Dwight Howard is back on the Lakers. Barely. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Howard will get bought out by the Grizzlies and sign with the Lakers. Howard, you may recall, spent a tumultuous 2012-13 season in Los Angeles that began with an infamous Sports Illustrated cover declaring Now This Is Going To Be Fun (narrator: It was not fun) and ended with him leaving in free agency despite billboards beckoning him to STAY. The Lakers have not made the playoffs since.
Howard reportedly worked out with the Lakers on Friday morning alongside Mo Speights and Joakim Noah (don’t ask me how much I would pay for video footage of this), and it appears Howard showed the most to earn himself a shot. It’s not much of a shot, however. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the deal is nonguaranteed, and it hinges on Howard showing that he’s “made changes in how he conducts himself.” Ramona Shelburne added that Howard met with Lakers players—Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and Anthony Davis, per The Athletic, as well as top assistant Jason Kidd—and “convinced everyone that he’s genuine in wanting to play the role the Lakers need.” As Woj ominously put it in another tweet, “he’s been warned.”
If Howard can indeed keep the locker room from turning on him, the Lakers will utilize him. With DeMarcus Cousins likely out for the season with a torn ACL, and Davis continuing to say that he doesn’t want to play center, the Lakers needed another big. Howard is coming off a season in which he played just nine games for the Wizards because of a glute injury, but you can see how a team would be enticed by him in a private workout. Even at 33 years old, he’s still an athletic freak when his health allows him to be. The season before last, he averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while playing in 81 games for a below-average Hornets team. Howard has reportedly lost 25 pounds, too. The problem, of course, is everything else.
Since Howard left the Lakers in the summer of 2013, his reputation has corroded. From Houston to Atlanta, Charlotte to Washington, he has devolved from coveted free agent to a player that teams can’t wait to get rid of. Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard called the deal that sent Howard to Memphis for C.J. Miles “the quickest trade I’ve ever done in my life.” The Hornets were reportedly desperate to get rid of him, and Hawks players were reportedly “screaming with jubilation” when he was moved. Howard is beyond having baggage; at this point, he might as well be covered in yellow warning tape.
While the signing fills an immediate need for the Lakers, it is also slightly tinged with desperation. The Lakers could have waited until the trade deadline and exhausted all other options (G League signings, other buyouts, more minutes for McGee) before having to go the Howard route. But the optimistic view is that Howard should be more motivated than ever. He has to know this is the end of the road if it doesn’t work out. And he couldn’t ask for a better situation than playing next to two of the best seven players in the league in Davis and LeBron James, with a legitimate shot at his first championship. James has revived teammates’ careers before (remember the final days of J.R. Smith’s Knicks tenure?). He could do it one last time for the player against whom he used to compete for MVPs.
The Lakers were already one of the most fascinating teams in the NBA heading into the 2019-20 season. With Howard, the chemistry experiment could be more explosive than on last year’s team. Whether Howard redeems himself or gets dropped again, I think we can all say that this, without any irony whatsoever, will be fun.