Dwight Howard was the best center in the NBA for almost a decade, earning him the nickname “Superman.”
Drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in 2004, Howard was a defensive force, landing on the NBA All-Defensive first team four times and the second team once. He was also an All-NBA selection six times, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Star six times in eight years.
Hammering the point home, he averaged 18.4 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game and led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. If Howard stayed, he would’ve been a surefire Hall of Famer.
Alas, after the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 NBA season, Howard went coast-to-coast in hopes of a better finish.
In August 2012, Howard forced his way to the Lakers in a four-team deal that was supposed to usher in a new era of Laker basketball. After all, he’s a durable superstar center who can shoulder the offensive load as well as being a great locker room presence. Howard, along with the addition of Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns, should have brought the Lakers back to the top of the NBA world.
At least that was what was supposed to happen. Instead, the core of Kobe Bryant, Howard and Nash never quite meshed; Bryant’s alpha-dog demeanor clashed with Howard’s aloof attitude.
Even Nash, known to be an excellent teammate and leader, had a problem with Howards’ lack of focus, claiming that the reason why Howard wasn’t as successful was because he insisted on playing in the post instead of the pick and roll, his bread and butter.
Though Sports Illustrated claimed that “Now This is Going to Be Fun,” this collection of players was anything but. Bryant tore his Achilles while Howard and Nash nursed their own injuries, leading to an embarrassing sweep by the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. To escape this toxic situation, Howard joined the Houston Rockets in 2013, fueling Laker fans’ hate for years to come because he was touted to be the next big thing in L.A., instead choosing to leave and betraying the trust of the fans in the process.
Joining the Rockets on a 4-year, $88 million deal with an opt-out on the fourth year, it looked like Howard was back. Averaging 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his first season on the Rockets, he was an All-Star yet again.
However, the next two years were difficult for Howard: he missed half of the 2014-2015 season with injury and constantly butt heads with superstar guard James Harden the following year, leading to his worst statistical output since his rookie season.
As a result, Howard opted out of the final year, signing a 3-year, $70.5 million contract in 2016 with his hometown team: the Atlanta Hawks.
Howard looked to revitalize himself in Atlanta. Instead, he posted similar numbers to his final year in Houston (about 14 points and 12 rebounds per game), signaling his decline.
That offseason, the Hawks offloaded Howard to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for benchwarmers. Surprisingly, playing for Charlotte somewhat revived then-32-year-old Howard -- he posted impressive numbers (16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game) while playing in 81 games, the most since 2009-2010 when he played all 82.
The Washington Wizards picked Howard up and hoped to pair him with John Wall and Bradley Beal. But he played very little for the Wizards due to injury, averaging 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in only nine games.
With Howard’s career hanging in the balance, he returned back to the Lakers on an interesting contract: a 1-year deal that will pay him $14,490 a day starting Oct. 21. The contract is structured so that if Howard fails, the Lakers can cut him at no cost.
At this point in his career, Howard is, at best, a back-up to JaVale McGee, the new starting center. A very late replacement for DeMarcus Cousins (the Lakers’ original starting center) after he tore his ACL, the Lakers’ expectations for Howard are at an all-time low considering he’s a low-risk, high-reward player.
For Howard, a successful season would be playing more than 70 games and averaging around seven points, five rebounds and a block off the bench in about 20-25 minutes per game. Anything more than that is a win for the Lakers.
Considering how much is at stake, Howard should perform like a focused back-up center playing for his career. That said, don’t expect much from him, especially at this stage as injuries have taken their toll.
No matter what the final stat sheet says, it’ll be interesting to see Superman back in Los Angeles. Even if he’s a little more like Clark Kent now.