At this point it seems safe to guess that new Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel is a big fan of the team’s addition of Dwight Howard.
After DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season with an ACL injury, the Lakers were left to scrape the bottom of the barrel in free agency. While that obviously wasn’t the team’s Plan A, Vogel does seem to think the front office made the best decision possible in adding Howard.
Vogel has previously said that he believes that Howard has changed his ways and understands he’s more of a role player now. In a Q&A session with Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, Vogel added that he actually thinks Howard can excel in such a role (emphasis mine):
SA: Where is Dwight Howard at physically and mentally? Do you have a sense for what he wants to accomplish now and for his legacy with however much longer he hopes to play?
FV: I think he’s excited about this opportunity with the Lakers. It’s very different from the first time he came through. Then, he was a mega-star coming in with two other mega-stars [Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash]. This time around, he’s had a few teams where they haven’t had great success. And he’s at a different point, age-wise, in his career. So he’s excited just to be part of something, in any way he can help. He knows it’s going to be more of a role player type of role.
SA: And that’s acceptable to him?
FV: It’s definitely acceptable. He’s excited about it. And he has the ability to be one of the best at it in the league. He’s going to be concentrating on that. I’ll be defining what we’ll expecting of him, in terms of defending and rebounding and screen-setting and lob-catching and all those things. He’s willing to accept any role that I lay out in front of him. We’ve had a great start to our relationship. He’s in a great place mentally.
Howard has previously stated that he sees his role in much the same way that Vogel just outlined, so the good news for the team is that they seem to be on the same page so far.
But the issue with Howard has never really been that he hasn’t said the right things at the start of his fresh starts. It’s whether or not he actually delivers on his words for an entire season. Thus far in his career he has mostly been unwilling to change the way he wants to play, but maybe going unwanted all the way into August was a wake-up call. There are reasons to be skeptical that Howard has changed or can help, but things like what Vogel is saying above are among the reasons to be optimistic.
And if Howard actually commits to just rebounding, defending, screening and finishing? Then he could not only make an impact, he could be exactly what the Lakers needed.
Would that make Howard one of the best role players in the league, as Vogel suggests he could be? That probably depends on how one defines the category, but ultimately the only thing that matters is how good of a role player he is for the Lakers specifically.
It’s also fair to point out that part of this is just that it’s September right now, and training camp hasn’t begun yet. Everyone in the league is optimistic about every player on their team, at least publicly. Vogel has also said Phil Jackson is a big coaching influence on him, and this could be him channeling his inner Zen Master to coach Howard a bit through the media, to make sure his new center — who has struggled with not getting credit in the past — feels like he’s being properly appreciated for the touches and opportunities he probably feels like he’s sacrificing.
But whatever Vogel actually believes, with Anthony Davis not wanting to play center a ton, the Lakers will need either Howard or JaVale McGee (or both) to play well enough to stay on the floor for extended stretches in the regular season. If they can’t, the team might be in a bit of trouble. Howard accepting his role will go a long way towards the former happening, and so all Lakers fans should be hoping that Vogel is right about how Howard is approaching things.
Only time will tell if he is.