by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree

Of all the stories that circulated during Dwight Howard’s struggle to flee Orlando last year, the tale of the candies and his ETO top my list.

As he was praying and fasting in March over the difficult decision on whether or not to return to Orlando, Dwight was met by Magic CEO Alex Martins, who hoped to persuade the franchise star to remain with the team. Martins had brought all of Dwight’s favorite candies and foods to help his cause, but the big man could not indulge.

The tale was a classic and Martins eventually received the answer he was looking for as Howard waived his early termination option and committed to a return to the Magic for the ‘12-13 season, citing loyalty as a big part of his decision. It would not last and you know the rest—Dwight didn’t get the trade to Brooklyn that he wanted and ended up West, now starring for the Lake Show in what he describes as “a blessing in disguise.”

And after being caught up in one of the most negative storylines of the season last year, Howard has flipped the script with his purple and gold jersey and trademark smile.

We all know what to expect from Dwight on the court and that is why he checks in at No. 5 on our list. Even with all of the negativity surrounding him last year, Howard produced his standard issue 20 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks, earning the best center in the game All-NBA First-Team honors.

In two pre-season games with the Lakers this year, he has looked good on the defensive end and shined in some nice P&R sets with PG Steve Nash. They struggled in the preseason (0-8), as the team adjusted to a new offense and roster. The Lakers players say their pre-season losses are nothing to worry about and the team will be ready to go once the regular season tips off.

If attention is what Dwight lusted for during his opt-out bonanza last year, he will have access to copious amounts here. The Lakers new network—Time Warner Sportsnet—will be catered to him like no other player. In addition to showcasing his play on the hardwood, the network will tap into his unique personality, allowing him to act out all of his comedic talents for the world. During his Lakers debut, the Time Warner cameras focused on Howard for enough time prior to tip to see him get a pound from Lisa Estrada and then ball up the plastic he dusts his sneakers on at halfcourt, shooting it into the crowd as if it were a fadeway jumper.

During an episode of Backstage, a show on the network that will give fans a behind-the-scenes perspective, Howard was shown getting a tour of the Lakers facility and offices for the first time. In one scene, Howard is in GM Mitch Kupchak’s office and looks on to the Lakers’ practice court through a window, in awe of the retired jerseys of Lakers legends. Kupchak smiles and tells Dwight that he wants his jersey up there in 10 years (that’s two more contracts, BTW).

That, of course, will be a storyline for Howard this season—will Dwight re-sign with the Lakers?—along with many others. Just yesterday, the L.A. Times ran a story with the headline, “Will Dwight Howard get along with Kobe Bryant?”

Yeah, it’s going to be a fun year, that’s for sure.

Where should Dwight Howard rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3
27Paul PierceCelticsSF5
26Andre IguodalaNuggetsSG5
25Rudy GayGrizzliesSF4
24Josh SmithHawksPF7
23Derrick RoseBullsPG8
22Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
21Steve NashLakersPG7
20James HardenThunderSG3
19Pau GasolLakersPF6
18Chris BoshHeatPF5
17Kyrie IrvingCavsPG6
16LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF4
15Tony ParkerSpursPG5
14Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF3
13Andrew BynumSixersC2
12Blake GriffinClippersPF2
11Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1
10Carmelo AnthonyKnicksSF3
9Russell WestbrookThunderPG4
8Rajon RondoCelticsPG3
7Deron WilliamsNetsPG2
6Dwyane WadeHeatSG2
5Dwight HowardLakersC1

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.