As of today, Dwight Howard is in limbo on the Memphis Grizzlies’ roster and open to an LA return. Recently traded from the Wizards, Howard’s last few years have been as turbulent as any we have seen from an 8x All-Star. It begs the question, what happened?
During his early years, Dwight was a monster. Orlando thought they had struck gold with the best centre in the league since Shaq, and in a sense, they had. Howard recorded multiple seasons with the Magic averaging north of 20 points and 14 rebounds while also regularly protecting the rim with a tenacity that helped contribute to his 3 DPOY awards.
His career in Orlando hit its climax during the 2008-09 season. The stars seemed to align for Dwight and the Magic. Despite a monstrous (and I mean god-like) series from LeBron, Dwight managed to overcome the Cavaliers in the ECF after taking the series in game 6 behind Howard’s 40 points and 14 rebounds.
This was it.
This was Dwight’s moment. This is what every kid shooting around on a basketball hoop fantasises about – the NBA finals. The biggest stage on hardwood.
The Magic lost 4-1 to the Kobe-led Lakers. Dwight put up 15.4 points, 15.2 rebounds and 4 (!) blocks a game – not great for someone of Dwight’s calibre. Dwight, noticeably crushed after such a loss, ended up at the Lakers just three seasons later.
That Lakers team was thought of as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. A starting line-up of Steve Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight ($5 to whoever can name 2 players that came off the bench that season) seemed to usher in the new era of the “super team”.
Despite such a historic team, the Lakers only just managed to scrape into the playoffs as the 7 seed. After Kobe was ruled out of the playoffs in the 80th game of the season with a torn Achilles, the Lakers were in turmoil.
In all fairness, the Lakers were plagued with injuries the entire season. The super-team’s starting 5 only started together 7 times that season.
Dwight still put up decent numbers during the year (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks) and was named to the Third Team All-NBA. Because of the Lakers woes, Dwight was seemingly forced out of LA after a clash with Kobe. This was a red flag, a sign of things to come in Dwight’s career. Happy and bubbly in the public eye, but a poison in the locker room.
He packed his bags and headed to Houston.
Now on his third team in just as many years, Dwight needed some stability. The pairing with James Harden seemed like a very solid base for Daryl Morey, Kevin McHale and the entire Rockets organisation to build around.
Both Harden and Howard were named starters to the All-Star game that year. Things were looking up for the Rockets as they finished 4th in the West and matched up against the inexperienced Trail Blazers in the first round. This was quickly put to bed, however, after Lillard’s absurd series-clinching game winner in game 6.
The next season, Dwight missed half of the regular season due to injury, only the second time in his 10-year career, at the time, that he had missed more than 11 games in the regular season. The Rockets still persevered and made the Western Conference Finals after a miraculous 3-1 comeback against the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, only to lose to the Warriors.
This was the last season Dwight experienced any true form of success.
The following year, the Rockets finished 8th in the Western Conference, exiting in the first round of the playoffs (once again against the Warriors), the run between Harden and Howard had seemingly come to an end.
This is where his career seemed to tailspin.
After quite a successful stint (both personally and as a team) in Houston, any contenders would seemingly be snapping at Howard’s heels to try and make a deep playoff push, right?
So, Dwight signed with… Atlanta?
Atlanta lost Al Horford to Boston and they were desperate for someone to fill the hole that the versatile big man left. Despite averaging a meaty double-double for the season (13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds), Dwight was almost forgotten while playing in Georgia. He struggled to fit into Mike Budenholzer’s system of spacing the floor as his free throw shooting (56.7%) and jump shooting (in 2017 he averaged about 17% for jump shots taken) had not improved at all since his first season in the league.
This was the true reason for his eventual downfall.
His refusal to work on the glaring holes in his game resulted in him becoming obsolete in the modern game.
As the game moves further away from the basket, the archetype of Dwight’s playstyle becomes more antiquated. He represents the residue of the league as it existed before the full acceptance of analytics.
After his first and only season with Atlanta, Dwight has been traded to Charlotte, traded to Brooklyn and immediately waived, signed with Washington for a season and has since been traded to Memphis where it is extremely likely he will be bought out and made an unrestricted free agent.
Dwight Howard is an 8x All-Star, 8x All-NBA player, 5x All-Defensive player and has won the DPOY award 3 times. According to Basketball Reference, Dwight has a 99.3% chance to make the Basketball Hall of Fame. And at just 33 years old, his career is at a standstill.
Dwight is the player that time forgot. His lack of ability anywhere outside the restricted area has sealed his fate and soured the end to a career that started off with such promise.