Home takes you back.
After the world kicks you around, it is home that heals all of those wounds. Family and friends and memories and everything about the past that was good is waiting to embrace you and nearly throw you a parade. They may even overpay you $24 million.
Deron Williams went back home to Dallas after his disastrous year(s) in Brooklyn and carved out a happiness niche even as he will never be the Deron Williams of old and may have a career without a NBA title. It is the Dwight Howard blueprint.
It is the appeal of the Atlanta Hawks for Howard. It is the last Dwight Howard contract even as pessimism reigns. It is frequently whispered that, perhaps, Dwight Howard is one of those people who can never be happy.
If he signs in Atlanta, it will be Howard’s fourth team in four years. Like many marriages, his best was his first.
He is still chasing everything that happened in Orlando but the NBA has changed. Strategically, teams don’t dump it into a big man and surround him with shooters on the wing. The modern game incentivizes ball and player movement to create space and uncontested shots. It’s not about the big man down low punishing some small cretin who cannot stop him. In the best situations, and you can thank Mike D’Antoni for this, the ball hums and pops and moves. In the worst situations, Howard complains that he doesn’t get the ball enough and when you think about it, how many players have this gripe? Howard is an anomaly. He is in a class by himself.
How did he get here? By being Dwight.
In Orlando, he was a little ticked off because Stan Van Gundy began taking his Howard criticisms to the media. And then there was that way awkward presser when Van Gundy was talking about how Howard went upstairs to have him fired and then Howard walked in, put his arms around Van Gundy as if they were BFF’s. Howard’s methodology for relieving tension is to smile incessantly until his face breaks. But everyone believed Van Gundy. No one believed Howard.
Dwight further imploded upon himself when he opted-in on his contract so the fans wouldn’t hate him, even as it was a bad business decision. Later in the summer, when Howard had back surgery, and the Magic didn’t have a strong enough contingent at the hospital, Howard felt unloved. He wanted out.
In Los Angeles, it was always going to be a disaster. Howard is light and fun-loving, Kobe is dark and menacing and a perfectionist. It wasn’t that Howard wasn’t a perfect player, it was that he didn’t pay attention to the basketball is war details that Bryant based his career on. It was always going to end in divorce. Add to that Mike D’Antoni had little use for Howard, thought he was a whiner.
When Howard was ejected in an elimination game in the playoffs, he walked off the court, soon to be a free agent. As he left for the locker room, Kobe Bryant walked in. Bryant had been watching the game in the training room. The moment Bryant entered the arena, limping after Achilles surgery, he was greeted by the Staples crowd with a standing ovation. The imagery was powerful. One was a traitor, the other was a hero. A quitter going out. A hero coming in. But that wasn’t the last straw for Howard who wanted to be in Los Angeles. He tried to get the Lakers to amnesty Kobe and install him as the face of the franchise.
In Houston, it started out well. Everyone was happy. Everyone was young. Everyone liked to have a good time. Gone was the morose locker room infected by a maniacal star and an ownership group that catered to him. Soon enough, the James Harden reality set in. Harden may not have Kobe’s fierce personality and drive but he had his game. He was Kobe-lite on the offensive end. He was a ball stopper. He clutched the ball like it was a bag of stolen money. Harden never really trusted Howard to be a dominant force and it can be argued that Harden only trusted Harden. He needed the Rockets world to be about him. Howard grew dissatisfied again, believing he was more of a player than the Rockets thought he was or Harden allowed him to be. One more Howard coach was fired and he did a Howard normal thing: he had moments when he quit. And then he did a non-Howard thing. He admitted it.
So Atlanta is home for all the right reasons and Atlanta is home for all the wrong reasons. If he signs, he will be showered and loved. It is always a huge embrace when you walk through those familiar doors. Until it starts to feel like the same old thing. The problem with Howard in Atlanta…actually, there are two problems.
The first problem is the style of play. The Hawks are ball movers. They function with their bigs being able to drain mid-range shots or threes. Howard doesn’t haven’t that skill set and will find himself with the same “touches” problem he had in Los Angeles and Houston.
The second problem is the Hawks personality. They are a tough, serious minded bunch focused on winning and they don’t bitch and complain and they never quit. They take their game and their successes and their lumps and their position in the Eastern Conference seriously. You don’t see a lot of on the bench fun and games; the Hawks know what is at stake from game one. Paul Millsap is toughness personified. Kyle Korver is an edgy three point shooter who runs through screens and sets some nasty ones himself. Kent Bazemore, if he is re-signed, is as fun as you are going to get. Mike Scott has off court issues and on court he brings a certain street hardness. This isn’t the Howard feel good, lets goof around and make this fun kind of mix.
So what is interviewing with Atlanta about?
He needs love. He wants money, $24 million to be exact. The Dwight Howard max money market has shrunk and frankly he has to take whoever wants him. The perfect fit for Howard was if he had taken less money and signed with the Warriors in 2013. Stylistically, the Warriors embrace the you should be having fun at all times mantra that Howard has never outgrown.
Atlanta is Howard’s best chance at a long term deal even without his touches and even when, at times, Budenholzer will have him on the bench for five scorers.
Yesterday, a NBA scout said, “he wouldn’t touch him [Howard]”, because of all the baggage Howard brings. The Hawks don’t have to worry about Howard infecting the locker room. Paul Millsap is the leader and Howard, if in Atlanta, will have to fall in line.
But expect him to be unhappy about it.
photo via llananba