Whatever your personal thoughts are about Dwight Howard, it’s hard to ignore the impact that he’s had on the NBA over the course of his career.
Holding career averages of 17.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 points over 34.9 minutes per game, Howard has maintained his status as a dominant low-post presence ever since he was taken with the first overall pick out of high school in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic.
However, drama has always followed the big man. And in many cases, the drama outweighed what he was able to accomplish on the court in the eyes of the hungry media.
It all started during the end of his time with the Magic.
Howard requested a trade from Orlando in 2011 and then seemingly played a major role in head coach Stan Van Gundy’s firing in May of 2012. Howard admitted years later that he met with Magic owner Rich DeVos and revealed that Van Gundy “lost his voice in the locker room”.
The coach was fired shortly after.
Then, after being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers before the 2012-2013 campaign, he found himself butting heads with Kobe Bryant, who bashed him publicly shortly after.
“I tried teaching Dwight. I tried showing him,” Kobe told Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports in February of 2015. “But the reality is that when you have a perception of what it is to win a championship - and most perceptions of what it's like to win are a very outgoing, very gregarious locker room where you pick each other up and you're friends all the time. That's the perception. And I think that's what his perception was of what the idea is. But when he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable. And it's very tough to be able to fight through that, to deal with that challenge. And I don't think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature.”
Howard then signed with the Houston Rockets in free agency and spent the next three seasons there. But, he simply didn’t mesh with James Harden, who he was brought in to complement.
“I don’t know, honestly. It’s never, we never got into heated arguments, yelled at each other or cursed each other out or anything. That’s the crazy part. I guess, in life, two people just can’t get along. What I mean by that is on the court, it just don’t work. It don’t mesh. We tried, for several years. It was time to part ways, and that’s what it is,” Harden told TNT’s David Aldridge regarding Howard in February.
When he signed a three-year deal with his hometown Atlanta Hawks last summer, it appeared as though Howard might have finally found a home where he could be happy. But, that didn’t happen. His Hawks teammates reportedly cheered when he was traded earlier this summer.
“No one has kind of gotten to the bottom of why,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his podcast after the deal happened . “It can’t just be the corny jokes – and my god, does he tell the corniest jokes – but I’ve heard multiple stories of Hawks players learning about the trade and screaming with jubilation into their phones. You ask why, and one account was that Dwight would give these speeches before the game about how everyone is playing hard, we want unity, we’re going to… and then go out and play like a blah game where he demands post touches and doesn’t rotate as hard as he could. And everyone is like, ‘why are you speaking in the locker room?’ But that’s all anecdotal. It’s just crazy how these stories come out after every stop in his career.”
It’s worth noting that Howard and the No. 31 pick in the 2017 Draft were traded to the Charlotte Hornets for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the 41st pick.
Therefore, with that return, it was pretty obvious that the Hawks wanted him out of town.
Now with the Hornets, it appears as though Howard is being cherished for the first time in a number of years.
As a result, the big man has gotten off to a hot start, posting 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks over 31 minutes against the Detroit Pistons in the season opener and then 20 points, 15 boards and a block over 33 minutes against the Hawks in his second game with the team.
Head coach Steve Clifford knows that adjusting to a low-block center like Howard is a major adjustment, but figuring out how to utilize him to the best of his potential could be largely beneficial for the team.
“To me, it’s the hardest thing to do; and (Howard) knows this because we went through it in Orlando,” Clifford told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “It’s easy to look out there and he looks open. But then, when you watch the film and slow it down, it’s not always easy for (his teammates) to see it” in real time.”
“The post-up game and being able to find guys inside, requires a lot more team coordination,” Clifford said. “You can teach pick-and-roll basketball – this guy is a good ballhandler, this guy is a good shooter, these three guys can shoot – in a day, with how smart these guys are. (Refining) the post-up game takes time.”
He continued, “I remember it took about 30 games to get used to playing with Al (Jefferson) and that was a totally different (dynamic) than Dwight. The things Dwight can do, Al couldn’t begin to do because Al wasn’t as big. Al was outside (the paint). The post-up game takes much, much longer to get good at.
Two of Howard’s fellow starters voiced similar sentiments about their teammate.
“He’s a true post-up center: Size, strength, skill,” said power forward Marvin Williams. “I’ve never played with anyone quite like Dwight.”
“It’s a really big adjustment for me. I’ve never played with a guy like Dwight,” said point guard Kemba Walker. “Me and Dwight, we communicate all the time to be on the same page.”
Most of all, it seems like Howard has taken on a leadership role with the team and that his voice is being valued.
“I talked to some of the guys (Friday) night: ‘There are going to be points when I’m frustrated, there are going to be times when you’re frustrated.’ We’ve just got to stay patient with each other – understand it’s a process and to play together," he explained.
“There are going to be some really good games and some really bad games. But if we stay together, we’ll be fine.” Howard wisely pointed out.
While he’s just 31 years old, Howard is in his 14th NBA season. He has certainly brought on some of the drama that has followed him throughout his career, but it seems as though he still has a lot left in the tank.
The Hornets seem fully committed to finding success with Howard in Charlotte. If they can thrive harmoniously, the Hornets could be a team to watch as the season rolls along, especially when Nicolas Batum returns from his elbow injury in a few weeks.
While winning a championship is still a goal for Howard, re-establishing himself as one of the NBA’s most dominant centers would go a long way in revitalizing his image and legacy.
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