Dwight Howard claims he didn't accuse the Orlando Magic of blackmailing him to waive his early termination option in March. They only plied him with jelly beans. The decision to lay down his only weapon right at the trade deadline was stunning then ... and is stunning now. A refresher on what went down:
* Last offseason, Howard waved off an extension offer from the Magic, and told the team he'd like to be traded. The Magic let a couple of teams (including some really successful teams) talk to Howard's camp in an effort to find a workable deal.
* In early December 2011, Howard met with Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who owns the Brooklyn Nets.
* Between then and the March 15 trade deadline, Howard began focusing his future on the Nets, even going so far as to threaten to opt out if the Magic traded him to ... the Los Angeles Lakers. This, despite the Lakers having one of the greatest players of all-time in Kobe Bryant, being located in L.A. and having a great winning history. The Nets tied for the league's fifth-worst record this season, and that was an improvement over last season.
* As criticism of Howard reached top volume in March, the Magic made one last push to get Dwight to stay. There was a compromise of sorts -- he wouldn't sign a long-term extension, but he would waive his option to become a free agent in 2012. It was the most bizarre turn-around imaginable.
* Howard and Stan Van Gundy had drama.
* Dwight got hurt, had back surgery and disappeared as the Magic fell apart without him.
* Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith got fired.
* Howard renewed his trade demands, limited his wish list to the Nets (still a bad team, but now in Brooklyn, at least) and reportedly asked the players' union to help him reverse his opt-out waiver.
This is where we are: the one thing that Howard wants is freedom to choose where to play. Yet he set that freedom on fire in an insane decision in March. If Howard didn't make that ridiculous decision to put off free agency until 2013, he could be choosing the Nets right now.
Brooklyn cleared the books, more or less, to keep Deron Williams and add Howard in 2012, just in time for the team's arrival at Barclays Center. The Nets have nearly copied the Miami Heat playbook in terms of minimizing commitments to maximize cap space; no player under contract makes more than $4 million. Deron and Dwight would have been Brooklyn's big coup. Howard ruined it on a whim, all because he was afraid that Orlando, the city that adopted him and worshiped him, would hate him if he left.
Guess what? Orlando hates him, and he's still there. If this saga isn't a lesson in why you ought to follow your heart, then I don't know what is.
Howard could be receiving the adulation that comes with being New York's newest star right now. Instead, the Nets are apparently moving on to ensure they can keep Williams and field a team in October; suffice it to say that if Brooklyn retains Williams and picks up Joe Johnson in a trade, there's no fitting Howard in there. At this rate, by the time Howard does actually become a free agent, the Nets won't have any cap space or tradeable assets with which to acquire him. The window was 2012 free agency. Howard blew it.
This is all surely very infuriating to the Magic, but imagine how the Nets must feel. They're hearing again that Howard wants to join -- but knowing full well that they have nothing to offer in a trade and knowing they can't reserve cap space by tanking out their debut season in Brooklyn.
Once Howard made the asinine decision to delay free agency, the Nets had to panic, trading their top pick (a valuable trade asset) for Gerald Wallace (who they'd need to re-sign in the summer). To convince Williams to re-up, they need to add talent so that Deron will have a decent supporting cast; hence the calls about Johnson and Luis Scola. Brooklyn doesn't have the luxury of waiting until 2013. To them, Dwight's renewed push to join the team is a big ol' tease.
But here's what I keep tripping on: why did Howard pick the Nets in the first place?
The love affair with joining the team for its Brooklyn landing began shortly after that December 2011 meeting with Prokhorov, the one that the Magic threatened to file tampering charges over. Howard reportedly met with the Rockets around that time, too, and he's now apparently adamant that he won't sign an extension with Houston if traded there. Usually, stars fight to get traded to the Lakers; a threat that he'd be traded to L.A. is one of the alleged reasons that Howard waived the opt-out. This is extremely weird. The Nets have been horrible, their coach does not seem to be beloved by players, and while Brooklyn is a nice vision, there is no history for the team there. It's just bizarre that of all of the teams throwing themselves at Dwight, he'd pick the Nets.
There's only one answer: Mikhail Prokhorov is the Russian Pat Riley. He sat across from Howard in some club in Atlanta and sold him on a dream. Riley showed LeBron his rings. Who knows what Prok showed Dwight. But it worked, because Howard has fallen illogically in love with the Brooklyn Nets, and there doesn't appear to be an end of the affair in sight.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.