Is Charlotte the perfect destination for Dwight Howard?
For Dwight Howard, things change in the blink of an eye. His role as part of a dream-team vision with the Lakers was debunked after just one season. Then, his superstar partner-in-crime, James Harden, ran him out of town in Houston. Now, his Atlanta homecoming has been cut short.
The sad part is, this break-up may have shocked him the most. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports broke the news just nine minutes after Howard began answering questions from fans on Twitter about trade rumors, knowing nothing about his own fate.
Not sure I’ve ever seen life come at somebody faster pic.twitter.com/aIuxoLzoZj— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) June 21, 2017
At first glance, Atlanta clearly sold low on Howard. The Hawks got the 41st pick in the draft, Miles Plumlee, and a 31-year-old Marco Belinelli in return, all while having to give up the No. 31 pick as a sweetener. This will be the fifth team of Plumlee’s career and the eighth for Belinelli. Some NBA journeymen prove to be quite valuable for every team they play for, but in this case, there’s a pretty clear reason why they’ve been traded so often — they’re just not very good.
Charlotte clearly bought low on Howard, who still has two years and more than $47 million left on his contract. Based on Atlanta’s return in the trade, people across the league clearly believe he’s washed up, but the stats tell a different story. He’s not the defensive juggernaut he once was, but he still crashes the boards as well as any big man in the league. Howard has finished as a top-5 rebounder each of the past two seasons, and compares quite closely to some recent All-Stars in other areas as well.
Per-Game Averages 2016-17 Regular Season
All three of the players above serve the roles of a rim runner and defensive anchor in the modern NBA and do it well enough to earn themselves hefty contracts. However, each has a different narrative attached to them at this point in their careers. Luckily for Howard, being shipped to Charlotte will likely take a lot of pressure off him because he won’t be expected to succeed and lead any sort of deep playoff run. And, maybe for the first time, he’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Howard will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford, who spent time with Howard as an assistant in both Orlando and Los Angeles in previous seasons. Clifford also reportedly has been interested in acquiring him in recent seasons, and has a “good working relationship” with Howard. Finally, it seems like he has a coach that will be happy to have him and know how to maximize his skillset.
This trade gives Charlotte a much-needed upgrade down low. The Hornets have scored the second-fewest points in the paint per game in each of the past two seasons and have been middle-of-the-pack in team rebounding as well. The likes of Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Roy Hibbert, Plumlee, Spencer Hawes, and others simply haven’t been getting the dirty work done in the paint for coach Clifford in recent years. The addition of Howard will allow the pressure to be taken off of the other big men still on the roster and allow them to focus on what they do best.
Another factor for Howard is how he’ll fit with the best player on the Hornets: point guard Kemba Walker. Walker has never played with a center as athletic and massive as Howard in his career and will without a doubt take advantage of pick-and-roll opportunities with his new teammate. Walker was a P&R ball-handler on 12.2 possessions per game last season, more than any other player in the NBA. Most of those were run with Cody Zeller as the roll man, but now he’ll have a center capable of thriving in that role, leaving him with even more chances to flourish.
If things go well for Howard, he could very well end his career in Charlotte as a happy camper. Walker, Nicolas Batum, and Steve Clifford are the centerpieces of one of the most steady and professional team cultures in the league, something that could prove to be immensely valuable for Howard. There are still plenty of moves to be made this offseason, but we should expect the Hornets to vault back into the Eastern conference playoff picture next year.
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