LOS ANGELES — The year is 2019, and Dwight Howard was on the court dominating in a Lakers uniform last night. Dominating a preseason game, sure, but even with Howard having been signed to the team for weeks, actually watching him take the floor at Staples Center and earn cheers from the home crowd again was strange to watch and experience.
Perhaps for no one more so than Howard himself.
”It’s kind of weird, being back out there, but I’m very thankful to be playing with the Lakers again. I’ve always loved this place. Despite how things ended the last time, I never lost any love for the fans or the people here. I love playing in this building,” Howard said. “It was weird at first, but I’m just happy to be back home.”
And if you think Howard talking up his love for Lakers fans is strange to hear, the only thing stranger was what he credited for his success on the evening: A pregame talk with Jared Dudley in which the two discussed an old philosophy of... Mike D’Antoni? Like, former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni? The same Mike D’Antoni feuded with endlessly while in L.A. the first time?
Yup, the very same.
“I understand that if we want to win, we have to make sure that we move the ball. Me and Dudz talked before the game, there is a quote that Mike D’Antoni used to say: ‘The ball finds energy,’” Howard said. “Good things end up happening that way. It’s not about how many points or anything like that, it’s about how we can make each other better.”
The ball found energy, all right, in no small part to Howard, who dished six assists in the team’s preseason win over the Golden State Warriors. a tally he’s only reached It was only the seven times previously in his 1044 games in the NBA. And if a pass-happy, D’Antoni-ism-spouting, Lakers-jersey-donning, 2019 Dwight Howard is enough to make you wonder if you’re halucinating, you’re not. Howard says this is just his strategy to try and find the ways he can help the team most.
“My biggest thing is just being the best Dwight I can be for the team. Complementing those guys, setting screens, rolling to the basket, making sure those guys get open shots,” Howard said. “Coach calls me ‘The Designated Hitter’ so I’ve always got to make sure I set really solid screens and just be the presence that our team needs on the defensive end.”
Whether Howard can live up to all that for the entire regular season remains an open question, but he says he’s feeling all the way better after injuries limited him to just nine games for the Washington Wizards last season, and thinks that in a few weeks he’ll feel even more improved. He also said he’s been watching Anthony Davis and LeBron James, looking for ways he can help make them better.
Neither James nor Davis played on Monday night, but all of Howard’s able passing made it seem as though he’s figuring out his other teammates, too.
“I’ve played with those guys a lot since I got signed to the team, so we basically know our spots,” Howard said. “Whatever I can do to make my teammates better, I’m going to do it.”
There is still a long way to go, but if Howard actually follows through on that last promise, he won’t just be a different Dwight Howard than he was when he left Los Angeles the first time. He’ll be a Dwight Howard who gets a different result, too.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.