On Monday night, Dwight Howard announced that he will join the Los Angeles Lakers for the resumption of the NBA season in Orlando following weeks of speculation that he might do otherwise.
Howard has been tremendous for the Lakers in his second stint with the team, averaging 7.5 points per game on 73.2% shooting from the field, in addition 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, all while averaging 19.2 points per game. No other player has been able to match Howard’s per game averages while averaging less than 20 minutes per game this season.
Howard’s also posting his best defensive box plus-minus (+1.4) since the 2011-12 season, which was his last season with the Orlando Magic. While Howard — now 34 years old — isn’t the All-NBA center he was with the Magic, he’s still been an effective player for the Lakers, and his teammates are happy to have him on board.
During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Kuzma talked about how valuable Howard has been for the Lakers on the court.
“I think everybody knows what kind of presence he’s been for us,” Kuzma said. “He’s been obviously a key piece. Everyone is a key piece on this team. We took a blow, took a hit when Avery opted out, but we had a lot of good pieces, a lot of good experience and Dwight has been a good spark from us off the bench as a paint protector, and he actually changed a lot of games for us.
“I’m glad he’s with us, glad he’s on board and I’ve excited to have my guys back in the bubble.”
Howard has been just as valuable off the floor as he’s been on it, according to Danny Green.
“Dwight has been a great teammate all year, been a teammate that’s always been there for people on and off the floor,” Green said on Tuesday. “Playing with no ego, having one common goal, and we’re just happy to have him come back and be able to join our team for Orlando. I think it’s great for us.”
Kuzma said he’s been in communication with Howard since the season’s suspension because Howard’s been “going through a lot,” which is probably an understatement. On top of the hurt he’s felt for the victims of racial injustice and police brutality in the United States, he’s had to cope with the death of the mother of his six-year-old son, Melissa Rios, and the death of his former teammate Kobe Bryant.
For that reason, Howard going to Orlando is commendable on its own. The fact that he’s donating the remainder of his salary to his non-profit campaign Breathe Again is just another testament to Howard’s courage and kindness.
Any expectations Lakers fans Howard’s second go-round in Los Angeles have been shattered, both on and off the court, and it’s going to be really easy to root for him during his pursuit of his first NBA championship.