Three Years Later Dwight Doesn’t Matter But Hello Brooklyn

Dwight Howard has been a man without a country ever since he left Houston. He has been cheered for, tolerated, accepted but not beloved. He has not been heroic. He has not been courageous. How else to translate Howard at the free throw line and getting booed in front of his home crowd, even if the crowd was heavily infiltrated with Lakers fans intent on ruining Howard’s night. Yes. That happened.

Howard had a great year in 2017-18 while on an insufferably mediocre team, and I won’t be the first to think it: there is a feeling of Dwight Howard stepping into karma. Where can he run to now?

He was traded to Brooklyn and let the memes begin. The one with Howard traded for a bag a chips. The one with Howard traded for basketballs. Or, Howard traded for a valet parking space. Once Howard left Orlando in 2012, things have gone awry. Los Angeles for one year. Houston for three years. Atlanta for a year. Charlotte for a year. Now Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is ironic. A long time ago when Howard had this itch to be in a big market because he wanted his name at the front of the room, he had a plan for Deron Williams to join him in Brooklyn and I suppose, save the franchise. At that point, Brooklyn had been approved as the moving location for the New Jersey Nets. Howard had this fantasy of New York stardom. But then things went south. Williams kept his part of the bargain, ended up in Brooklyn, but it was a disaster and now he isn’t in the league. Howard is.

The Dwight Howard that Charlotte was witness to this past season was pretty good, all things considered. It was his 14th year. He’ll be 33 years old in December.  Yet, he played 81 games, the first time he hit the 80+ mark in 8 years. He took the most shots in four years. He still gets to the line 7 times a game and had the best free throw % in 8 seasons. Once again, he was in the 12 rebounds per game club, which he has done five other times in his career. His 16.6 points was the most since he averaged 18.3 that first year with the Rockets.

Charlotte was good to Howard. He was back to being himself in a Howard-esque way, meaning his team was awful but he did his thing. He wasn’t bitter. The irony about all of it was that the Hornets hired Mitch Kupchack off the scrap heap to run things. Kupchak was the GM who brought Howard to L.A. When Howard was a free agent one year later, it was Kupchak who originated those stupid Stay Dwight billboards that popped up around town. This Kupchak wasn’t that same Kupchak however. Howard no longer had appeal. Kupchak traded him to Brooklyn, getting second round picks in return. Dwight Howard has little value on the open market.

Howard haters make up an intensely passionate tribe of followers and cynics and believers and worshipers that have not forgotten the way the Lakers and/or Rockets and/or Hawks came to a crashing halt with Howard as a centerpiece. It has less to do with Howard’s geography and wishy-washy ways and more to do the way he pledged his allegiance to values and principles and then walked away.

His repeating over and over again he wanted to stay when it was clear he was playing the crowd in order to have them on his side when he delivered the final blow, leaving the organization high and dry- which was his right- upped the ante. Here he was, this stranger with a much maligned offensive game and mental fragility who was taken in, who was sheltered, now he wanted more money and greener pastures.

Dwight, the hero, was looking for something better and in his place was Dwight, the vagabond.

These are the things that can’t be erased.

To add insult to injury, when Howard went into excuse mode, he said Houston gave him a better chance to win a title. And then he said Atlanta was home. He made the best of things in Charlotte (though players in the locker room admit to friction and no one is surprised). And now, Brooklyn.

Is he worth the  $23,819,725 contract the Nets will pay him in 2018-19. . According to Real Plus-Minus, he was the 27th ranked center. Ranked ahead of him at 26 and 25 were Boban Marjanovic (Clippers) and Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors). But he is way better than the man he is replacing, Timofey Mozgov.

With Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins and Joel Embiid as legitimate big men talents, it’s safe to say Dwight Howard’s All-Star days are over. Now it’s playing out the back nine of his career.

This Dwight Howard seems a stranger when compared to the other Dwight Howard, the one who received 3 million fan votes in the 2009 All-Star game. That year Howard went to the NBA Finals. He lost. To Kobe Bryant. He’s been losing ever since, even with Bryant out the league.

Karma indeed.