Dwight Howard has cut a lonely figure at times during what was a very difficult season for the Houston Rockets.
The eight-time All-Star center was subject to constant rumours about his supposed differences with superstar teammate James Harden and he also struggled to make an impact on the court.
Although Howard did post a double-double for his season's averages with 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds an outing, that's his lowest points talley since his rookie season some eleven years ago.
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Typically viewed as an elite glass cleaner, that average is also the third lowest of his career.
Those numbers could fairly be attributed to his significantly reduced role on offence, with superstar shooting guard Harden the primary point of attack in Houston.
In a candid interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Howard detailed how a strained relationship with executives in Houston played its part in demotivating the big man.
“There were times I was disinterested because of situations that happened behind the scenes that really hurt me,” Howard said. “It left me thinking, ‘This is not what I signed up for.'”
“I felt like my role was being reduced,” Howard added. “I went to [general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'”
It's worth remembering that Howard was the number one pick in the 2004 draft and, almost single-handedly, dragged the Magic back to genuine contention and only their second ever NBA Finals.
His spell with the Lakers might not have worked out too well, but he's still averaged a double-double every single campaign through his NBA tenure.
Following his disheartening chat with the Houston front office, Howard sought the advice of former NBA big man Clifford Ray, who encouraged him to get in better shape and try to dominate the offensive glass if the team wasn’t going to give him his just due.
“He was a positive light for me — a great inspiration,” Howard said. “Clifford got me on the phone with [former Celtics center] Robert Parish. Robert told me, ‘Don’t allow what other people do affect your performance. You have to be stronger mentally to overcome those situations.’ Those two guys made me realise I need to get locked in with the mental part of the game.'”
Howard is almost definitely going to opt-out of his Rockets contract this summer and test free agency. At 30-years-old, the 6'11" pivot will believe he can still command a max-contract and could still play a vital role in plenty of rotations around the league.