of the game want to hear, but Dwight Howard has accomplished as much as realistically possible in his current circumstance, and you can’t fault him for that.

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