Dwight Howard has too many off nights, such as this one last Sunday against Joel Anthony and the Heat. | AP
Updated: March 27, 2012 8:28AM
ORLANDO, Fla. — Strip malls, themed hotels and amusement parks. That’s where the latest self-proclaimed Superman resides.
At least for now.
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard will undoubtedly leave the NBA All-Star Weekend the same way he entered it: a 6-11, 265-pound question mark. His demand for a trade is still on the table, and a decision by the franchise is still in the air.
And it’s best for the Bulls if it stays that way.
Not because it keeps hope alive on the Howard-to-Chicago rumors. It dampens it. It leaves the Bulls constructed as is, which is their best chance to make a championship run.
If Howard teams with Derrick Rose, it makes the Bulls sexy but not necessarily better. Not yet. Not now.
I’ll take my chances with this team getting another shot at the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, then reassess after the outcome.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with Dwight right now? He’s a great player,’’ Rose reiterated Saturday, “but like I’ve been saying, I’m OK with the team with how it is right now.’’
He’s not alone.
“That’s not really our job. We don’t focus on that,’’ Bulls forward Luol Deng said when asked about the trade rumors. “We believe that every single player in that locker room is going to play hard and fight. But for us to spend time as players and think about who should be here, who shouldn’t be here, it’s not what we do.’’
What they have done this season is win. Twenty-seven up and just eight down, leaving them a half-game behind the Heat for the best record in the East — and they’re still an unfinished product.
Whether it has been Rose’s toe and back, Deng’s wrist or Rip Hamilton’s entire body, the Bulls are still a projection, not reality.
What you’ve seen is not what you’ll get in April.
Let it play out. Let this team show what it can do at full strength. We’ve seen what the Heat has done this season, and it has been pretty scary at times. The team has set the bar high.
“We have more games under our belt right now, so we’re just a different team,’’ Heat forward Chris Bosh said when asked if the team is better this season than last season. “We’re a better team. We’re making improvements every day, and that’s what this is about, to keep improving day by day to get better.’’
The Bulls are just trying to get healthy, forget better. But that will come.
Then there’s the other side of this: Howard.
He’s a double-double threat every night, scores 20 points a game and is putting together one of the best rebounding seasons of his career (15.3 per game), but he still should be doing more.
Not when there are too many Jimmy Olsen moments.
Sure, the 33 points and 14 rebounds he had against the Clippers earlier this month was All-Star stuff. The 25 points and 24 rebounds he had against the Heat two days later was stellar. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you have Howard’s skills in a league void of any real big men to challenge him.
But there are too many 11-point nights. Too many moments of looking disinterested in being dominant.
In the Magic’s 90-78 loss to the Heat last week, Howard finished with 12 points. You’re Dwight Howard; you can’t get worked over by Joel Anthony.
Then there’s the idea of drinking the Tom Thibodeau Kool-Aid. The Bulls coach is defense first, defense second and defense third. If that isn’t enough, take some defense home with you as a parting gift. It’s not the easiest idea to swallow for every player.
And who says a superstar makes a team better? Not if the chemistry doesn’t work. See Carmelo Anthony.
Magic ownership is still trying to make a decision on Howard and the future of the franchise. March 1 is when players who signed free-agent contracts in the offseason can be traded, and March 15 is the trade deadline, so time is running out.
The New Jersey Nets are the biggest fish lurking. They have center Brook Lopez back from an injury and could package him for Howard.
That’s the best-case scenario for the Bulls.
“New Gotham’’ doesn’t need a Superman.