There was a year where I wouldn't even type Dwight Howard's name. "The former Lakers' center". "Houston's new big man". "The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year". I used every pseudonym JUST to avoid even typing his name. That's how much I hated him.
But looking at the summer landscape, is the Lakers re-signing Howard the worst idea ever?
Seriously, I mean it ... don't answer just yet.
Kevin Durant isn't walking through that door. Probably.
The 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player is on the third-best team in the Western Conference, teaming up with a fellow top-10 player in the league named Russell Westbrook. Barring injuries, that team will always be considered, at the very least, a fringe contender for the title. As a free agent this summer, KD could either re-sign with his current team or move on to a few other rumored locations.
His hometown Washington Wizards, already armed with All-Star John Wall and excellent youngsters Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, Jr.
The Miami Heat, with the aging All-Star duo of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as Goran Dragic.
Or maybe he'd manufacture a sign-and-trade deal with ... the World Champion Golden State Warriors.
Yeah, Kevin Durant isn't walking through that door.
What about DeMar DeRozan, a trendy choice for a potential future Laker? As one of the marquee free agents this summer, he could leave the Toronto Raptors and return to his hometown as a conquering hero. But would he leave one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference? A position that automatically makes getting to the NBA Finals all that much easier?
DeMar DeRozan probably isn't walking through that door.
What about Al Horford, center for the Atlanta Hawks? With the core of the team aging, would the big man maybe want a young core to start over with? Surely the Lakers fit that category. Well, so do a bunch of other teams with much better starting places. The New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards all fit that bill. The Lakers, with their unproven young core, might not be a fit for the 30 year-old Horford ... right now.
Al Horford isn't walking through that door.
What about Mike Conley, Jr., perennial almost-All-Star for the Memphis Grizzlies? With the Grit & Grind window just about shut, perhaps the youngest member of that team's core could move on. The existence of Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell makes a pairing in LA unlikely, though.
Mike Conley, Jr. isn't walking through that door.
The truth is, the Lakers need star power, for on-court and off-court reasons this summer. The Kobe Bryant Retirement Tour will be over and once again, the onus will be on the product on the floor. The Lakers will be at risk of missing the playoffs for a record fourth consecutive season, an ignominious distinction the franchise is certain to not be eager to achieve. Attracting a marquee name like Kevin Durant is ideal, but even a less-than-household name like DeRozan, Horford or Conley could be the jump start the organization needs to grab another star in the future, such as Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin. At that point, is another championship run that far-fetched of a notion?
The Lakers, seemingly for once in their long, storied existence, are still trying to act like the team captain when the playing field has been absolutely leveled. With the salary cap exploding this summer, almost every team in the league has ample room to offer maximum salary to free agents. Many teams, regardless of if they're playoff contenders or bottom-feeding lottery losers, will be able to bid for the services of Durant, DeRozan, Horford and their ilk. The Lakers can no longer throw their financial steel around when most of the league looks equipped with the same type of hardware.
Even the young core of the team doesn't look quite as appealing just yet. The Lakers will no doubt be coming off their second consecutive 60-loss season. Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr. may all be very good or even All-Star players at some point in their careers, but that point is almost certainly not next season. For any player in his prime -- Horford, Durant and DeRozan -- joining a squad that may not be ready to compete for a title for another few years isn't necessarily the best option. The Lakers may have the money but they don't necessarily have the optimal situations for the most prime free agents.Those illustrations of the situations the 2016 NBA Free Agent class simply highlight the inherent difficulties of the Lakers signing them.
So, who does that leave? The second tier of free agents. Even if they're not in the running for the most premium guys on the board, the Lakers need the mere appearance that they can still grab a desirable free agent. They need to build on top of what they already have. The progress is apparent but if LA will ever have a shot of signing another top guy in free agency, the situation needs to be ripe with young guys ready to explode to the next level and an established veteran in their ranks as well. Kevin Garnett didn't just want to come to the Celtics because of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. He also wanted to join up with two promising youngsters named Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. So again, who are we looking at here?
Could the Lakers throw max salary at Harrison Barnes, a restricted free agent in the Bay? Nicolas Batum, still 27? The mercurial Hassan Whiteside?
They're all certainly young enough to fit with the general age group of the Lakers. The front office should certainly target them, but with teams like the Warriors being able to match contracts and both Miami and Charlotte being able to offer more years and money, who knows if coming to the Lakers is even a viable financial option. Still, it feels like the Lakers need to throw their time and money down this avenue. Time is of the essence in free agency, as the Lakers have learned the past several offseasons when they essentially signed no one while their pursuits of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge went nowhere.
The Lakers are in need of help, any way they can get it. They have free agent money to spend and two massive holes at small forward and center. They need to get better not only for the present, but to build for the future. They aren't the perfect destination for the most premium free agents. So who else fits the mold here?
Nah. They couldn't. They wouldn't. But ... should they?
Would the Lakers be insane to try to sign Dwight Howard this summer?
It's not the worst idea. I mean, probably.
First and foremost, if my records are correct, STAPLES Center is up to fire code and could most likely withstand any Kupchak-shaped effigies outside the arena. I also believe, but am not certain, that the internet can not actually break. Even if this were to occur, nothing would happen to the world wide web. Finally, it's not impossible.
Let's tackle that part first before we get into the "why" this is even possible. Put away your digital pitchforks, you savages. Let's look at the "how".
The Lakers have the money, that's certain. From my colleague Ben Rosales, here's how the money would roll out:
[Dwight] has over ten years of service in the league, so he qualifies for the 35% max. Assuming an $89 million cap, the Lakers could offer a four-year deal that starts at $31.1 million. Assuming 4.5% raises each year, that's like, $133 million over four years.
(What I left out here was that Ben followed up these three sentences with "Mind you, the Lakers (and any other team) would be fucking insane to offer him a deal like that")
This deal would be one year less and roughly $35 million less than what his current team, the Houston Rockets, could offer him. With the cap rising to astronomical heights this summer and even assuming re-signing Jordan Clarkson could take as much as $15 million per season, the Lakers could have as much as $50 million to spend on free agents. Not bad. That would certainly fit a max contract to Howard. That being said, why would Dwight leave money on the table once again to move to another city for ostensibly less money and fewer years, especially now that he's three years older? And why would the Rockets let him to leave?
What about his time in Houston suggests that they are eager to sign him to a five-year contract or to such a steep max deal? And with all the trade rumors that flew as furiously as Superman himself once did, what's to say that they are committed to keeping him this summer? With players like Clint Capela and (perhaps) Donatas Montejunas in the wings ready to step in at the center position, the Rockets are poised to move on, for a fraction of the cost. The point is that the door is open for Dwight to leave Houston, not only because of the situation at hand, but also because they might not be ready to offer him more money than anyone else.
And maybe that's the big, flashing red light that everyone's caught on to. Howard's name brand has exceeded his actual production. D12's current numbers aren't too far off their career marks, except for his scoring, which is clearly a symptom of more than two shots less per game. However, it's clear that he's not the same athlete he once was. Howard isn't the explosive 20-something-year-old powder keg that pummeled defenses and crippled opposing big men. He's no longer rocking the rim on every possession with dunks that seem to challenge the laws of physics. Instead, he'll settle for a lay-in off the glass or a jump hook that seems to always find the back iron. He's 30 years old, with a bad back and at least one balky knee. Despite his age, Howard is 22nd among active players in minutes played, just behind Zach Randolph, Metta World Peace and Tayshaun Prince, all of whom are in their mid-30s. For a center whose game has been mainly predicated on athleticism, it's apparent that Dwight's natural gifts are leaving his still-Adonis-like frame.
So why? Why would the Lakers sign this guy? Why would they bother with the headache and the backlash from fans still burned from their last dalliance with The Indecision?
Because they need him.
In case you haven't been paying attention the past two seasons, the Lakers have been absolutely one of the most abysmal defensive squads in the NBA. The team has no discipline defensively, highlighted by their horrid protection of the basket. This season the Lakers are second worst in opponents' field goal percetnage at the rim at .668, while last season they tied for fifth-worst at .649. They are easily in the bottom third of the league in blocked shots and while it's an unofficial stat, have to lead the NBA in "waltzed lay-ins".
In the three seasons that the Lakers have seen since Dwight left town, the likes of Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre, Jordan Hill, Tarik Black, Pau Gasol and the corpse of Roy Hibbert have been the ones primarily guarding the painted area, a far cry from a three-time former Defensive Player of the Year. Tie this in with some putrid perimeter defense and a coach who's seen his last five squads languish toward the bottom of defensive efficiency, and you've got some of the worst defense the league has seen over this three season period.
Again, Dwight isn't the force he once was on the defensive end. Hell, his Rockets team is one of the worst defensive teams in the league, routinely allowing laughable point totals to opposing teams. However, according to NBA tracking, opponents are still shooting a lower percentage than average on shots within six feet of him, with Dwight patrolling the paint and still acting as a legit deterrent for any player that's likely gotten past James Harden.
Offensively, the Lakers could stand to be helped by his presence as well. No, Dwight hasn't improved on his post-up possessions. They're as ugly as ever, mostly ending in that hideous jump hook or a push shot that comes too hard off his hands. However, he's a constant pick-and-roll threat and an alley-oop waiting to happen. The Lakers haven't been able to complement Clarkson and Russell with an athletic big in the middle, adding to their already burgeoning offensive repertoire. Like the Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan connection of recent years, CP3's arsenal has expanded with such a powerful force threatening to dunk at any moment.
Dwight is declining, there's no doubt about that. However, even with his athleticism fading, Howard is still a very, very good player that fills several needs of this young Lakers team. His defensive ability, rebounding and (now) underrated offensive contributions could fill a gigantic hole LA has at the center position, with no immediate help coming any time soon in the form of prospects. While their personalities are reportedly clashing, last season was evidence of the success he and a player like Harden could have on the court together. The same skill set could be present in D'Angelo Russell. Why would the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard? Because they should.
Oh, you wanted to know that "why". As in, "why the fuck would we want to deal with that again?"
There's no question that they don't want to. And in all likelihood, will not.
Dwight's reputation and standing as one of the faces of the NBA has unquestionably taken a hit in the last five seasons. From his waffling in Orlando to his health issues to statistical decline, Howard's star has dimmed considerably. While those are all reasons, a large, large portion has to be because Dwight has been a large, large pain in the ass. Whether he was winning or losing, in a major market or middling one, the focus of the offense or a second option, the big man can't seem to stay happy for more than a few months at a time. He turned down millions to join the Rockets, only to be in the middle of trade rumors just two years later. He allegedly was angling to make a move to Milwaukee -- a team well out of the playoffs, mind you -- from a Houston squad that's still in the postseason picture. Now, he may have very well been the same temperamental headcase with the Magic as well, but he was a monster player and an MVP candidate at the time. Exceptions are made for the exceptional.
Now, we're looking at a flawed player with a flawed personality hitting the market at age 30, potentially going to a team where he's got a sour history. Why would the Lakers want to engage in that... again?
Because they're all dressed up for prom and ain't got no one to go with.
For all their money and perceived prestige, the Lakers will likely be holding the bag once again this summer with little to show for it. Yes, there are guys on the market they want and yes, they have dollars to wave and yes, they have a massive need for established talent. But none of the first or even second tier guys are coming. To make matters worse, they need a multitude of those guys. Not just one. Two or three, maybe. I just don't think that's happening. Last summer, they were fishing for LaMarcus Aldridge. Instead, they got Brandon Bass and Lou Williams. Just a *tad* anticlimactic.
If the Lakers go fishing for Kevin Durant this summer and hook Dwight Howard instead, would that be so anti-climactic? A veteran defensive center filling a position of need? A very good one, at that?
Now, as Ben pointed out, the Lakers would be insane to offer Howard the max contract possible. He's just not worth $30 million dollars, even with an exploding cap and money to spend. However, is Dwight worth $100 million over four years? $90 over that same time frame? Is anyone else going to give him that? Does anyone else need him like the Lakers need him? LA cannot afford to be bad again next season. An established player like Dwight could go a long way to allaying that potential catastrophe.
Would fans be furious? Most likely. Would they be perplexed? Certainly. But would he help? Absolutely.
This is all probably a moot point. I highly doubt the Lakers want to dip into these shark-infested waters again and I don't think John Black has any more hair to lose. Dwight can't be eager to come back to LA and these fans, no matter how far away Kobe Bryant is from that locker room.