The way things ended between Dwight Howard and the Lakers in free agency last offseason was an extremely unfortunate end to a storybook second stint in purple and gold for the veteran center.
After things ended badly between the two following Howard’s infamous first season with the Lakers in 2013, his return as a world-class backup center in the 2019 offseason resulted in him playing an instrumental role in the team’s 2020 championship. Howard had found a true home as a beloved locker room presence and defensive anchor, and made it clear at the time he wanted to return in free agency.
The Lakers wanted him back, too, to the point that they were reportedly calling him three times a week to put in their pitch. But when free agency began, there was a miscommunication, with Howard initially sending a tweet announcing how thrilled he was to return to Los Angeles before quickly deleting it a few minutes later, realizing the team had not made him a firm commitment.
“I really thought I was going back. But it was no offer,” Howard told ESPN later.
He quickly recovered, signing a veteran’s minimum deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, but it never sat right with many fans that Howard was essentially the butt of a joke on the way out after playing such a key part in the team’s championship run. Well, according to Brad Turner of the L.A. Times, the Lakers and Howard may agree, because it sounds like they could be set for a reunion when free agency opens up on Monday:
Guess who might be back for a third time? Yup, Dwight Howard is ready to return and play center.
Howard’s return would not only right the wrongs of his messy exit, but would also give the Lakers the kind of defensive presence and aerial threat they sorely missed almost immediately after his departure.
Howard is no longer the three-time Defensive Player of the Year he was in his 20s, but the 35-year-old is still a reliable and productive backup, one who averaged 14.5 points, 17.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per-36 minutes last season (he averaged 17.6 minutes per game), just as good of production as he gave the Lakers during their title campaign. With Russell Westbrook’s lob passing to go with LeBron James’, Howard would feast on open dunks when teams forget about him while setting the ruthless screens and hard fouls he’s become known for, in addition to offering more than solid rim protection and defensive rotations.
As things stand right now, the Lakers only have Marc Gasol under contract at center. But he will turn 37 next season, and may choose to retire rather than return. But either way, getting Howard back to spell Anthony Davis at the five or play alongside him at times would be a coup, not just an act of karmic justice, but an on-court fix as well. If he’s really available, the Lakers should make sure their communication is clear this year: It’s time to come home, Dwight. You can post your tweet.
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