Dwight Howard has been there and done that — and, for that matter, so have his teams. Since being chosen first overall in the 2004 draft, he has built a career that already makes him a bona fide candidate for the Hall of Fame; he’s an eight-time All-Star, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and, not too long ago, a legitimate anchor of squads that sought to go deep in the playoffs. These days, though, he’s a gamble, and in more ways than one; even as his talents have diminished with age, he likewise represents a question mark off the court given his playful but sensitive disposition. Which, in a nutshell, is why he has changed addresses four times in the last four years, burning bridges en route.
That said, Howard is from that specific batch of players who tantalize from a distance. He’s just 32 and with tons of experience, including a series in which he did battle for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And he’s a physical specimen unlike any other; for all the athletes in the league, few, if any, can match his unique combine of strength and hops. Little wonder, then, that the Wizards came calling after the Nets dealt for him just to make him a tool for balancing the books. They’re in a state of flux, barely making the 2018 postseason and yet still harboring Big Franchise Dreams in light of their seemingly stacked roster.
Needless to say, Howard was flattered by the attention; from owner Ted Leonsis to top dog John Wall, the courtship was of the whirlwind type, open and brisk and founded on grandiose promises. And so he signed on the dotted line for the mid-level exception, a bargain by the numbers; after norming 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Hornets last season, he looks to be a steal at $5.3 million. At stake for him, and for them: the rejuvenation of their respective images.
Perhaps it’s a marriage of convenience. Perhaps it’s borne of mutual need. Both Howard and the Wizards can’t get any worse, and if the partnership fails, they can at least say they tried. But what if it works? What if, for considerations only the hoops gods are privy to at this point, they do wind up coaxing the best from and of each other? Certainly, the possibilities are what give fans cause for hope. At a time when LeBron James has gone West, when the Celtics have gotten better by staying put, and when the Raptors are an even bigger IF, they have the chance to change their fate.
And if for no other reason than because they’re taking that chance, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.