Dwight Howard’s last stint with the Los Angeles Lakers was an unmitigated disaster.
Following a trade demand in the summer of 2012 while with the Orlando Magic, Howard was dealt to Los Angeles as part of a monster four-team transaction, one that was described as a blockbuster since the big man was considered the best center in basketball at the time.
The returns did not match the hype.
L.A. didn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs that year, getting swept out of the postseason by the San Antonio Spurs, and in the offseason that followed, despite an all-out recruitment to get him to re-sign, Howard chose to leave town and sign with the Houston Rockets instead.
It wasn’t a totally clean break-up, either, which makes recent reports – courtesy of The Athletic’s Shams Charania – about the Lakers’ interest in acquiring Howard this summer in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury so surprising.
Not many expected Howard to ever don Los Angeles’ legendary purple-and-gold uniforms again, not with the way his departure from the team back in 2013 went down, and especially not years later, with his career appearing to be on its last legs.
So does the Lakers’ recent affinity for Howard actually make sense? Should they really be after the eight-time All-Star? Are there not better options out there?
According to one anonymous NBA executive who spoke to HoopsHype, the low-risk, high-reward nature of such a deal, one that would be worth the veteran minimum if it does happen, would make it a worthwhile gamble for Los Angeles. “Personal baggage aside, I would sign him,” the executive said. “He’s clearly the best player available if he’s healthy. We’ve heard the same song from him for years [as far as changing]. But for the minimum? Why not? If it doesn’t work, they move on.”
A second league exec polled by HoopsHype shared the same sentiment: “I think it’s worth the risk for them. If it doesn’t work out, they can cut bait.”
Howard, just two seasons ago, averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over 81 games as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, while ranking in the “very good” (81st percentile) range on put-backs, according to Synergy Sports. What’s more, the Hornets were 3.4 points per 100 possessions better while Howard was on the floor, proving that his output was far from empty.
Those marks tell us that Howard isn’t all that far removed from being an effective player, even despite his attitude-related flaws (which the 33-year-old claims to have gotten past), so maybe the Lakers are being savvy in their interest.
And like the two league executives said, if it doesn’t work out, Los Angeles will be able to simply cut bait by Christmas and go after another big man to add to their rotation. After all, there usually isn’t a shortage of talented veterans willing to take a pay cut to play alongside a LeBron James-led team.
However, at the same time, if the main word that keeps getting thrown around regarding this potential deal is “risky,” then why not go after one of those other options right now instead?
Joakim Noah, for example, whom Charania also mentioned as a target for the Lakers, is still available, and he might make more sense for what Los Angeles needs than Howard. Noah is a low-usage, do-the-dirty-work big man who will set hard screens, roll to the basket, get after it on the glass and defend whenever he’s on the floor.
And although he has had a plethora of injury issues over the past few years, he’s coming off a 42-game campaign where he averaged 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists nightly for the Memphis Grizzlies. Moreover, Noah posted the best per-36 numbers of his career last season, producing 15.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per 36 minutes, exemplifying the huge impact he was making in 2018-19 in limited stints of on-court action.
Those numbers certainly don’t suggest he’s anywhere near the player he was in his prime, but the Lakers don’t need someone to put up huge statistics when they have the likes of James and Anthony Davis on the roster; they need a role-playing center to suit up 15 to 20 minutes per night, one who can help make the two superstars’ lives easier.
Howard has the far higher ceiling in comparison to players like Noah or other free-agent options such as Amir Johnson and Marreese Speights, but Los Angeles can bank on JaVale McGee, who’s coming off a career campaign, to start at the 5 again and acquire a role player – one without Howard’s baggage – to play backup center.
In reality, it’ll likely be Davis playing center to close the majority of games anyway, so why should the Lakers take such a risk on someone who could end up being their third option at the 5 on most nights.
Howard has loads of talent, that much is without question, but after the way his last tenure with the Lakers ended, the issues he’s had recently not just with injuries but as a member of various locker rooms, and the fact that he’s almost 34 and coming off a season where he was only able to appear in nine games, perhaps the Lakers would be wise to look elsewhere for frontcourt help.
It’s not like Howard is going to be the difference between a championship season and an early playoff departure for the Lakers, so this is a risk that might not actually be totally worth it for Rob Pelinka and Co.
HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy contributed to this article.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.