Atlanta Hawks: Unearthing The New Dwight Howard

After being run out of Los Angeles and Houston, Dwight Howard may have finally found a home with the Atlanta Hawks.

The NBA is a jungle Dwight Howard once somewhat ruled but more recently came to rue. He’s had his share of ups and downs throughout his journey, but the best version of Dwight may be yet to come.

We’ve seen a Howard as the king of the jungle looking unstoppable on the way to his lone NBA Finals appearance. We’ve twice seen him stumble like a gazelle in headlights as teammates and fans around him dismiss his laid back approach and his need to be the dominant figure.

Now he’s getting back to the basics and playing as one of 15.

He’s a part of a flock.

With the Orlando Magic, Howard was like a lion. He was dominant across the board, feeding on those beneath him on the NBA food chain.

Howard averaged 18.4 points and 13 rebounds with the Magic — the highest averages of any of the four teams he has played for throughout his 14 NBA seasons.

As the best big man in the game, Howard led a team consisting of decent, but not great, players in Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Rafer Alston to the 2009 NBA Finals. He posted 20.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and a career-high 2.9 blocks that season.

One Eastern Conference Finals and two first-round playoff defeats later, Howard informed the Magic he would become a free agent after the 2012-13 season, springing the front office into action.

An 11-player, four-team trade ensued that would see Howard play out the final season of the contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.

On paper, Howard had the opportunity in Los Angeles to play with two, albeit aging, greats of the game while completing his internship to be the king of L.A.

While the argument that Kobe Bryant should have passed the torch to Howard on day one is valid, Kobe wanted it wrestled from him for the good of the franchise.

Kobe wanted to feel like the new leader of his beloved Lakers wanted to be there as much as he did. In the end, the proof is in the pudding — Howard didn’t want to be there.

Apr 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) rebounds against the Golden State Warriors during game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 114-81. Mandatory Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Pool Photo via USA TODAYSports

The disgruntled fans, the pressure from his teammates and the all-around lights of La La Land were too much. After a season averaging his consistent-as-ever 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds, Howard elected to join James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

This joining of forces raised questions regarding the balance of power straight away. After a solid first year followed up with an injury plagued 41-game season in 2014-15, Howard produced the most disappointing numbers of his career in 2015-16.

Averaging 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds, Howard became frustrated at the lack of respect from Harden resulting in both players trying to get each other traded.

Another locker room issue, another change of scenery for Howard.

Joining the Atlanta Hawks on a three-year, $70 million deal this season appears to have been a brilliant career choice for both parties.

Howard has regained his form after a disappointing ending in Houston to post 17 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks through his first six games as a Hawk.

More importantly, we are free of Howard chemistry rumors for the first time in five years. In fact, the quotes coming from the Hawks locker room suggest he’s the beloved and admired player he’s always been so desperate to be.

Howard may finally have turned a corner and shed his desire to be the franchise’s main man he once was in Orlando.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer backed up that sentiment telling ABS-CBN News:

“The great thing about adding Dwight to our group and something that Dwight is embracing and cherishing is that we play as a team,”

As a group of decent players but no out-and-out star, Howard finding a happy home with the Hawks seemed unlikely. The old Howard would have walked into Philips Arena and demanded the keys to the castle, but appears to have grown up at the ripe old age of 31.

“Dwight has established himself as an elite player,” Budenholzer added. “His work and his commitment to everything we’re doing, very pleased with it. It makes a difference.”

With the suggestions that Howard isn’t a great teammate subsiding, he could once again be a crowd favorite.

Formally “Superman,” Howard is still a player worth watching. He still has the power to throw down posterizers, the hop’s to swat shots into the stands and most of all, he’s the jolly and honest character so many sports fans demand, yet quickly condemn, when things go awry.

Howard has turned a corner and may be taking the Hawks with him.

Opening the season 4-2, the Hawks are fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Should they keep up this pace and make a run towards the Eastern Conference Finals, it will due to the fact Howard has embraced the role he has been given — not because he has been embraced into the role he desires.

There are still 76 games for the “locker room cancer” stories to transpire but early signs are good for Howard and the Hawks.

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