Dwight Howard is late to the party, but late is better than never at all.
Howard was what could’ve been in Brooklyn. In 2011-12, he wanted a new, bigger canvas for his talents, a bigger market with a fresh start after playing his first eight seasons in the small market of Orlando. And Nets ownership was looking for a superstar. He was seen then as the NBA’s second best player after LeBron James, an All-Star averaging 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. Howard would have been the face of Brooklyn as the Nets entered Barclays Center.
It would have alleviated a lot of pressure on his friend, Deron Williams who struggled with being the No. 1 guy. Then, of course, you have to take the butterfly effect into account. The Nets probably don’t trade for Joe Johnson. Things might have gone differently; maybe better, maybe worse, but it seems fair to assume the Celtics trade probably doesn’t happen.
He could have given the Nets so much of what they lacked. He was a fiery, intense player that could change a game with a monstrous slam or thunderous block. He was the hype a new franchise in Brooklyn craved. Instead, he opted to travel a different route, on a plane home from a game in San Antonio. His history, that night in March 2012, is what makes this all so much more than a trade before the NBA Draft.
Howard’s career hasn’t been bad since then, but it certainly never lived up to what it could’ve been. Instead, it’s been filled with injury, inconsistency, and controversy. Karma? Or just immaturity? The Nets will be his sixth team in the last seven years, after the Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks, and Hornets.
What will Howard need to do to make things right? It won’t be about his numbers. He’s averaged a double-double ... every year ... for 14 straight years, a remarkable achievement. Only two other players have ever done that: Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone. Nobody ever doubted his talent. Rather, it’s his inability to buy-in and adapt to a team-oriented style that has hurt his career. His ego has become a nuisance, his effort questionable. His attempts at leadership were not taken seriously by peers.
And this right here will be Dwight Howard’s biggest test with the Brooklyn Nets, a team trying to build a culture of high character and work ethic. In theory, he can be a great asset to this team. Of course, that was what GMs and fans thought in the six other cities where he’s played.
Putting aside the cap space savings next summer, the Nets will want Howard to completely buy into Kenny Atkinson’s system, where yes, he will need to be a “lobs and blocks” kind of guy, who sacrifices for his team. He will absolutely need to play defense because that’s where he can be a leader considering how bad the Nets have been on that side of the ball.
At 32 years old, he will be the oldest player on the team. It gives him a chance to become a veteran leader and potential mentor to 20-year-old Jarrett Allen who admits idolizing him as a boy.
And if he wants to redeem the psychic investment Nets ownership placed in him, fulfill that Brooklyn legacy he abandoned so cavalierly, he must win. Winning in New York can help people forget those losses, failures out there in flyover country, even the ones in LaLa Land.
That should be motivation for him to operate properly. If that doesn’t work, there’s the purely commercial. He’s playing in a contract year. But redemption, legacy, is not about money. Howard has a chance to set things right with this organization and its fanbase. He’s part of a misfit squad. He’s an underdog, just a more famous one, like everybody else who plays for the Brooklyn Nets.
It can be a nice comeback story for both the Nets and Dwight if it works – or it may simply be remembered as the trade that allowed Brooklyn to make a play in 2019 free agency. Is that what he wants?