“An extraordinary athlete. Just not a good basketball player.”
That was how my brother-in-law described one Dwight Howard in May 2010. The Magic were playing the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals around the same time my sister was getting married, so all of my family gathered in Boston to watch the two teams square off. The Celtics were in the middle of finishing off the Magic when my brother-in-law summarized his thoughts on Dwight.
At the time, Howard was one of the NBA’s most popular players, manning one of the best teams in the league as indisputably the league’s best big man. At 6-foot-11 with muscles and athleticism up the wazoo, Howard easily averaged 20-10 a night and would get accolades by the dozen.
But that was eight years ago. With everything that has happened since then, my brother-in-laws’ analysis on Dwight rings truer today than ever before, and that’s what makes Howard so frustrating to watch.
When he was at the top of his game, Dwight Howard’s God-given gifts made his prime rival that of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett. In fact, the perfect blend of strength, speed, and athleticism that Howard possessed in his prime made a fair argument that he was the most gifted athlete to ever grace the NBA.
But what will separate Howard from the aforementioned names is that over the course of his career, he never improved his mechanics as a player. Jordan, Bryant, James, and Garnett all knew that their otherworldly athleticism wasn’t going to last forever, so they perfected their crafts as players so that even when their natural gifts faded, their improvements would keep them at the top.
Dwight went in the opposite direction. His game started and ended with his athleticism, which in all fairness is what made him such a spectacle to watch, but those days are long gone. The sadder part is that, at 32 years old, Dwight Howard skill-wise is still the exact same player that he was in his prime, but with his legendary athleticism no longer present, his impact on the court slide has slid drastically.
To be fair, it’s not entirely his fault. Howard’s never been the same since getting back surgery in 2012, but still. His failure to evolve even when he was in his prime reared its ugly head at that precise moment, which was worsened by Howard’s consistent refusal to be a team player.
With every team he’s played for, it’s been the exact same story behind the scenes. Dwight wants more touches. Dwight doesn’t want to run the pick and roll, Dwight’s teammates don’t like him, etc. This, of course, has led to the same ending with every team Dwight has ever played for: Once he was gone, the team was happy to see Dwight out of the picture.
That leads us to now. For the second year in a row, Dwight’s been traded primarily for an even worse player on an even worse contract. Except this time, the team that acquired Dwight had no use for him, which led to a buy-out. You know what that means.
As bad as that sounds, the former MVP runner-up should still expect a decent market, but that phrase should be taken with a grain of salt. Howard should get a fair amount of suitors this summer given his reputation as a player, but his reputation as a diva should set the bar low for how big potential offers will be on the table.
Howard’s hubris has finally caught up with him, so he should expect a range from below the mid-level exception to the veteran’s minimum this summer, whether if it’s by a team who could offer a starting gig or a ring-chasing opportunity.
Who’s going to offer him that? Well let’s look at who might be willing to roll the dice.
Before yesterday, the Wizards didn’t really appear like an option for Dwight, but that all changed when the team traded away Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers, leaving the starting center position wide open. Odds are the Wiz aren’t going to give the starting center position to Ian Mahinmi or Jason Smith, so they must turn their attention to what’s available in free agency.
David Aldridge has reported Nerlens Noel as a possible target, but five years into the league, Noel is still unproven, which can’t be said about Howard. He still is a walking double-double each and every night, and is more offensively potent than Gortat is at this stage in his career. On paper, it could work, but given Washington’s locker room issues, Howard could a make a tense situation even worse.
Dwight could be that extra push that vaults Washington into the East’s elite, but he could also be the last straw in the Wall-Beal era.
The Bucks were mentioned in one my previous articles detailing potential Hassan Whiteside destinations because of their desperate need for an upgrade at center. Since then, Whiteside’s trade value has sunk to the point where his contract may be considered an albatross, so they may look to Howard to fill that position instead.
The Bucks expressed interest in Howard back in 2016 when he was on the Rockets, but balked when Howard refused to opt into the final year of his contract. The Bucks could still be interested since they can get Howard for chump change. Thon Maker showed signs of life in the playoffs (again), but he will still be a question mark heading into next season. Howard would at least provide a certain level of certainty for a team that’s struggled to find a keeper at center since the Andrew Bogut days.
New Orleans Pelicans
Chris Mannix has reported that the Pelicans would take a look at Howard if they don’t re-sign DeMarcus Cousins this summer. That remains to be seen, but if New Orleans is hesitant to pay top dollar for Cousins, who is still recovering from his Achilles’ injury, Howard is the cheaper option for them should they decide to save money.
Howard would technically fit better with their schemes given that the Pelicans may have very well proved that they were better off without Cousins. At 32, Howard wouldn’t demand as many minutes (hypothetically) and more importantly, he removes the risk of all the money that would be spent on Cousins. The Pelicans took a flyer on Rajon Rondo last season, who was basically in the same position as Howard is, and it worked out tremendously.
It wouldn’t hurt to see if they can hit the jackpot again with Howard.
You know how this past season was the Raptors’ last-ditch effort to make a lengthy playoff run. Well, going after Howard would be a last-last-ditch effort to do the same thing. Howard may be one of the most hated players in the league, but his playoff reputation would make him a potentially savvy addition.
That’s why the Raptors should at the very least consider him. Year after year, the Raptors have endured one disappointing end on top of the next with very few options to get better. Howard hasn’t had a terrific playoff outing since 2015, but given that he hasn’t played on a good playoff team in those three years, perhaps he’d thrive on a team that has strong playoff ambitions.
Since the Raptors are desperate to break their bad rep in the playoffs, Howard wouldn’t be a bad option for them.
Golden State Warriors
The moment it was revealed that Howard was going to get bought out, the reigning two-time champs were brought up almost instantly and for good reason. As far as upgrades go, you can’t get one better for a cheap price on the open market than Dwight Howard if you’re Golden State. Just compare him to the bigs that the Warriors had on their roster this season.
Zaza Pachulia? Washed up. Javale McGee? Inconsistent. Kevon Looney? Meh. Jordan Bell? Not ready. Howard easily beats them all. Howard would basically be what Javale McGee has been over the last two years, only more consistent and with more experience. Howard and Durant have a little history, but perhaps they can let bygones be bygones since they would have the same goal in mind: Win the title.
The party that may be rooting the most for this team-up might just be every non-Warriors fan in the NBA, because Howard could make them even more unstoppable than they already are, but he could also tear that team apart. Even if he’s added for cheap, his antics over the last six years speak for themselves.
Since 2012, every team that’s acquired Howard believed he would put his ego aside to help them win, but every single time, he let them down. Because of that, Dwight, who had previously given himself the nickname “Superman”, will have a new nickname until he proves otherwise:
“Proceed with caution.”
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