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What is expected to be a wild NBA free agency period this summer will have another surprising big name on the market — eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
After trading Timofey Mozgov, two-second round picks and cash considerations to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday as part of their cap-clearing effort for the summer of 2019, the Brooklyn Nets will negotiate a buyout of Howard’s $23.8 million next season, per Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania.
This surprising turn of events affords Howard the opportunity to play for pennies on the dollar for his new team while still earning a pretty penny this season from his Brooklyn buyout, and if what he told ESPN’s Chris Haynes is true — that “my whole goal is to come back next season, improve and try to win a championship for my team” — there is really only one spot to achieve it: the Golden State Warriors.
The case for the Warriors signing Dwight Howard
It’s the same case that four other teams in the past six years — the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Hornets — have tried to make for signing Howard: That chiseled frame and athleticism at 7 feet tall, the combination of which made him one of the most physically imposing players in the league from 2006-14, when he averaged 19.5 points on 59 percent shooting, 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks over eight seasons, is just so damn tantalizing, even if he’s 32 years old now.
Howard was at his peak in 2009, when he led the Orlando Magic over LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and into the Finals. Surrounded by shooters who afforded him room to operate in the post or as the roll man in Stan Van Gundy’s ahead-of-its-time spread motion offense, he made 70 percent of his 560 attempts in the restricted area. Defensively, he was a monster, leading the league in blocks and rebounding and generally erasing his teammates’ mistakes in one of the league’s best defenses.
Imagine that Howard eating up the center minutes for an already elite Warriors defense and working against single coverage in an offense featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. It’s easy to see why Golden State general manager Bob Myers might be teased by theoretical possibilities, so long as they were convinced he would be committed to his limited role on a small-ball team.
The Warriors were overstocked with centers last season, but Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee are free agents this summer, and they will need someone to fill that void against traditional bigs if they’re not completely comfortable handing the reins to Damian Jones and Jordan Bell. Myers was enamored enough with Howard to covet him in a 2012 trade and 2013 free agency, and maybe now years later he will take another look. This is, after all, the team that made champions out of McGee and Nick Young.
The case for the Warriors not signing Dwight Howard
It’s the same case the Nets just made — that all the headaches Howard has caused since the end of his Magic reign aren’t worth having him on the roster, even if it means you have to pay him to leave.
In the early part of this decade, he asked Orlando to fire Van Gundy, demanded a trade, and then when he got his wish, he clashed with Kobe Bryant over his commitment to the game of basketball. Then came the Houston Rockets, where he and James Harden essentially stopped communicating. He signed with his hometown Atlanta Hawks, only to be traded for the lesser Plumlee brother a year later. Now this, a salary dump amid reports his Charlotte teammates were “just sick and tired of his act.”
“I know a lot of people are going to always have questions and try to point it to one thing or the other,” Howard told Haynes in response, “but a lot of times you always have to consider the source.”
What Howard has failed to realize is that he’s so clearly the source of his downfall, because a quarter of the league doesn’t give up on a generational 7-foot talent for no good reason. And that’s just the off-the-court stuff — problems even Golden State’s selfless locker room might not be able to solve.
On the court, this is a guy who throughout his career has demanded more touches while also resisting being the roll man for Harden and Steve Nash, two of the greatest pick-and-roll players ever. Howard might just be incapable of accepting the role he could thrive in if Steve Kerr got his hands on him.
Which is maybe why …
But still: A Warriors team that believes its better at these things than everyone else and is looking to fill the center spot with veteran minimum contracts has to be tantalized by the chance to plug Howard into that hole. In which, Howard’s greatest legacy might be bringing down the Golden State dynasty.
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