At some point during a season, every NBA team — even a great team — will need a leader on its roster to step up and set an example for his teammates.
The Orlando Magic, by no means a great team, have reached that point after an inexcusable performance in a Hornets 93-67" href="http://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/orlando-magic/os-orlando-magic-new-orleans-hornets-0128-20120127,0,7111880.story" target="_blank">93-67 loss Friday to the abysmal New Orleans Hornets.
Can Dwight Howard fill that leadership role?
Howard called out his teammates again last night, both in the locker room at halftime and during his postgame question-and-answer session with the press.
But Howard faces a potential credibility problem with his teammates.
Not only did he request a trade before the season began, but he also indirectly threw his current teammates under the bus when he suggested certain roster upgrades to the front office before the lockout.
The Magic have no shortage of question marks, but perhaps the most fascinating one is whether a player who wants out can be a leader.
“If you don’t want to play, stay home,” Howard said after the game. “People work too hard. I want to win a championship. I work too hard every night for anybody to not want to go out there and play hard.
“None of the — whatever, trade stuff — none of that stuff matters,” he added. “Play basketball. That’s why we all get paid to do this, because we love the game and it’s basketball, so why not give it your all.”
Howard might be finding out that he can’t have it both ways, even though he is one of the top three players in the NBA and even though he continues to give maximum effort on the court.
Sure, the Magic had some things going against them entering their game Friday night. They were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after a heartbreaking loss Thursday. They also were playing their eighth game in 12 nights.
But let’s also remember the Magic were facing a team that trotted out a starting lineup of Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and someone named Jason Smith. The Hornets had lost nine consecutive games and had lost 15 of their last 16 games.
After Jameer Nelson got hurt last night with 6:15 remaining in the first quarter, Orlando was outscored 82-56.
All teams lose games they should not lose. That’s NBA basketball.
But to be outscored like that?
The Magic seemed to handle Howard’s uncertain future well for their first 15 games this season. The team showed plenty of grit as it compiled an 11-4 record.
Now, after the way they’ve lost three of their last four games, it’s perfectly fair to ask whether the team has fallen into a state of dysfunction.
Can their best player snap them out of it?