In 2012, Dwight Howard’s trade was one of the biggest in the history of the NBA, both in terms of total players traded (11) and potential impact on the league. We all assumed the combination of Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and the magic of purple-and-gold uniforms would result in more Lakers championships. In 2013, when he decided to leave the Lakers after just one unsuccessful season, it was enough of a news story that the current president of the United States sent out a series of tweets about it.
In 2017, Dwight Howard was traded for the fifth- and 16th-leading scorers on the Charlotte Hornets a few minutes after announcing a Twitter Q&A. It’s not clear who won the trade: The Hawks, who signed Howard just a year ago, get out from under the $47 million remaining on his three-year contract. But they take on Miles Plumlee — the second-best of the three Plumlees — who was quickly traded by the Bucks in February after they made the mistake of signing him to a four-year, $50 million contract in the offseason. Howard’s deal is more expensive, but Plumlee’s is longer: Atlanta will have to pay Plumlee $12.5 million the year after Howard’s ends.
Notice that we’re talking about salary as the primary impact of the trade. That’s because we can’t really say much about the basketball. Howard was apathetic and useless for the Hawks last season. The Hawks realized that, playing him just 16 of the team’s 72 fourth-quarter minutes in their first-round postseason loss to the Wizards. (He was benched for the entirety of the fourth quarter twice.) They probably should have played him less. He recently swore to improve his game by adding a 3-point shot; a wise idea for a once-dominant post player in a changing NBA. But of course, he has never consistently been able to even approach mediocrity as a free throw shooter.
Howard was a force of nature five years ago. I’m not making that up. He was a bustle of muscle with jet packs for legs, capable of blocking any shot, snagging any board, and slamming any lob. His defense was emphatic, his rebounding pristine, his scoring efficient — even if he couldn’t create for himself.
And it was all gone so quickly. His hometown team is happily trading him to a division rival for spare parts that don’t make them obviously better in any way. He jumped so high, and things that jump really high tend to fall pretty fast.