The Case for the Lakers to Sign Dwight Howard

Rohan Nadkarni
Sports Illustrated

It’s the middle of August, and while the nights in Los Angeles are calm, cool, and flirty(???), the NBA is a barren desert, void of takes and generally anything interesting. Everyone is on vacation. Daryl Morey can say James Harden is better than Michael Jordan and no one really has the energy to fight about it. Usually nothing exciting is happening in the NBA world this time of year, but we’ve been given a reprieve in the form of Dwight Howard

The world’s last fart-joke enthusiast and likely Hall-of-Fame center is a target of the Lakers in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins’s injury, a league source told SI late last week. L.A. has since been given permission from the Grizzlies to discuss a deal with Howard, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Howard rather infamously spent one season with the Lakers, and his career hasn’t really been the same since. Would a reunion make sense? Let’s make the case for why the Lakers aren’t out of their minds for this.

First and foremost, the Lakers need another center on the roster. Right now, the only other true five man on the depth chart is JaVale McGee, and he proved last season he shouldn’t be a long-term starter. McGee was far from the Lakers’ biggest problem in 2019, but he wasn’t part of the solution either. L.A. had a 111.1 defensive rating with Javale on the floor, and he was approaching the upper limit of his utility at 22.3 minutes per game. Even if Javale were to somehow play 28 minutes a night starting this year, that’s still another 20 minutes Frank Vogel has to fill at center, and that’s not how many minutes the Lakers want to see Anthony Davis banging with other bigs during the regular season. Without Cousins, L.A. absolutely has a hole in its rotation. Going into the season without another big would put too much stress on an already thin roster. 

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So if the need for a center is established, who are the options? Howard actually compares favorably with who else is on the market. Unrestricted free agents include Zaza Pachulia, Andrew Bogut, Kenneth Faried, and Greg Monroe, among others. None among that group had the offensive potential of someone like Cousins, and most can be described as either one-dimensional or undersized. Howard, for all his flaws, can still be a little bit of a two-way player when healthy. The Hornets were passable on defense with Dwight in his last full season in 2018. And LeBron should be able to wrench any pick-and-roll juice left in Howard on the other end of the floor. At the very least, a Dwight with functioning glutes at least has the potential to do more all over the court than the other centers available, all of whom serve only very specific functions at this point in their careers.

And that’s really what it comes down to with the Lakers and Howard. The logic is the same as it was when signing Cousins. It’s a low-risk, high-reward move on someone who was once very talented and now battling injuries. Cousins was obviously at the top of his game much more recently than Howard, but putting Dwight around a talented roster could wake up some of what made him great. If it doesn’t work, the Lakers aren’t making some kind of grand, long-term commitment. They simply need someone to fill 20ish minutes a night during the regular season, and hold down the fort until Vogel can play his best five down the stretch of the fourth. Howard doesn’t have to be a star, but the fact that he can even mildly be a threat on both sides of the ball gives him a leg up on all the other guys available.

A Howard-Lakers reunion wouldn’t be a slam dunk. He’s not going to become part of a Big Three. His health is a legitimate concern. His jokes haven’t miraculously improved. And Dwight will need to fully commit to a role he’s basically never seemingly fully committed to during his entire career. None of these are small caveats. But it’s the middle of August, and the free-agent well has run dry. The Lakers are desperate, and for a team so greatly in need of a rotational big, L.A. may as well take a gamble on a guy with the potential to be something slightly more than one-dimensional.

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