By Drew Farmer
When Dwight Howard was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2004, NBA experts merely wondered how long it would be until Howard led the team to the NBA Championship. However, after 13 seasons in the Association, the only thing NBA insiders are curious about, is which team Howard with move to next.
Howard is currently on his fifth NBA team after being traded to the Charlotte Hornets on June 20th. After just one season into his three-year, $70 million deal, the Atlanta Hawks dealt him to the Hornets for Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the 41st pick in the NBA Draft. Tyler Dorsey became that draft pick as the shooting guard completed the deal for Howard.
Howard’s time in Atlanta didn’t live up to expectations as the 31-year-old averaged his lowest points production since his rookie season. The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year’s 13.5 points per game were good for just fourth best on the team.
The 2017-18 season would have seen Howard’s salary reach $23,819,725 of the projected $99m cap. Moving him to a team that needs a big name presence made sense for the Hawks after watching Howard register career lows in points per game, blocks (1.2) and assists (1.4).
Paying for Potential
Howard’s upside has been the reason teams have splurged on him and tried to make the big man the focal point of the team. According to Hawks’ insiders, the team had shaken up a successful side to make Howard its main man. Yet, his big presence in the paint made little difference. The team dropped one place in the standings and lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs this past season.
Lightning Strikes Twice
Howard’s time in Orlando was very reminiscent of another big man that played for the Florida franchise. Like Shaquille O’Neal, Howard led his Magic to an NBA Final, but left the team for the glamor of La-La Land before he could repeat the feat. Unlike Shaq’s success in Los Angeles, Howard’s team struggled; despite the team having promise on paper.
After a disappointing season in Los Angeles, Howard signed a max contract of $87.5m with the Rockets. The center and guard James Harden created quite the pair, and in their first season together, averaged 43.7 ppg for Houston. The Rockets still never got over the hump of the San Antonio-Golden State duopoly, and Howard declined a fourth season with the franchise to return to his hometown Atlanta.
More than Money
In an ESPN Radio interview following his exit, Howard cited his poor relationship with Harden as one of the reasons he left the team.
“It wasn’t as good as it needed to be for us to succeed. But, you know, looking back on it, there’s really nothing that we can do about it now,” Howard said. “Talking about it amongst ourselves is great, but for myself, and I think for the Rockets, we all have to move on and let that chapter of all of our lives pass. I wish the relationship would have been a lot better, but throughout all the things that happened the last couple of years, I think it’s shaped and molded me into the player — the person — that I am today. It made me stronger.”
It seems the relationships he has created with teammates and coaches is what has held the player back; and influenced his moves. Howard is a player that teams identify as a fantastic individual player, and one that a team can be built around. However, since his success in Orlando, Howard hasn’t been the same player.
Howard could be the player Charlotte need, however. It has been 13 seasons since Charlotte was reformed via expansion. The team has made the playoffs just three times and can claim a 48 win season as its best ever. The 2016-17 season saw just 36 victories as the team finished 11th. Regardless of his past, Howard could and should make this franchise better. Howard’s move has given off mixed reactions from fans, but one thing is for sure, Charlotte has a steal in Howard and potential to do better.