In a twist of fate, Dwight Howard may find himself in the very same place he self-exiled. If things shake the right way, and that’s a big if, Howard may beat out Joakim Noah for the backup center spot on the Los Angeles Lakers, the team he rejected in his free agent summer of 2013, despite billboard signs begging him to stay. Six years ago, Howard wanted nothing to do with the Lakers in general, and Kobe Bryant in the specific. He couldn’t get out of town fast enough and Laker fans, who helped push him out the door, didn’t cry tears for Howard’s exodus. Howard was the side chick who was now someone else’s problem. In L.A., he failed.
Howard was miserable in Los Angeles. He had back issues that lingered after surgery. He hurt his shoulder. And he was submissive to Kobe Bryant. Howard was swept out the playoffs an in an elimination game he received a second tech and was tossed. Then he lied about making it up with Lakers fans. Lakers fans, saw through the Howard drama, how he propped himself up as the league’s best center. Perhaps. But he wasn’t a winner.
As a LeBron James/Anthony Davis teammate, the Lakers instantly return credibility to the former All-Star known most recently for salacious sexual behavior and not on the court exceptionalism. The problem with Howard since he left Orlando has less to do with what he can do in the paint, and more about how he handles the locker room. He is not well liked. He causes drama. He can’t get out of his own way. He can’t tone down the Dwight Howard act. It grates on people.
If he signs with the Lakers, this is his last chance to redeem himself on a big stage. He won’t be the best player on the team, the second best or even the third best. He will be a cheerleader in late game situations. He can’t guard pick and roll. He doesn’t defend on the perimeter. And his offensive game is severely limited. Known for pouting when he isn’t the center object, Howard will have to manage his emotions in a way that he has not exhibited in the past. So how and why should the Lakers trust Howard?
Particularly because people don’t change. They just get older. An older Dwight can still rebound and guard the rim but he isn’t explosive anymore and he doesn’t block shots. But he still has that Dwight body. Won’t do him much good when facing Nikola Jokic, who has the versatility Howard coveted but never possessed. But then again, Howard will be facing bench guys.
Returning to Los Angeles in a limited role, Howard would have to embrace humility. It’s a LeBron-AD world and Howard is being asked to do crumbs. Can he? Is he still attached to the idea that he is a superstar? (Even in his prime, he wasn’t a superstar). Can he not make the story about him and just do his job? That is the Howard the Lakers need.
What Howard himself needs is a chance. He needs a team to look beyond all the drama Howard inflicted upon himself and see the basketball player. He’s older but he still is a rebounder who can make an impact in a 20 minute frame.
Dwight Howard needs legitimacy. After leaving Houston, his career has stagnated. He’s a journeyman rebounder, a specialist around the rim, but nothing more impactful than that. And his personality in the locker room has shaped into stone the narrative of Dwight the pariah.
The Lakers can change a lot for Howard but what the Lakers cannot change is Dwight Howard, the man. He will bring that to L.A. And that’s what people are afraid of.