When the Los Angeles Lakers made the controversial decision to bring back Dwight Howard in August, they made sure to protect themselves by making his contract non-guaranteed. For as talented as Howard is, his head hasn’t always been in the right place, which has led to his fall from grace over the last few years.
While it’s still early in the season, Howard seems to be playing his most inspired basketball in years with the Lakers, and his coaches and teammates aren’t letting his effort go unnoticed.
After the Lakers’ 120-101 win over the Charlotte Hornets, in which Howard tallied 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks again his former team, head coach Frank Vogel praised Howard for buying into his role and said that there may be an opportunity for the 33-year-old to break into the starting lineup:
“He protected the rim. Anything that came to the basket he either blocked or changed. ... He was a star in his role tonight.” - Vogel says of Dwight Howard— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) October 28, 2019
Frank Vogel on Dwight’s performance: “Tonight, he was off the charts. Defensively is where I felt like he was dominant. 16, 10 and 4 blocks is a hell of a night.”— Lauren A. Jones (@LoJoMedia) October 28, 2019
On starting: “We reevaluate after every game. A performance like that certainly makes the case.” pic.twitter.com/RZa8Hxiebg
LeBron James also gave props to Howard for the intensity he played with (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“That’s why we brought him here… We believed in him and his word, and he’s making the most of it. We’re truly excited to have him here right now.”
The Lakers re-signed JaVale McGee to a “1+1” deal this summer and the expectation was that McGee would assume his role as the team’s starting center. However, through three games, Howard has the highest net rating on the team at +27.9. Alex Caruso is a distant second at +18.
Meanwhile, McGee has struggled to rediscover his form from last season and has posted a net rating of -12.6. Again, it’s early in the season, but Howard has been the best center on the team by a wide margin so far.
Howard doesn’t sound too concerned about starting, though. Instead, Howard’s primary concern is playing the right way and helping the Lakers win as many games as possible, with the hope of adding a championship to his already stacked resume:
Dwight Howard on his reception at Staples Center last night, and his "one goal" with the team this year pic.twitter.com/weZ8QN4nz2— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 28, 2019
That type of attitude is why Howard has a job in the NBA and as long as he keeps it up, it’s safe to assume his spot on the roster is safe — assuming it isn’t already. Howard’s $2.5 million salary becomes guaranteed on Jan. 1.
The decision to bring back Howard was a risky one for the Lakers, especially because he took the final roster spot, but it’s one that has paid off for them so far. Let’s hope Howard continues his progression both on and off the court.