On August 18, 2019, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that, in the aftermath of DeMarcus Cousins’ devastating ACL injury, the Los Angeles Lakers were going to request permission to speak to Dwight Howard, who at the time was under contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Then, all hell broke loose.
“Dwight Howard? The same Dwight Howard that couldn’t win a playoff series while he was with the Lakers? The same Dwight Howard that left Los Angeles to sign with the Houston Rockets in 2013? The same Dwight Howard that tried to pick a fight with Kobe Bryant mid-game? That Dwight Howard?”
As hard of a pill as it was to swallow initially, it was that Dwight Howard — at least on the surface. This iteration of Howard, though, is different in a few ways.
For starters, Howard is no longer the All-NBA center he used to be, and if his stats don’t paint a clear picture of that, the fact that he’s been on five teams in five seasons should. However, unlike the Howard of a few years ago, he doesn’t care that he’s not a star anymore, and if he does, he’s done a great job of hiding it.
During an Instagram Live Q&A with Jared Dudley, Howard talked about the maturation process he needed to go through before he re-signed with the Lakers, and the struggles that he had early on:
“Coming back to the team, I just said, ‘You know what? I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about how many points I score, how many rebounds I get, who gets the praise, how many minutes I play, if my name is going to be in the newspaper, or any of that stuff. I don’t care. None of that stuff even matters — there’s no ego. Just go in there and do whatever the team is asking you to do. If that’s running up and down the court and playing great defense, if that’s on the bench being the biggest cheerleader, if that’s throwing up the toss for LeBron for the powder before the game, just do it wholeheartedly and not worry about what people might say about it.’ That was just my mindset coming into the whole situation, and it’s worked out great.
“It’s hard. It was hard at first, having to accept it and letting all that stuff go, but once I did it, it was like the best thing in the world. It’s like freedom.”
It’s hard for any star to come to terms with the fact that they’re not at the top of their game anymore, but it must have been especially hard for Howard because of the drastic changes the league has gone through in recent years. While All-Star big men are making a comeback, none of them play the Howard used to.
Fortunately for Howard, there is still a place on an NBA roster for someone that can block shots, set screens, rebound and play above the rim, even though it’s not always a starting spot. Howard may feel differently, but he’s not letting his pride dictate his success anymore, and he deserves a ton of credit for that. The Lakers also deserve some credit for allowing Howard to adjust to his new role and, most importantly, be himself.
It may have not been a perfect marriage at first, but the Lakers and Howard seem to be doing everything right this time around, and they’re both reaping the benefits.