Dwight Howard, the jokester, isn’t laughing these days. There is nothing funny in D.C. Recruited by John Wall over the summer, Howard is off to an unremarkable start. Injured and then healed and now injured again, the man who thinks of himself as Superman was heckled by his own folks, an arena worker when Howard was practicing free throws after a home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
The critique was shouted from an upper level station once the arena was emptied. “You bum ass. Make your damn free throws” was lobbed at a headphone wearing Howard, as noted by Fred Katz of the Atlantic.
To be fair, Howard, a notoriously horrific free throw shooter that allowed his mediocrity to cost him game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals, is having a credible year of sorts at the line, making 60%, an improvement of .30% over least season.
Howard is playing a career low 25 minutes. His nearly zero blocked shots per game is clue this is the Howard phase of erased explosiveness. He’s pulling down 9 boards but has the worst defensive rating of his career (111).
Howard isn’t the reason the Wizards are a dysfunctional, embarrassing and/or comatose hot mess. Lay that on John Wall and Bradley Beal’s shoulders and the front office that overpaid Otto Porter, and the coaching staff that hasn’t developed Kelly Oubre. But Howard was supposed to stop some of the Marcin Gortat bleeding.
Gortat was the fall guy for the Wizards, blamed for everything. He was old. He was slow. He didn’t shoot threes and he couldn’t guard pick and pop. Funny thing. Gortat is on the Clippers and they have one of the best records in the West with a team that probably won’t field an All-Star. Doc Rivers has figured out how to make Gortat’s deficiencies work.
So if Gortat wasn’t the problem, and Howard is a placeholder for something better, what then is the Wizards problem?
The Wizards, of course, which means John Wall.
You can’t win with John Wall. He’s moody, acerbic, passive-aggressive and lacks a consistent game. Putting Wall’s name out there as take him please take him is a change in philosophy from a couple of weeks ago when the Wizards let it be known that Wall and Bradley Beal weren’t going to be moved. But this dog won’t hunt. Get what you can.
The Wizards have talent but talent can circle the drain just like mediocrity can. In this case, the talent costs a lot of money and they are not paying dividends. Otto Porter got a fat payday. He can still put the ball in the hole and make open shots. (He’d be perfect as a Trevor Ariza replacement in Houston). Porter is a decent defender but he’ll never be an All-Star and should not be paid like one. After Porter, the roster is average. Austin Rivers thinks more of his game than everyone else does. Markieff Morris is a sometimes volatile role player who comes up big in games once a month. Jeff Green on the roster means lottery. Ian Manhimi was another Grunfeld overpay. The rest of the roster is boring.
Scott Brooks is the wrong coach. Nice man. Decent. Caring. Kind. But this team needs a dictator. Too much socialism going around and letting John Wall get away with things he shouldn’t like dominating the ball and trying to be Steph Curry when he is not, and Bradley Beal checking in and out of games depending on how he feels about Wall in the moment.
Why would Dwight Howard join this group of moody, passive-aggressive, selfish players who have showed no ability to be cohesive? Nothing in their past history said they would figure it out as they aged. Their best year was when they had Paul Pierce on the roster and Pierce’s star power and NBA resume allowed him to lead and everyone else followed. No one leads in Washington.
Perhaps it was simple math for Howard. The Wizards needed a center. He was a center. Perhaps he makes all his decisions that simplistically, as long as he’s paid, then cool. But signing a minimum deal means the likelihood that Howard can be packaged since the Wizards are in freefall mode and everyone and everything is being discussed. Or, maybe his ego allowed him to believe the Wizards were one piece away and he was that one piece.
What the Wizards need is a new coach that can stand up to the moody, mercurial and rebellious Wall. They need a point guard who understands the very basics about leadership. They need an offense that shares the ball and a defense that really cares. They need the platitudes to stop. It’s just November. Everyone but the Warriors struggle. It’s just a slow start.
But really, this is just more District mess. The Wizards are used to it and compared to the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittendon gun showdown in the locker room or the Nick Young- JaVale McGee years this is just losing. The Wizards are pathetic on the court but off the court they stay in their quiet lane. Well, except for John Wall clubbing at night and proud of it.
As for Howard. This is team number six since leaving Orlando. The Lakers were a disaster and then Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles. His first year in Houston was nearly storybook until the heartbreak of a Dame Lilliard buzzer beater to send them all home, followed by Kevin McHale being fired and James Harden issues. Team number three was Atlanta. They thought so much of Howard they subbed him out in the 4th quarter of the playoffs against the Wizards, preferring Mike Muscala. Team number four was Charlotte. After trading him, several high profile Hornets publicly rejoiced that Howard was gone. Team number five, the Nets, waived Howard and here we are. Team number six.
Another disaster as Howard tries to recover from his injury. His career is in that middle earth layer where it is no longer about reminding people who he used to be- that’s an impossible task. Now it is about helping a team wherever and however and whenever he can. It is Dwight Howard, role player, tossing leftover crumbs in his wake and asking to be remembered for when he really mattered. He doesn’t anymore.
And so the tail is wagging the dog. Once again, we are here with Dwight Howard’s poor decision making. Once again, there will be a decision and team number seven will rear its head in the summer of 2019.