Dwight Howard had a redemption season for the ages in his return to Los Angeles, accepting a role off the bench after volunteering to take a non-guaranteed contract to show how committed he was to the Lakers. But after helping the team win a title, he (understandably) was seeking a payday in free agency, and it was one the Lakers were evidently unwilling to provide.
For a minute, it seemed like that might not be the case. Howard initially tweeted that he’d be staying with the Lakers in the opening hours of free agency:
I don’t know. This was on Dwight’s Twitter page five minutes ago, and is not now. Make of it what you will: pic.twitter.com/WqQw7PaOxF— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) November 21, 2020
He quickly deleted that report though, and a few hours later, his agent announce Howard would depart for the Philadelphia 76ers, and he’ll do so on a veteran’s minimum deal:
Typed too fast. The contract with Dwight Howard is guaranteed. My mistake. Everything else is the same. Sixers needed a backup C. He was on his best behavior in L.A. during the season and had a strong playoffs, most notably against Denver. A gamble, but he could help.— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) November 21, 2020
What happened? Apparently a serious miscommunication, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:
However, sources within the organization are adamant that a formal offer was never made, maintaining that dialogue was merely a “deal concept.”
Howard thought if he agreed to the “deal concept” that it was a done deal, sources said.
He was forced to delete his tweet.
Lakers management informed Howard’s agent that they had to consult with team ownership and seek approval before making an official offer, sources said. Howard waited for nearly an hour without hearing back, sources said. Communication was strictly between the Lakers front office and Howard’s agent, sources said.
All that weirdness aside, Howard was huge for the Lakers this year, and that deserves to be recognized. He averaged 7.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 72.9% from the field while coming off of the bench for the Lakers during the 2019-20 season, and never once asked for post touches or groused about his role in the way he had at so many previous stops. Instead, Howard just did the things that make him valuable in the NBA in 2020: Defended his ass off, set screens with a gleeful brutality that towed the lines of legality, all while taking 88% of his shots at the rim while having 27.6 of his offense coming on putbacks.
He (and JaVale McGee) platooned at center at a borderline All-Star level during the regular season before happily retreating into the background to serve as the world’s biggest cheerleader whenever he didn’t need to put the clamps on Nikola Jokic during the playoffs. It may not have been the best statistical season of Howard’s Hall-of-Fame career, but it was the most successful, and after becoming the butt of more jokes than his talent should have allowed, that’s probably all that matters to the artist formerly known as Superman. It’s also probably why the Lakers were eager enough to have him back that they reportedly called him three times a day prior to free agency.
That interest wasn’t enough to overcome a grave mistake and the Sixers making him feel more wanted in the aftermath of it, and so this one-season, mutually beneficial reunion that saw Howard make up for his disastrous first tenure in purple and gold will come to an end. Still, the Lakers and their fans can be grateful for what Howard gave them, and both sides will always be champions as a result of their unexpectedly productive partnership.
That’s worth celebrating, even if it won’t continue, and despite it falling apart in the weirdest way imaginable.