Last week, Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks‘ 41st pick were dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee and the No. 31 overall pick. The trade news leaked before the NBA Draft while Howard was hosting a live chat about offseason trade rumors. Only Dwight Howard could find himself in such an ironic situation after he left the Rockets, Magic and Lakers in less than ideal terms.
For Howard, this will be his third new jersey in just as many years. It ends a one-year return home with the Atlanta Hawks. The Georgia-native will be on his fifth season fifth team since leaving the Magic in 2012.
Even though Howard no longer has the same superstar name-recognition, that doesn't mean he can't be a winning addition for the Hornets. Charlotte offers Howard a young and athletic team with a coaching staff and ownership group that believes in him. This is an ideal situation for Howard and the franchise.
Howard's New Mentality
In his open press conference, Howard said he still has a lot in the tank. The eight-time All-Star center said the people writing him off are making him work harder, per the USA Today.
"I got a lot left in the tank, and I’m going to give this city everything that I have"
— Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) June 26, 2017
Maybe, Dwight still has some great basketball left in him?
Last season, Howard averaged 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, .9 steals and 1.2 blocks. Granted, he registered career-lows in shots and points per game since his rookie year. He still barely shot .533 percent from the free throw line and he got paid about $23 million.
In comparison, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan averaged 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Jordan earned first All-Star appearance and an appearance on the All-NBA First-Team. Andre Drummond averaged 13.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists for the Pistons last season. Drummond made the All-Star team and All-NBA teams last year with only slightly higher per game averages.
Meanwhile, Howard has not made the All-NBA or All-Star teams since 2014. Despite injuries, he's still been a double-double guy over that time. The Hornets could have found a steal at center, since Howard is not that far removed from All-Star play.
The Hornets' Support System
Now, Howard said he feels healthier than he has in five seasons. It seems like we hear that every year from Dwight. However, he also said Hornets owner Michael Jordan is a great motivator.
Apparently, Jordan inspired Howard by expressing his belief in him via a recent phone call. Howard could finally find himself with the right support system from the top down. No dysfunctional owners making him the franchise savior, team cornerstone or hometown kid.
Instead, Charlotte gives Howard a spot to focus on basketball. The franchise needs a good NBA product this year since the All-Star game is coming to the city in 2019. Howard can help bring some hype back to the city since he is under contract until then. Howard also said he hopes to finish his career with the Hornets. Howard realizes his career is coming to a close and this humble attitude should help him stick in Charlotte.
Dwight Howard says he can "hopefully finish his career here" in Charlotte with the #Hornets.
— Chris Kroeger (@Kroeger) June 26, 2017
Moreover, Howard joins coach Steve Clifford, who worked with Howard for five seasons in Orlando and one season in Los Angeles. In the same press conference, Clifford said Howard was one of the smartest players he ever coached. He said he and Dwight have always communicated honestly and transparently, per the Charlotte Observer.
Further, Howard said Clifford never turned his back on him. Dwight played his best basketball under Clifford as an assistant. The center again has a coach who knows how to deal with his ego. Clifford also knows Howard's strengths on the basketball floor. Howard will still dominate the paint with his broad shoulders and six-foot-eleven frame. Charlotte finished in the bottom half of the league for rebounds and blocks. Howard should definitely improve this for Clifford's squad. The duo may rekindle some of Howard's old dominance.
Additionally, Howard is not going to the Hornets to be the best player. Howard is going to help Kemba Walker lead the Hornets back to the playoffs. Walker made his first All-Star team last year by averaging 23.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. He was also a large part of the Hornets playoff run in 2016. If Al Jefferson and Walker can lead the 2016 Hornets to a postseason berth than Howard should help Kemba secure a playoff seed too.
Plus, the Hornets have a roster that compliments Howard well. Howard already said he looked forward to playing with Walker and Nicolas Batum in the opening presser. Batum is the slasher, defender and shooter who should thrive with Howard on both sides of the court. Walker offers some great shooting and passing to compliment Howard. Hopefully, Howard is open to some pick-and-rolls with Walker too.
Thus, the Hornets have the depth and versatility to find themselves in the playoff hunt. This probably depends on Howard's production too.
Otherwise, Charlotte employees Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller as versatile bigs that compliment Howard in case of injury. Howard only missed 8 games last season, but he missed a combined 52 games in the previous two seasons.
Howard The Bargain
Injuries aside, you have to consider that the Hornets barely gave up anything to take Howard from the Hawks. Sure, they took his contract but he is only on the books for about $23 million over the next two seasons. That is a bargain compared to the $16 million the Brooklyn Nets will pay Timofey Mozgov over the next three years thanks to the free agency contract that Lakers gave him last season. Mozgov was also traded before the draft as a ‘salary dump.'
Let's also not forget that Dwight's teams have missed the playoffs only once since 2006. He's only missed the playoffs twice in his career. The center accumulated 95 games of playoff experience with the Magic, Lakers, Rockets and Hawks. This is invaluable to a Hornets team that barely has any. Even if Howard isn't a champion, he's still a winner. A winner that can help Charlotte for sure.
— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) June 26, 2017
Ultimately, Howard was a low-risk and high-reward gamble for the Hornets. His attitude, salary, injury history, age and decline killed his superstar trade value and brand. An overall NBA game that focuses on three-point shooting more than ever also contributed to Howard's irrelevancy. Maybe athletic centers that roam the paint aren't as valuable as they once were?
Nonetheless, the Hornets offer a great opportunity for Howard to succeed. He finally has the organization, coaching, health and roster support to re-surge his career. Howard brings the production, experience and new-found humility that Charlotte needs for playoff contention. Dwight and the Hornets might find themselves both in winning situations thanks to this ironic trade on draft night.