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
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3
19 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 6
18 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
17 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
16 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
15 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
14 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 3
13 Andrew Bynum Sixers C 2
12 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
11 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
10 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
9 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
8 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 3
7 Deron Williams Nets PG 2
6 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 2
5 Dwight Howard Lakers C 1

• 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.