After a tumultuous summer, the Los Angeles Lakers season was always going to be interesting. Given the roster turnover, it’s hard not to look at their situation with a bit of fascination or skepticism.
But, with the arrival (or, perhaps more appropriately, the return) of Dwight Howard, their season has taken another turn toward the surreal.
In the wake of DeMarcus’ Cousins absence from the team, the Lakers were left a single true center, JaVale McGee, on the roster. Enter Howard, who burned almost every bridge upon his exit from the team in 2013.
Howard, alongside Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, was expected to usher in the next generation of Laker basketball when the team acquired him from the Orlando Magic in August 2012. Instead, ailed by back injuries and stunted by an ever-present animosity between himself and Bryant, the Lakers dove into a spiral that they have yet to recover from (the LeBron James acquisition notwithstanding).
The Dwightmare, as their season came to be known, drove Howard into a funk that, like the Lakers, he has yet to curb. In the six years since, Howard has played with four different teams: the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards and has looked like another player entirely compared to his time in Orlando.
There have been flashes, but Howard has far too often looked like “Stuperman” as opposed to Superman since he left Orlando. So, what, if anything, can Howard offer the Lakers in 2019 and, in the end, will the potential headache even be worth it?
Unfortunately, there are few positives to note of Howard at this point in his career.
Howard’s size on the inside can still affect opposing offenses and, while much of his ability has been sapped by his many back injuries, he can still pose a threat there.
Howard’s ability to rebound has also remained strong. Last season aside, Howard has never averaged fewer than 10 rebounds per game in his career (he averaged 9.2 in just nine games with the Wizards last year).
Anthony Davis’ desire to play fewer minutes at center is understandable, and it would warrant the Lakers’ desire for a paint presence like Howard could provide. Likewise, any team could make use of an extra 10+ rebounds per game.
But, beyond that, there is little else Howard could do for the team, and the risks associated would seem to far outweigh those slight positives. The frenzy alone created by Howard’s arrival, from both the media and fans, should only serve to distract the Lakers as they look to turn their franchise around.
But it could get worse, much worse.
From just a pure basketball standpoint, it’s hard to imagine that Howard would prove a good fit alongside James, Davis and company. Howard, at this point in his career, is obsolete; a big that can’t stretch the floor and doesn’t want to work in the flow of the offense.
Of course, Howard’s approach to the game could change. Were he to buy into a role – one that involved unselfish basketball as opposed to just posting up – he and the Lakers could make it work.
But, at 33 years old, why would anyone expect that sort of change when Howard has shown zero desire to buy into whatever situation he had found himself in previously?
There is also the fact that Howard, from a culture standpoint, has been a welcome departure at nearly every stop in his career.
It would be one thing if Los Angeles had a strong locker room, a team culture that could take Howard in and sustain the shock that would accompany him. But given the facelift the roster has undergone, it’s easy to wonder if their cultural identity and/or foundation is still in flux, ill-prepared to handle such a divisive addition.
And, given the toxicity that James’ presence can generate in the media, adding Howard to the mix may only serve to further poison the well in the Lakers’ worst-case scenario.
A litany of other potential issues could accompany Howard – no one need look further than last season between the Rockets and Carmelo Anthony to see how bad it could end up – and the Lakers are clearly wary given the structure of his non-guaranteed deal.
But Howard, unlike Anthony, should have no shortage of motivation. One would think redemption of perhaps the darkest point in his career would be enough, but could the added motivation that this could be Howard’s last shot do the trick?
Probably not. And, that said, it’s just too hard to imagine Howard making a positive impact for a team that is trying to win games, barring something drastic, in 2019.
He may not blow up in the Lakers’ face as Anthony did the Rockets’, but don’t be surprised should Howard’s second stint in Los Angeles disappoint and flame out quickly.
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