When Dwight Howard was 20, he was already one of the best centers in the NBA. By the time he was 25, he'd established himself as a top-five player overall.
Today, Dwight Howard is 30. And unless things change quickly, his best basketball is already behind him.
It was four seasons ago that Howard was the focal point of a contending Orlando Magic team, averaging roughly 20 points and 13 rebounds each year. Anchoring a top-10 defense and catalyzing Stan Van Gundy's pick-and-roll heavy offense, Dwight nearly single-handedly led Orlando to an NBA Finals appearance in 2009 -- at just 23.
But the grass always seemed greener, and by 2010 it seemed like a near certainty that Howard would ditch Florida for a more glamorous market -- particularly Brooklyn or Los Angeles -- and to play with a co-star. Namely: Chris Paul, who he'd been in constant contact with over several years.
See photos of Howard throughout his career
Dwight Howard through his career
Basketball fans were robbed of seeing Dwight Howard become an all-time great
Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Dwight Howard is pictured in the gym of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in Atlanta as fellow players on his team wait for basketball practice to begin Wednesday, Feb.11, 2004. Howard, a senior, is being scouted by the NBA. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Dwight Howard, 18, right, smiles as his father Dwight Howard, Sr., who is also athletic director at at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, looks on during a news conference at the school in Atlanta Wednesday, April 4, 2004. The 6-foot-10 forward announced Wednesday that he will enter the NBA draft, where he is projected as a lottery pick. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Dwight Howard, center, from Atlanta Southwest Christian Academy, and the first pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, is presented a jersey by Orlando Magic general manager John Weisbrod, left, and coach Johnny Davis at the team's practice facility in Orlando, Fla., Friday, June 25, 2004. (AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)
Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard (12) works his way around Atlanta Hawks forward Jason Collier, left, during the first quarter Friday, Nov. 26, 2004, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard, center, dunks the ball as Chicago Bulls defenders Eddy Curry, left, and Chris Duhon, right, look on during the first quarter Saturday, Jan. 1, 2005, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Orlando Magic guard Steve Francis hugs teammate Dwight Howard after beating the New Jersey Nets, 103-102, Saturday night, April 2, 2005 in East Rutherford, N.J. Francis led all scorers with 33 points and Howard chipped in 15. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic takes a shot during the USA men's senior national basketball practice at the Cox pavilion in Las Vegas on Friday, July 21, 2006. Greg Oden and Dwight Howard aren't old enough to gamble, so this Vegas trip is all about business. The two most talented American big men under 21 are in camp with the U.S. national team, soaking up lessons in international play and professionalism. By Greg Beacham. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
USA's Dwight Howard (12) dunks during the semifinals against Greece of the World Basketball Championships in Saitama, Japan, Friday, Sept. 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) smiles against the Golden State Warriors during the final seconds of overtime of an NBA basketball game on Monday, Dec. 3, 2007, in Oakland, Calif. The Magic won 123-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Wearing a Superman costume, Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard soars toward the basket in the basketball slam dunk contest Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008, at the NBA All Star Weekend in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard shows his Superman pose after being presented with the Slam Dunk Champion trophy before their NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Feb. 22, 2008. Howard won the Slam Dunk contest during the recent NBA All-Star Game Weekend. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, right, tries to push his way past Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009. Orlando won 122-100. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard goes in for a dunk in the first half in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Boston Celtics in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, May 26, 2010. Orlando won 113-92.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard speaks with media at a news conference after he was presented with the 2010-11 NBA defensive basketball player of the year award in Orlando, Fla., Monday, April 18, 2011. Howard is the first player to win the award in three straight seasons.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) dunks over Milwaukee Bucks forward Jon Brockman during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Feb. 11, 2011.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
A fan holds a sign in the stands as Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, left, leaves the court after an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, March 13, 2012.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, at the NBA basketball team's media day at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Sacramento Kings point guard Tyreke Evans (13) shoots as Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) defends during the first half of their preseason NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles before the NBA All-Star basketball game Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
NBA Houston Rockets' star Dwight Howard admires a new Adidas shoe bearing his name during a media event in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. Howard is in Taiwan on the second leg of his Asian promotional tour which includes South Korea, Hong Kong and China. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard poses for a photographer during NBA basketball media day Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Houston. Howard signed with the Rockets in the offseason. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard (12) tries to maintain control of the ball under pressure from Minnesota Timberwolves' Nikola Pekovic in the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Houston. The Rockets won 112-101. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard lines up a free throw in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 113-99. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, left, and guard James Harden reacts after Howard was called for a technical foul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, right, looks to pass the ball as Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, center, defends and guard Trevor Ariza looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2015, file photo, Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard (12) reacts to a no-call after going to the basket against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in New York. Howard almost always wears a huge smile and is quick to crack a joke. But Houston's star center knows he's a polarizing figure that many people hate. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Houston Rockets' Dwight Howard holds up his name before being photographed during an NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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But when Paul grew comfortable with his home in Los Angeles with the Clippers, and there was no feasible way for him to team with Deron Williams and become a Brooklyn Net, to the Los Angeles Lakers he went -- for a season in which he was never healthy enough to make a legitimate defensive impact and could never adjust to being a third option on offense.
Now, in his third season with the Houston Rockets and possibly hitting free agency once again this summer, Howard is far from the dominant player that won Orlando an Eastern Conference title. After chronic back and knee ailments, Dwight is ideally a complementary piece on a contending team with strong leadership already in place -- and right now, the Rockets aren't either of those.
Injuries played a part, but so did stubbornness and indecisiveness. But basketball fans were robbed of Dwight Howard's prime. And for a player that produced at such a record-setting pace before he even hit 25, that stinks.