If there is one perfectly fair criticism of Dwight Howard's game that has not changed it is his free throw shooting.
Howard has never been a great free throw shooter, but his precipitous decline since shooting a career-best 67.1 percent his rookie year has simply been astonishing and confusing. You are supposed to get better at these things, particularly when you know it is your weakness.
After years of getting private free throw tutoring -- from Clifford Ray teaching him the "gooseneck" early on his career to seeking psychiatric help for his free throw troubles according to an interview with T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times -- nothing seems to have worked. Howard bottomed out last year, shooting a paltry 49.2 percent from the foul line, his second consecutive season shooting worse than 50 percent.
The contest Simers set up with his daughter, a housewife and mother of three, is sure not to increase his confidence. Yes, Howard lost a free throw shooting contest to a journalist's daughter:
OK, so the best was Howard could make more free throws left-handed than Simers' daughter could right-handed with a $5,000 donation to charity being made if he was wrong. He was wrong and he cut the check. Simers said Howard "could not have been more gracious in defeat."
And that gets to some of the strange dichotomies created about Howard in the last two years.
Howard is viewed as an extremely selfish and self-centered player who will whine until he gets what he wants. At times he is that. He wanted to be the center of attention in Los Angeles and wanted to the spotlight that comes with playing in a big market. He also wanted to be "the man" and found that difficult in Los Angeles, particularly coming off an injury.
He was never careful with what he said because he genuinely wants everyone to like him. Howard never realized that playing both sides, alienates everyone. Thus the backlash in Orlando and nationally as he seemed always to be wavering.
Now that Howard is a free agent, everyone wonders what his future will hold. Howard does not want to talk about it much and no one is willing to put in a guess, but that is all he will be asked.
What is overlooked is that Howard is generally a good person. He is willing to give his time to fans and to charitable organizations and his community. All this while constantly working on his game. Maybe that has not been enough to please the pundits, but he has improved offensively while remaining a defensive force (this injury-riddled season excepted).
Howard finally admitted in his interview with Simers that he cannot please everybody. Perhaps this is the self-awareness Howard needs to finally focus on basketball. Perhaps he just needs a settled future and a more defined role. He did not reveal any cluse on what he was thinking only that winning is most important to him and that the TV and entertainment deals will come later.
Perhaps Howard is maturing through this process and is ready to get back to being himself on and off the court.
And, of course, winning solves everything.
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Big deal. I know a women who could kick most NBA players butts in a free-throw shooting contest (of course it doesn't hurt she's a former NCAA 3-point shooting champion. She even beat the male winner head-to-head and had one round where she hit 14 3-pointers in a row). When we use to play pickup games you didn't dare treat her like some dainty little girl or she'd kick your butt. You treated her like one of the guys. In case you're wondering: Amy Waugh - Head Women's Basketball Coach at Xavier.