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It really wouldn’t be so bad if your team signed Dwight Howard



By Yaron Weitzman

Dwight Howard could actually be a bargain free-agent signing

At some point over the next few days, Dwight Howard will find a new home. Howard will meet with the Celtics and Hawks, according to ESPN, while earlier reports mentioned the Heat, Magic, Bucks, Blazers and Knicks as possible landing spots as well. Others suitors are likely to emerge, too as GMs search for ways to spend the millions they have in cap space.

Wherever Howard signs, the news is likely to be meet with laughter, derision and possibly anger from his new team’s fanbase. Howard, after all, is a 30-year center with a history of shoulder and back issues and a reputation as a clown more interested in personal milestones than winning. He’s also coming off a nightmare season with the Rockets where he averaged just 13.7 points per game, his lowest mark since his rookie year.

“He’s not serious enough, when it counts,” former NBA player and current ESPN analysts Chauncey Billups told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck.

As Beck’s story illustrated, this seems to be the common belief in NBA circles. It certainly is among fans, especially Houston partisans who are probably thrilled that Howard’s time there is ending.

Don’t be fooled, though. Dwight Howard may not be dominant MVP-type player he once was, but he remains a good NBA center who will instantaneously improve whichever team he joins.

The most encouraging thing about Howard is the born again attitude that desperation and failure has seemingly coaxed out of him. First, there was his candid Inside the NBA appearance, where Howard answered every hard question lobbed at him by Charles Barkley and the rest of TNT’s crew. He talked about his time in Houston. He shared that it hurts him when fans and the media refer to him as a diva. Then, a few weeks later he opened up even more to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan:

“This will be my last chance for a really big contract,” Howard said. “If I am utilized the right way, I know what I can do for a team, a city, a franchise. I know my worth, and I will bust my butt this summer to show my worth to everyone.”

That right there is the key. “He wants to win,” an anonymous GM told Beck. “But I don’t know if he knows how hard and how serious he has to be about winning.”

Never before, though, has Howard seemed so interested in changing. He may not quite be following the first step of AA’s guidelines of admitting that he has a problem, but he does seem to be engaging in some form of soul searching.

That, combined with his remaining skills, could turn him into one of the better bargains of this wild free agency, especially if his new deal winds up being for between $10 and $15 million a year, as the majority of the NBA executives who spoke to Bleacher Report believe.

Howard remains one of the league’s top rim protectors and defensive rebounders. Only eight players receiving more than 10 minutes of playing time reeled in a greater percentage of opponents’ misses last year, per The 49.7 percent that opponents shot against Howard at the rim was one of the league’s better marks. Those are two skills that every team in the league could use. They’re antidotes to the increasing reliance on pace-and-space offense.

Howard isn’t as limber as he once was, but he’s not completely helpless when asked to help out on the perimeter above the three-point line, either.

He can’t switch onto guards the way Tristan Thompson did against the Warriors in the Finals, but if asked to drop back towards the foul line on screens with the guard trailing the ball-handler, then he and his team can stifle opposing pick-and-rolls by forcing tough mid-range jumpers.

The bigger questions about Howard come on offense. Back when he was in Orlando, Howard was one the league’s premier pick-and-roll big men. Touches in the post were less important to him.

“But he’s resisted playing that way,” a team official told Beck, “because someone, somewhere, or multiple people in his circle of influence, have told him that he needs to demand post-ups, and all this other crap.”

He’ll have to evolve in order to thrive in his next home. Thanks to his prolific dunking, Howard is an excellent finisher, even these days. Every now and then, he’s able to use his size and strength to create good looks.

But for the most part, Howard still struggles converting shots in the post. Only 12 players touched the ball on the block more frequently that him last season, per, yet he generated just 0.8 points per possession, a below-average number.

The fit in Houston was obviously bad and everything about the Rockets last season was a mess. But Howard’s former coach, Kevin McHale, believes injuries are to blame.

“Throw it down to him occasionally but if you throw it down to him on a steady diet the poor guy just can’t get down low and move any more,” McHale said to SiriusXM NBA Radio in April. “I think that back bothered him, his hips are tight from that and he just wasn’t the same player. He’s worked hard on it. The kid does work hard on his physical conditioning and trying to get healthy and stuff. But he is not what he used to be down there in the low post.”

The good news is he no longer is expected to be. All the league’s new rules (permitting of zone defense, no hand-checking, which leads to dribble penetration and kick-outs to shooters) mean that repeatedly dumping the ball into the post is akin to relying on a running game in today’s NFL. No team signing Howard is doing so with the hope of him becoming the focal point of their offense. This, no doubt, is being conveyed to Howard in his meetings with suitors. If Howard’s going to ever accept that message, now’s the time.

Howard says he wants to prove his naysayers wrong and get one more big contract, too. The good news for him: the path to doing so is an easy one. All anyone wants from Howard is strong defense, solid effort, and six-to-eight garbage-type buckets (put-backs, dump-offs, alley-oops) per night. We know he still has the physical capabilities. The questions about Howard have always centered about the non-physical.

The difference is that now Howard can sense that the end is near. Seeing their athletic mortality can change men. Here’s betting that it changes Howard and, in doing so, morphs him into a free agency steal if his market is as cold as most expect.




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