Dwight Howard decided to fire longtime agent Dan Fegan recently, which wasn't exactly surprising. The agency Fegan represents, Relativity Media, has lost some of its clout and after endless trade rumors and some financial trouble. Fegan couldn't facilitate an exit from the Houston Rockets before the trade deadline and has already lost other high-profile clients like DeAndre Jordan and John Wall. With a new contract on the horizon, it made sense for Howard to make a change.
What's surprising is who Howard tabbed to replace Fegan and how he arrived at that decision.
On the advice of Shaquille O'Neal, Howard contacted Perry Rogers, an agent who has no NBA clients and made his name representing tennis player Andre Agassi. Rogers currently represents O'Neal as well, but hasn't been involved with active basketball players since O'Neal retired in 2011.
It's a curious choice for Howard, considering the timing. Free agency is coming and it will likely be Howard's last chance to get a huge payday. One would think he'd opt for an agent with more recent experience.
Weirder still is that he listened to O'Neal, one of his harsher critics throughout his career. The four-time NBA champion has called Howard soft and has feuded with him over the nickname "Superman" for years. Apparently, all of that is in the past now. One of the reasons why Howard made his decision is to monetize that moniker together with O'Neal, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania.
O'Neal, a longtime public nemesis of Howard's, had extensive conversations with the Houston center and sold him on the marketing of "Superman" and the representation of Rogers, sources said. The potential of marketing Howard and O'Neal in advertisements together played a role, too, sources said.
In an interview with USA Today's Sam Amick, Howard confirmed that O'Neal approached him. Howard said the possibility of following on Shaq's footsteps had a lot to do with his decision.
"I don't necessarily have an issue with Shaq," Howard said. "People say, 'Well, he's the real Superman and all of this stuff. But that man has had a very good career. ... Why wouldn't anybody want to say, 'I want to be like Shaq,' with all of the stuff that he has accomplished on and off the court, with his personality, all that stuff? (It's) something for anybody to want to look up to."
Howard cited the fact that Rogers will be able to focus solely on him as a plus, but the hiring seems to be motivated by an attempt to change his image. Ever since the ongoing drama from his Orlando Magic exit, Howard has faced PR nightmares. His public persona has become grating to many, which has made him hard to market. By teaming up with O'Neal and the man who helped "sculpt" his persona, the Rockets center could be trying to change the conversation. Not having O'Neal call him out on national television certainly can't hurt on that front.
Focusing too much on his image instead of his next contract, however, could come back to haunt Howard. He's reportedly looking for a maximum contract, and while teams will have plenty of money to throw around as the salary cap rises thanks to the new TV deal, a 30-year-old center with diminishing athleticism and a history of back and knee injuries might be a tough sell. Can Rogers get him the new deal he seeks?
Howard certainly needed a change and help with his image. His new agent has a track record of managing two immensely popular sports stars, one of which has a lot in common with Howard. But like a lot of Howard's recent decisions, both the timing and the methodology of the decision are a bit of a head-scratcher.