Why Dwight Howard is worth the risk for the Lakers
NBA players who have bounced between five different teams in four years don’t tend to get talked about a lot, especially if they’re so much of an afterthought for their current employer that they don’t even merit a jersey number – and when they’ve played just nine games in the past year.
But Dwight Howard is not just any journeyman role player, and the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t just any team, which is why even the mere possibility of a reunion between the two parties has become NBA fans’ biggest point of discussion this week.
Multiple reports indicate that Howard will be one of a number of centers working out for the Lakers higher-ups in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ devastating ACL injury, igniting the NBA chatter-sphere a full two months before the start of the new season.
The Dwight conversation has exploded primarily because Howard isn’t just a giant in the literal, physical sense, but also a giant enigma. Few players have brought more natural athleticism to the position of center and, according to many, few have left as much potential on the table.
He gets a lot of jokes thrown at him now, but Orlando Magic Dwight Howard was no laughing matter 😤pic.twitter.com/oIoCrFnJ9d
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) August 16, 2019
The upside of the best-case scenario is easy to see. Pairing a fit, motivated, and productive Howard with LeBron James and Anthony Davis would further enhance Los Angeles’ real chances for title contention, and possibly allow them to keep some semblance of pace with their Staples Center roommates, the Clippers, who are threatening to lap them in pure, stockpiled roster talent.
The downside? Howard could appear as disinterested as he has at numerous other pitstops such as Washington and Atlanta, be unable to produce meaningful minutes, become a locker room disruption, insist on getting his post touches at the expense of the offense, and potentially even become an injury time bomb. Is it worth the risk?
FOX Sports basketball expert Chris Broussard believes so. “I think it is a low-risk, potentially solid-reward move,” Broussard said on First Things First. “If he acts up or doesn’t fit in because of his antics in the locker room, his personality, or just his game, you can get rid of him. But if he fits in, [if] he has been humbled, I think you can do it. He still can rebound, he can protect the rim, he is a big body that can hang with those centers in the West.”
Howard is currently with the Memphis Grizzlies, acquired in a trade for C.J. Miles that saved the team $3.1 million in cap space. It was widely assumed he would have been waived or traded by now. Memphis is letting him talk to whoever he likes, essentially rooting for him to leave. Perhaps that should be a red flag in itself.
The last time the Lakers made the playoffs, Dwight Howard was on the team. pic.twitter.com/8xDHZFXocf
— ThrowbackHoops (@ThrowbackHoops) August 18, 2019
“I think Howard would be a bad fit for the Lakers if in fact they have championship aspirations,” FOX Sports’ Skip Bayless said on Undisputed. “I can guarantee he would be an energy drain on this basketball team because he just doesn’t know how to take it that seriously.”
The other red flag, which is what has gotten Lakers fans all riled up, is his previous stint in L.A. Howard did not mesh with Kobe Bryant in his lone year at Staples Center in 2012-13, having arrived to great fanfare amid the league-wide assumption he would make the Lakers unstoppable playing alongside Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash.
He received criticism over his work ethic and overall approach before bolting for Houston. His career has never been the same, and the Lakers have not made the playoffs since.
Beginning with that ill-fated year spent in Los Angeles, Howard has seen himself become one of the most prized punching bags in the league among basketball fans. With the increased spotlight on his personality and antics both on and off the court while in L.A., every hoops enthusiast became aware of Howard’s unique sense of humor and eccentricities.
Dwight Howard from 2010-14:
5x all star
3x 1st team all nba
1x 2nd team all nba
1x 3rd team all nba
2x defensive player of the year
3x 1st team all defense
He still did more in that 5 year span than any other center did during the entire decade
— 🅱️randon 𓅓 (@b_wilkinson99) August 13, 2019
By the time he finished up with the Rockets in 2016, fans were tired of him, and the reputation lingered. When 2K Games revealed him as a member of an all-decade team on NBA 2K20 this summer, there was intense online debate among fans whether he merited inclusion — something you don’t typically see when every stat and metric suggests a player is a shoo-in Hall of Famer. And make no mistake: Dwight Howard has absolutely amassed those numbers.
So there is no great appetite for him to come back to L.A., and many fans are exhibiting a genuine sense of concern over a potential reunion. And yet, Cousins’ injury leaves a hole – there are not many good, affordable bigs on the market. On the other hand, while Davis has been perfectly clear over the course of his career that he would much rather play power forward than in the middle, the Lakers’ best lineups probably involve the Brow at center. In that scenario, could Howard, even with his own history of health issues, possibly be happy as a backup?
“He’s too accomplished for that role, in that situation, with this team,” Jalen Rose told ESPN’s Get Up. “I like him better (somewhere) where he can fly under the radar and get his game back.”
Indeed, Howard’s mentality would be the key to everything, should the Lakers decide the reward outweighs the risk. Despite all the talk, all this amounts to is a tryout, and the Lakers do have other candidates, including Joakim Noah, whose star has fallen dramatically and has averaged a less-than-inspiring 31 games for the past four seasons. Then there is Marreese Speights, who spent last season in China, and Marcin Gortat, who was waived by the Clippers in February. Lakers fans likely wouldn’t be much more thrilled about taking their in-town rivals’ castoffs than their old pal Dwight.
The Lakers need to sign Dwight Howard! Let’s not act like this man can’t play and produce at a high level! The Lakers also have a mature veteran team that can manage themselves and call him out on his BS!
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) August 19, 2019
Surveying the competition, then, this seems like a battle that Howard should win, given that he is a likely future Hall of Famer, took the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals, and was a three-time NBA defensive player of the year.
If he gets the gig, it will be a chance — likely his final one as a player — to rebuild his reputation. Any role on the Lakers roster receives serious focus, especially this year. Still, there are big questions that linger. Such as: just how hostile will Lakers fans be to him this time around?
“This is the kind of thing that gets me worried,” Lakers fan Chris Parkin told me via text on Tuesday. “We are not a winning franchise anymore and the longer (the losing) goes on, we see more of these high-risk decisions. Looking at the roster, we don’t need him.”
But with JaVale McGee as the current starting center in a Western Conference stacked with elite teams and quality centers, maybe they do.
And if Howard is to be more than just a convenient summer talking point and desires a kinder legacy among NBA fans, maybe he needs them, too.