No, you weren’t having a fever-dream driven by the usual lack of content in August: The Los Angeles Lakers are actually planning to sign Dwight Howard when he clears waivers following his buyout with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Howard’s contract will reportedly be non-guaranteed, although Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports that such a deal isn’t because Howard doesn’t look good — his workout went well, by all accounts — but rather just so that the Lakers can make sure that Howard is actually serious about staying within a more limited role than he has been during the last few seasons, when he made similar guarantees to his former teams:
Howard came to meet Lakers after dropping 25 pounds; showed his back was healthy. Lakers want him to protect rim/rebound in limited role. There was sense Howard realized he hit "rock bottom" and had been humbled. Still they'll judge him on actions, not words. He's been warned.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 23, 2019
How did the Lakers get any level of confidence that they could trust Howard’s sincerity this time around? Well, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, it was a fairly lengthy process that actually began before Howard’s actual workout, with a visit to his former USA Basketball teammate and now Lakers
coup master in waiting assistant coach Jason Kidd:
After the Lakers and Briscoe were given permission to seek the opportunity by the Grizzlies, Howard and Kidd were able to connect in person, league sources told The Athletic. They discussed life, their playing days together, the possibility of Howard joining the Lakers.
Howard’s message to Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked. He has accepted it — as much as those in the basketball community have doubted his words.
If Howard actually is serious this time — a big if when he’s concerned — then even as an older player, he would still appear to be someone whose skill set could help the Lakers. He apparently convinced Kidd of as much, according to Charania, and when Howard showed up for his workout, there were a few Lakers players there to greet him. Similarly to Kidd, it sounds like they (and the rest of the team’s brain trust aside from Kidd) liked what they heard:
Word traveled around the roster, and Davis, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee spent time with Howard inside the team’s facility Thursday. They wanted to know whether they could trust Howard, whether Howard’s mindset would fit this team.
League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.
Howard is right on all counts there, and while it’s impossible to know if he’ll actually follow through on his words this time, at least the Lakers took precautions (his non-guaranteed contract, mainly) to ensure they have options should Howard not be quite so willing to do whatever it takes to win once he’s actually asked to do so.
It’s more than fair to approach all of this with skepticism for now given Howard’s past, and it appears the Lakers are doing so. Whether you agree with their reasoning for giving Howard this much of a chance or not, at least we know what it is now. All that’s left to see is if he can take advantage of what is probably his final shot to stay in the NBA.