The divisive, tantalizing center Dwight Howard has signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks. He said he wanted max money and he got it, so Dwight Howard was right. The haters were wrong, the ones who said he’d never be paid what he wanted. The 6’11” center and double-double machine was looking for a championship team to offer him max money. Howard was looking to optimize and maximize his dwindling years to solidify his legacy in the NBA. You can debate whether this version of the Hawks without Jeff Teague and Al Horford is a true contender, but Dwight Howard returning home did what he set out to do when he opted out of his Houston Rockets deal. He got paid.
Make no mistake. Dwight Howard puts numbers on the boards and dominates the paint like a top five center in the league would. However, it is his glass ceiling potential which makes him an NBA villain. Standing at 6’11” without shoes and the body of a Greek God, Howard’s entire career is a bunch of “what ifs.” What if he undertook the leadership role? What if he wasn’t injured so much? What if he took his talents to the next level?
Howard started off with the Orlando Magic, pledging to the city that he would stay in Orlando for the rest of his career. He became the city’s sweetheart, and the franchise player embraced Orlando. After his legendary 2009 Finals performance – 15.4 PTS, 15.2 TRB, and 4 BLKS – Howard came back even stronger in the 2010-2011 season. Howard produced 22.9 PTS and 14.1 TRBS in the regular season after the Lakers slaughter the year before. Unfortunately, the Magic was not able to advance to the Finals. Dissenting and demanding, Howard got his magical wish: getting out of Orlando. Howard ended up on the Los Angeles Lakers, and this is when the nightmare began.
Howard is amiable on camera, constantly flashing his 14-karat smile and trying to dance like Shaquille O’Neal. But it is behind closed doors where his true personality emerges. Leadership lacks and his presence is merely mass. The enigmatic center somehow manages to bring his upscale game in the playoffs, but it is not enough to propel his team far into the playoffs. Howard busted out for 24.3 PTS and 12.8 TRBS in his 2013-2014 playoff performance. Absolute dominance. But it is never enough. His skill set should be refined enough to make his team championship contenders, not playoff contenders. He preaches his fierce mentality, yet his recent records do not show it. Aside from his early career, his on-court persona changes him. A prime example would be his one-year stint with the Lakers. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash constantly argued with Howard. They looked like those old bickering couples in public that make everybody uncomfortable.
Howard is notoriously known to be difficult to work with, and this palpable quality makes it harder for teammates to develop chemistry. Instead of complying with a cemented system, and knowing what he is getting into, Howard defies the team system. He is not concerned with winning but getting touches. It is the Kevin Love syndrome. To be fair, Howard is arguing and presenting himself as a misused asset on a team. His gradually dwindling numbers represent Howard as a second or third cog. This is opposite of his glory days on the Orlando Magic.
Then, the entire offense revolved around the massive center. In addition, his defensive game spoke for itself. From 2008-2011, he won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards. Although he has not been winning much lately, his defensive game is still strong. After his TNT interview, and seeing Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley attempt to air his dirty laundry, people are still confused about his true desire to win.
Howard has a new start, his fourth. It remains to be seen how he will gel given the Hawks offense of ball movement and asking their bigs to be mid-range or three point shooters. Unlike the other free agents who were overpaid, Howard’s critics aren’t on him constantly because of the money. It has to do with Dwight.
His hate is relative. It comes from another field. The bar is set high for Dwight, and his chances to prove himself are coming to a near end. 30 years old and injury ridden, the dominant center must earn a championship ring to cement himself in the NBA history books.
Not to say it is the same thing, but Hakeem Olajuwon won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 at the age of 31 and 32. There is hope for Howard. But then again, Olajuwaon hooked up with Clyde Drexler to make it to the promised land, near the tail end of his career.
Clyde Drexler is not walking through the Atlanta Hawks door.
photo via llananba