By: Damian Adams
Next season, Dwight Howard will not be wearing the Houston Rockets uniform, he has signed a 3 year, 70.5-million-dollar contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Howard averaged 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game last season. Any center who averages these numbers while only getting 8.5 shot attempts per game would usually be a sought after asset for fans of most teams, but not Dwight. Most fans would respond to that statement by saying phrases like; we don’t need this BUM, I don’t want this SOFT dude on my squad, why would we sign him, dude is pure TRASH. Why are adjectives like bum, soft, and trash used to describe Dwight Howard? When and why did Dwight become the NBA fan’s punching bag?
Howard was the #1 overall pick out of high school in the 2004 NBA draft to the Orlando Magic. A center with a goofy personality going #1 overall to Orlando of course brought up natural comparisons to Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal is a hall of fame inductee, who is arguably the most dominant player of all time. Dwight started his career with an uphill battle, with people expecting him to be the next Shaq. Howard did not fold under the expectations, becoming a great player of his 3rd year in the league. He led the Magic in the playoffs while averaging 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks per game and shot 60% from the field. Howard continued to get better on both sides of the floor, being a consistent 1st option on offense and dominating on defense. The Orlando Magic found themselves in the NBA finals in Howard’s 5th NBA season. Not many players can say they led a team to the NBA finals, let alone by their 5th season in the league. During the 08-09 season NBA finals season Howard averaged 20.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.9 blocks per game and shot 57% from the field. He won Defensive Player of the Year, and finished in the top 5 of the Most Valuable Player Award. Also, Dwight and the Magic beat LeBron and the Cavaliers to get to the NBA finals that year. The Magic lost to the Lakers in the finals. Even though his team fell just short of the ultimate goal, the world was now aware of the force Dwight Howard was. Howard continued to play well on both sides of the ball finishing in the top 5 in MVP voting 4 times and winning 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Dwight had become a top 5 NBA player and a top 10 defensive player all time. Despite his individual success the Magic would not get back to the NBA finals. This may have caused some issues between him and coach Stan Van Gundy. Their relationship seemed to be strained and this led to the moment where I believe the NBA world turn on Dwight Howard.
The look on Stan’s face says it all. Stan believed that Dwight went to upper management asking them to fire him. Right after he said that Dwight came in trying to be affectionate. It looked disingenuous to say the least. Things went downhill from there both Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard ended up leaving Orlando. Howard left via a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. An elite big man going from Orlando to LA, sounds familiar, Dwight just could not avoid the Shaq comparison.
Dwight Howard only spent one season in LA. A season that most Lakers fans want to forget. It was actually the last season the Lakers were competitively relevant. Howard played most of that season with multiple injuries. He was not the only one battling injuries as Steve Nash’s body broke down and Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon late in the season. Even with all those issues the blame fell on Howard as he averaged 17.1 points, 12. 4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, Dwight led the league in rebounds that season. Howard moved on to Houston that off-season.
For the last three seasons, he has helped get the Houston Rockets to the playoffs. The Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals during the 2014-15 season. Dwight played great during the playoffs, averaging 16.4 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. This past season his frustration grew with his lack of touches on offense and now he is moving on to Atlanta.
The title of this article is time for a change. I choose that title because I believe this change of scenery will be good for Howard. In the Atlanta Hawks system, I believe he can get back to being an all-star caliber player. I also believe it is time for us to change the way we look at or judge Dwight Howard. We have held him to the standards of 90’s post up centers, in particular Shaq, when that style of play is no longer considered efficient. Howard will never be an offensive force like Shaq, but he is a better defensive player and rebounder than Shaq was. Dwight has led the league in rebounds per game 5 times, and blocks per game 2 times. Shaq did not accomplish either feat once during his career. Don’t get me wrong Shaq is the better player, but these facts should be pointed out. Dwight Howard is a future 1st ballad hall of famer and basketball fans should appreciate Dwight for Dwight.