The Wizards made their biggest move of the 2018 offseason when they decided to sign center Dwight Howard. Howard had previously been traded by Charlotte to Brooklyn, the latter buying him out of his contract. Howard is not the player who dominated the league on both sides of the ball in Orlando nearly a decade ago, but he is still one of the better players at his position. Much has been made of Howard’s perceived locker room troubles, but if the production remains, the Wizards may have one of the steals of free agency.
In the 2017-18 season, Dwight Howard (at 32 years old) averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game for the Hornets. He played roughly 30 minutes a game and only missed one game all season. Howard’s rebounds per game average was third in the entire league, behind only DeAndre Jordan and All-Star Andre Drummond. Howard also shot 55 percent from the field, just missing the top-10 in the league. On paper, he’ll be an upgrade over the Wizards’ previous center in Marcin Gortat. Gortat averaged 8.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, his lowest output in both categories since joining the Wizards.
All of this sounds great in theory, but Howard has been a lightning rod for controversy and locker room turmoil for much of his career. His time in Orlando ended with a nasty split from an organization, city, and fanbase that previously loved him. He famously butted heads with Kobe Bryant during his stint with the Lakers. Howard’s chemistry with James Harden in Houston left something to be desired, and it can be argued that the pair underachieved as a result. After short stints in both Atlanta and Charlotte, Howard finds himself on another team with the potential to make some noise in the playoffs. The question is: can the locker room stand to have him?
The Wizards have a clear hierarchy of stars on their team, with John Wall and Bradley Beal clearly at the top of the food chain. If the Wizards are to be successful, it won’t be with Howard as the main option. That likely means Howard won’t get as many isolated opportunities to create for himself in the post. Dwight will instead be expected to do a lot of the dirty work. That means grabbing rebounds, running to the rim, and defending on the low block. If he can buy into that role, it should spell success for the Wizards. John Wall is one of the better playmakers in the league, and he should be able to find Howard for easy scoring opportunities. If the chemistry is there, Wall and Howard could be a formidable duo in the pick and roll.
Wall himself has addressed the issue of Howard in the locker room. He says that while he is excited to play with him, he still acknowledges that Dwight is going to have to buy into what the Wizards are trying to do.
Per Candace Buckner of the Washington Post:
While viewing the move as largely positive for Washington, Wall also added the caveat: Howard must author a new chapter in his career.
“I can’t force him. He has to want to be able to change on his own,” Wall said. “But I think he just helps our team, and that’s why he was probably the best center we could probably get at the time for our team.”
The biggest reason that the Wizards can afford to make this move is in a financial sense. Since the Nets bought Howard out of his contract (Howard was set to make roughly $23 million), the Wizards were able to sign him for the veteran’s minimum. Since the deal was for such a low amount of money, it’s far less of a risk. If things don’t work out with Howard and the Wizards for whatever reason, he can be moved or benched without a great deal of conflict or consequence.
The Wizards needed a big man to replace Marcin Gortat, especially now that the Eastern Conference seems to be up for grabs. If Dwight Howard can provide similar output to years’ past with minimal distraction, they could be a serious contender in the wide-open Eastern Conference.