Dwight Howard’s transformation from evil villain of the Lakers fan base to lovable role player on a championship team was a wholly unexpected development in the 2019-20 season. He became such a beloved part of that team that many fans were genuinely upset when he left the following summer in free agency.
In the same vein, his return to the Lakers this summer was welcomed across the board, a stark change from a year prior. After being given more of a prove-it deal in the 2019-20 season, Howard was signed to a guaranteed contract this season, though still a veteran’s minimum.
But with Anthony Davis playing a larger percentage of his minutes at center than in any other season in Los Angeles, Howard’s minutes have been reduced to a career low 13.4 per game. Largely speaking, his per-36 minute production has been basically the same in those minutes, albeit slightly down from his last stint in the purple and gold.
Still, that isn’t stopping Howard from discussing how undervalued he is with the Lakers this season. In an interview with Tyler Tynes of GQ, Howard said, based on analytics and advanced numbers, his contract should be four times larger than it is (emphasis mine):
I’ve seen the analytics on my last couple of seasons. In Charlotte, I averaged awesome numbers [16.2 ppg and 12.5 rpg]. I think I was in my 14th or 15th season. And I get traded? Out of nowhere?? And once I get traded a story comes out that I was a bad teammate and a cancer in the locker room and I’m not even that type of person. When I was on the Hawks the year before that I won the Teammate of the Year award. But then this story comes out? It’s like someone is putting these stories out to lower my value. And because I don’t speak on this stuff, [people] must think it’s true. It’s a lose-lose situation when you speak on that. I look at my numbers even from last year: if I was to play 20 to 25 minutes a night, I would’ve averaged over 17 rebounds a game.
The valuation from this year says I’m getting underpaid by [the Lakers] by 400%... People keep saying I’m this way or that way, that this is his reputation, this is what he does. I get it: You not gonna be the good person in everyone’s story. For some people, you gonna be the bad guy. But how could I go from the greatest person in Orlando, with the greatest smile and having fun and then it started to transform? I would see articles asking if I smiled too much. Why would you wanna take away somebody’s smile?...I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
There could be a legitimate argument that Howard has been covered unfairly at times, and that he is being underpaid relative to his production. And there was an even stronger argument for that being the case in the 2019-20 season, when Howard was a vital piece of the rotation in the playoffs. But there’s no way the Lakers or any other team were going to pay him 400% of his current contract that comes in at just over $2.5 million this season.
And this time around, Howard hasn’t had quite the same positive impact so far. And that’s not even taking into account his sideline skirmish with Davis in the second game of the season, one which took place on a national television game and thus was in the public eye for quite a while even if both sides attempted to squash it.
There also are many other counterarguments to Howard’s statements, namely in that his production generally seems to dip the more minutes he plays. The Lakers saw that firsthand in the playoffs and against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
So reading quotes like the ones above and below, and it’s hard not to raise one’s eyebrows:
You said you feel like an afterthought? Is that just on the Lakers or all around?
Both. I look at when ESPN highlights the Lakers: Obviously, they’re gonna show LeBron and Anthony Davis, or Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. And me and Rajon Rondo are left out, like we haven’t done great things in our career. Like we haven’t been amazing. We’re always left out of certain things. I try not to look too deep into it, but that shit be the case. We’ve done exceptional things in this league and still are. So, while we’re playing we should get some praise for the hard work that we put in. I don’t want nobody to kiss my butt or nothin’ like that. But appreciation should go a long way, especially when people are alive
We put so much emphasis on a ring. [People say] “he don’t have a ring, so you can’t be considered that great.” But the championship is won when you make it to the NBA. It’s the hardest shit in the world to make it..
With a character like Howard, it’s easier to overlook or live with his quirks when a team is winning. But with the Lakers losing this season, as was the case in both Atlanta and Charlotte when Howard was on the roster, then complaining about ESPN not tweeting his highlights very much isn’t nearly as endearing.
For now, there doesn't seem to be much — fracas with Davis aside — to indicate the Lakers and Howard are souring on one another. But these quotes, paired with his previous stops in his career and his earlier annoyance at being left off the NBA top 75 list, certainly make it seem that he’s feeling less than fully appreciated right now. Whether that changes (or matters for the team) ultimately can’t be known until the season gets further underway, but all of this is worth keeping an eye on.