Before NBA free agency even began, the reports started flying hot and heavy that Dwight Howard might be set to join the Lakers for the third time in his career. Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Howard was “ready to return,” and Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register added that Howard “might be in the mix to return.” NBA insider Marc Stein reported that said return was viewed in league circles as “inevitable.” Former teammate Jared Dudley was even in the veteran center’s Instagram comments telling him it was “time to come home.”
Well, rumors and social media signals are no longer necessary, as according to multiple reports (and Dwight himself), Howard is set to come back, returning home to the team he won the 2020 championship with after just one season with the Philadelphia 76ers:
Free agent Dwight Howard is returning to the Lakers, his agent Qais Haider tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 2, 2021
Howard’s return is an extremely welcome addition for a team that missed him last season. While Howard — like many of the team’s veteran targets in free agency — is no longer what he once was, he has demonstrated that he can still be a positive presence with his defensive instincts, physicality and ruthless screen-setting. He will also give Los Angeles the sort of aerial spacing they missed in the wake of his and JaVale McGee’s departures last offseason.
Howard’s per-36 minutes averages were also nearly identical to or better than his last Lakers season in his one year with the Sixers. At 35, he’s starting to lose a step athletically, but still making up for it with his defensive IQ and toughness. Alongside lob throwers like LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, he will also feast on dunks at times, while giving this overhauled roster some extra defensive continuity.
If you're wondering how Dwight did a year away from LA, here's a look at his impact data.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 2, 2021
Basically the exact same as his time in LA on the title team and in the same roles on offense & defense.
I freaking love this query/leaderboards toolhttps://t.co/d5UxZrtDtT pic.twitter.com/g7eG7qttYV
With Howard in tow, it will be interesting to see what happens with Marc Gasol. With Anthony Davis set to play more center, how the 36-year-old veteran fits into the Lakers’ plans is unknown. Gasol is currently under contract for next season, but also could simply choose to retire. How many big men the Lakers want to have on their roster is unclear, but if Davis is really going to play the 5 more, it seems unlikely they’d roster more than two other centers.
But those are concerns for another day. For now, Howard is home, back where he belongs after an unfortunate miscommunication last offseason, righting a wrong from last fall. Whether his return will help lead to another title remains to be seen, but as one of the best cheap center options in free agency this summer and with the Lakers having limited means to add to their roster, bringing Howard back (again) certainly can’t hurt.
This story will be updated with more information. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.