The Sixth Man: Howard did all he could for Orlando

Sensitivity isn't usually accompanied by a scar, but that can't be said for ailing Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.

The NBA All-Star was scheduled to undergo back surgery Friday morning in Los Angeles to repair a herniated disk, effectively ending his season and eliminating him from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

A lot of observers thought Howard quit on a coach he wants fired when he shut it down with back spasms a few weeks ago. After all, it wasn't hard to connect the dots.

Always an iron man, the 26-year-old center has missed eight games this season with back issues, including the last six, more than he had missed in his first seven NBA seasons combined.

Meanwhile, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy went public with Howard's behind the scenes maneuvering to get him ousted in early April, just days after the big man started having the problems. Finally, any ambulance chaser can tell you that doctors have a very difficult time diagnosing pain from back problems.

The most damning recent report came from WKMG-TV in Orlando, which reported that Howard had called 86-year-old Magic owner Rich DeVos to tell him that he would no longer play for Van Gundy. The report also inferred that Howard would miss the playoffs even if he was healthy enough to play with an eye on undercutting SVG.

Most of us put in Van Gundy's position also would have thought something was a tad askew but doctors don't have trouble identifying things like herniated disks.

Howard really was hurt and trying to gut his way through the pain, probably not for Van Gundy, but for his teammates and Magic fans.

The same things that kept Howard from threatening to opt out of his contract this summer and forcing a trade back in March kept him on the floor while the pain grew -- a desire to be liked and a sensitivity to criticism.

Howard saw what happened to LeBron James' reputation when he left Cleveland in the lurch and never wanted to play the villain, That mentality surfaced again when he talked with ESPN the Magazine's Chris Broussard.

"That's the first thing -- it hurts. And then with people saying and thinking I'm quitting on my team. This is a real issue," Howard said. "I tried to play through it and it just made my back worse."

Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, announced his client's upcoming surgery before the team could in an effort to re-frame the narrative that Howard's back problem was not all that serious and that he was simply using it as an excuse to watch Van Gundy implode.

He also told the Orlando Sentinel that Howard had received an epidural last Friday in the hope that it would help him manage the pain as he attempted to rehabilitate his back.

Sure, Howard has maturity issues and it's a shame he can't understand his often blunt coach is only trying to make him a better basketball player.

That said, Howard did all he could to stay on the floor for Orlando and he finally refused to be bullied into silence.

It's always a good idea to define yourself. Howard started that journey here and if he wants to play basketball in Brooklyn, Dallas or Los Angeles, that's exactly what he should do.

Being liked isn't always all it's cracked up to be.