It is hard to remember a fall as embarrassing and precipitous as that of Dwight Howard. Until 2012, he was a no-doubt All-NBA First Team center and perennial Defensive Player of the Year favorite as a member of the Orlando Magic. Then trade demands, a bizarre Diet Pepsi-centric news conference next to Stan Van Gundy, a disastrous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and a disappointing tenure with the Houston Rockets turned Howard into a national punchline.
The image of a fun-loving, media-friendly superstar gave way to that of an unserious and laughable doofus. Howard experienced a relatively drama-free first season with his hometown Atlanta Hawks in 2016-17 after signing a deal last summer, but his campaign was defined by a sense of relief rather than anything approaching a return to form. Howard’s star days are long gone, and they’re not coming back.
Unfortunately, whatever stability built up during Howard’s first year with the Hawks was quickly erased by the news of Tuesday’s trade to the Charlotte Hornets. The optics could hardly have been worse.
Howard’s hometown team, theoretically a viable long-term home, dealt him away for what’s essentially cap relief and a few players who don’t appear likely to rise above the back end of the rotation. If Howard still held any illusions about his status in this league, they should be gone now. He’s in line to earn more than $47 million in salary over the next two seasons, but he feels like a journeyman.
The jokes flew fast and furious upon the news:
Lmao Dwight be at the getting traded for a Plumlee stage of his career ???????????? https://t.co/UmZv0MMZqf
— Adam (@EvilOmarVizquel) June 21, 2017
Dwight Howard is John Salley now sorry guys but when you get traded for Miles Plumlee's contract these are the rules
— Larry Beyince (@DragonflyJonez) June 21, 2017
Dwight Howard: "I'm gonna try to work on my 3 point shot."
Atlanta Hawks: pic.twitter.com/0Wl4Lw4oJK
— Ryan Belk (@rbelk_94) June 21, 2017
Can't tell you how much I'm counting on Dwight's presence to rekindle Jordan's utter cruelty toward his underachieving big men.
— Farmer Jones (@thefarmerjones) June 21, 2017
Plus, Howard was traded while doing a Twitter Q&A about trades:
DWIGHT GOT TRADED WHILE DOING A DRAFT Q&A ON TWITTER LMAOOOOO pic.twitter.com/BSZsat6d3p
— Drew Fultz (@Dcorrigan50) June 21, 2017
The shame didn’t stop there. Marc Spears of The Undefeated reported the news with a typo that somehow fit Howard perfectly:
The Atlanta Hawks have agreed to trade center Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Bobcats, source tell ESPN's The Undefeated.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) June 21, 2017
We can forgive Marc for the mistake. If any player would want to find a way to travel back to the 2010 heyday of the Bobcats, it’s Howard.
It’s not clear where Howard’s career goes from here, in part because his on-court performance might not mean a great deal to how we view him. His negatives are clear enough — NBA teams no longer build themselves around paint-bound big men, and the quick Washington Wizards repeatedly exploited his lack of foot speed in transition on the way to eliminating the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Yet Howard was actually mostly fine with Atlanta, posting averages of 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds. There’s also reason to think he can thrive under Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, an assistant under Van Gundy during Howard’s time in Orlando.
However, the 31-year-old Howard carries baggage that cannot be cast off easily. A season or two on a team that usually doesn’t get national attention likely won’t change that situation. Howard will be defined by his worst moments in Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston until historical perspective allows us to forget them. It might have to wait until his Hall of Fame induction — seriously, just look up his credentials — but the day should come eventually.
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