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Breaking Down the Legacy of Dwight Howard

Bill Simmons and Joe House discuss the disappointment of watching a future Hall of Fame center fizzle out after news of yet another trade by a disgruntled team

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The Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets agreed to terms on a trade Wednesday that would send Dwight Howard to Brooklyn in exchange for Timofey Mozgov, the 45th pick in Thursday’s draft, a 2021 second-rounder, and cash. Bill Simmons and Joe House used the occasion to discuss Howard’s complicated legacy in the most recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Bill Simmons: Hey, I want to talk about Dwight Howard really quick.

Joe House: OK.

Simmons: Dwight Howard got traded again. He has turned into the Yankee Christmas gift of NBA superstar centers.

House: Great job, farty pants.

Simmons: So here’s a guy, when I wrote my Book of Basketball in ’09 and did the paperback in 2010, I had in the 70-range for the pyramid. And at that point, he was on a run where, whether you like it or not, he was the best center in the league. And that stayed the case through 2011. Now, historians are going to—this is part of the problem with just relying on stats and why we need people like me and Joe House in our lives—historians are going to look at his stats 25 years from now and be like, “Wow, you know who was unbelievable? Dwight Howard. You know who was underrated? Dwight Howard.” Fortunately, we were there. We were there for the entire Dwight Howard experience. With that said—

House: God willing we’re alive 25 years from now and we’re able to have that dialogue with these young statisticians, these young analytics cohorts, and we’re going to be able to point them right.

Simmons: So Dwight Howard, from ’08 to 2012, was first-team All-NBA every year. Five straight years, first-team All-NBA. He made the All-Star Game eight straight years. He made third-team All-NBA in ’07 and ’13, and second-team All-NBA on the Rockets in 2014. So he had eight straight years of being on the All-NBA [team]. [In 2015, he] beats the Clippers; he and Harden take the Rockets to the conference finals. He led a team in 2009 that beat the Cavaliers, that beat LeBron during one of the great runs he ever had in his life and the Cavs were huge favorites in the Eastern finals, and the Magic just haymakered them. Nobody saw it coming. Beat them in six, ended up going to the Finals, and they lost to the Lakers in five in a series that was a lot closer than I think people realize.

House: A Courtney Lee layup away.

Simmons: And then in Game 4, remember they were up three and they left Fisher wide open for some reason?

House: Yes, yes.

Simmons: So from the 2007-08 season through 2014, Dwight was 20 [points] a game, 13.5 rebounds a game, 2.4 blocks a game, 59 percent from the field just night after night. That’s what he gave you. The problem was always when they tried to feed him. He was a really good center. And I think now he has become this self-parody punchline thing in the last, how many, the last five years. I think he switched teams—he was on Orlando in 2012; Lakers ’13; Houston in ’14, ’15, ’16; Atlanta in ’17; Charlotte in ’18; and now Brooklyn in ’19. So that is one, two, three, four—six teams in seven years. How will you remember Dwight Howard, House?

House: As a farty pants.

Simmons: OK.

House: I respect his signature achievement is that 2009 Orlando team, taking them to the finals. That to me was like his last serious basketball moment. I can never forgive him for being at what should’ve been the height of his basketball powers and not figuring out a way to play alongside Kobe Bryant. You can’t figure out a way to make it work with Kobe and Kobe holds you in such disdain because he doesn’t see any dog in you, he doesn’t see that killer instinct in you? That, to me, is the thing that I’ll remember the most about Dwight.

Simmons: Well, [it’s] a recurring theme for him, because in Orlando, he wore his welcome out and they couldn’t wait to get rid of him. In the Lakers, it took him a year; they couldn’t wait to get rid of him. In Houston, he and Harden, by the end of it, weren’t even talking. Then he goes to Atlanta. He spends a year there. They’re so desperate to get rid of him that they make a terrible trade. They took the bad Plumlee brother and more money to get out of Dwight’s contract. And now you basically have the same thing happening in Charlotte. They traded Dwight’s last year of his contract, which is like $23 million, and took back two years of Mozgov at like $16 million [a year]. It helped them with the luxury tax this year. But they still are paying Mozgov like $16 million in the season after this one just to get Dwight off the team. And then as soon as he gets traded, the stuff starts leaking out about what a jackass he is. It’s really incredible. He is the most disliked All-Star we’ve had. I didn’t even talk about in the 2008 Olympics and how disliked he was with that whole thing. The good guys on the team banded together, and the story I always heard was that they basically were like, “Dwight’s not going to be on this team.” I’m talking about the best stars in the league saying, “Hey, we’ll play on the Olympic team, but Dwight’s not going to be on this team.” And that’s how that played out.

House: I’d love for there to find a Dwight fan, a Dwight apologist, somebody that’s Dwight for life. I don’t know if such a person exists, but I’d love to hear the other side of what his career is about. I mean, you just did a very fair and balanced rundown of all the achievements. Everybody who has that résumé is a top-50 basketball player, right?

Simmons: Easily.

House: They’re top 50 in the game. He ain’t gonna be in the top 50 ever.

Simmons: No. It’s funny, with the pyramid, I actually don’t know if he moves up. When I did the ranking, I assumed he would jump as he kept stockpiling years. Now, he had the back injury. It’s hard to say how much that affected him. But, you know, he did have big seasons, like, in the ’15 playoffs for the Rockets: 16 [points] a game, 14 rebounds a game, 17 playoff games. So, pretty productive. His peak year was ‘09. He was 20 [points and] 15 [rebounds per game] in 23 playoff games that year. So if you’re looking at that, and you’re removing personality completely from this, and fit, and all that stuff, and you’re just putting together a basketball team like it’s a Moneyball–Billy Beane baseball model ... you would want Dwight Howard as the center. Doesn’t need a lot of shots, 20 and 15 every night. He’s gonna protect the rim as well as anybody—and more importantly, [he] doesn’t need a lot of shots, so you could distribute that shots elsewhere. The computer model of Dwight Howard as a center would be really great. Unfortunately, and this is the best thing about basketball—and this is why you and I love it and we always think the eye test is gonna win over anything else—we watched him. For whatever reason, people didn’t like playing basketball with him, and they didn’t like being on his team, and you could see it. You and I went [to the] 2012 Super Bowl—you, me, and Jacoby sat under the basket and watched him play Indiana. You remember?

House: I do... My last courtside experience.

Simmons: Remember our takeaway?

House: The team didn’t like him!

Simmons: The team didn’t like him, and we watched four quarters, and we’re like, what the fuck’s wrong with this guy? He doesn’t interact with his teammates. He just behaves weirdly. And all of us were like, “What’s going on with this guy?” It was very strange. It was a very strange night.

House: He was such an imposing physical talent, too. It felt like he had the ability to take the game over.

Simmons: Right.

House: And just never really did. And I’m not talking about offensively.

Simmons: He’s just a baby. And, you know, I think there are other guys like this—Vince Carter has done a very nice PR rehab job in the second half of his career. Unfortunately, we were all there for the first half of his career, and he was a big baby, and he quit on Toronto, it’s unbelievable that they made a documentary about him in Toronto when he just blatantly quit on them. In the Twitter era, he would’ve taken way more shit for that. But Vince is a guy—he’s another one. Just incredibly talented and was never really able to put it together, and I think some of it had to do with personality stuff. I think he’s a more likable teammate probably, at least [in the] second half of his career, than Dwight was. Dwight just seems to have this ability of turning off wherever he goes. But the legacy of Dwight is [tied to Shaq]. After Shaq started to lose steam in ’04, and after the Heat made that Finals, and then Shaq had a little bit of a rally in Miami (I thought he was an MVP candidate in ’05), Shaq wins the title in ’06 and then passes the torch to Dwight Howard. And Dwight Howard is the best center in the league probably for the next five or six years, and [he] hasn’t really been replaced, either. I think from that moment on, the center just morphed into something else. Who would you say is the best center now? Embiid?

House: Yeah, Embiid, without a doubt.

Simmons: So who was the best center between Dwight and Embiid?

House: Nobody.

Simmons: Nobody. So he’s kinda the end of this era. And by the way, Embiid might end up playing 100 more games in his career for all we know.

House: Yeah, right. I want to make one point: I’m glad that you linked Vince Carter with Dwight Howard. I want to link those two up with one more guy, Chris Webber. The one missing ingredient with all three of those talents: None of them wanted to be “the guy.” Not one of those dudes had that dog in ’em, I keep calling it that way, and that’s why, you know, Kobe sniffed that out right away with Dwight Howard. We saw it with Vince when it was nut-crunching time, we saw it with C-Webb—Vlade [Divac] was getting all the most important shots with three minutes left, or the ball was moving around to [Mike] Bibby or somebody else. Webber couldn’t wait to get the ball out of his hands on those Sacramento teams. All those three guys, immense talents and, for all three of ’em, a missing ingredient.

Simmons: Yeah, and I think it’s a good point. I look at this generation of players now and—Kyrie and I talked about it a little on Friday—it’s a really special generation of guys who get their business done, and are really good with the media, really take their jobs seriously, work out in offseason, compete against each other, measure themselves against each other. The generation before that, and the generation before that generation—so we’re talking about the Kenny Anderson, C-Webb generation, and then even the Dwight generation to some degree—really had a lot more misses in the hit-or-miss department for people that you just looked at and you went, “Man, why weren’t you better?” What happened? What was missing here? And in some cases, like, I think Kenny Anderson had a lot of personal problems. So did Derrick Coleman. C-Webb just, if he comes along 10 years later, I think his career is totally different. Penny Hardaway got hurt. Dwight just was a jackass, I think is the legacy of him. But now we’re in this generation where all these dudes, I think, are pretty good bets, you know? You look around, like, even Simmons and Embiid, who I think maybe 15, 20 years ago could have gone a little differently, I think are just gonna keep getting better. I don’t really have a lot of red flags with them other than injury stuff. Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, [Victor] Oladipo, all these dudes. [Karl-Anthony] Towns we pick apart—that guy at least seems like he wants to get better. He has deficiencies, but I just think he’s gonna keep improving, would be my guess. But my point is, it’s a good time to be a basketball fan and I think Dwight, to me, represents this era that was disappointing a lot of the times, where we looked at Stephon Marbury, and Steve Francis, and Dwight, and Vince, and [Tracy McGrady] to some degree, and just were like, “What the hell, man, why aren’t these guys consistently better?” You agree with this?

House: I do.