Dwight Still Has Star Power, But Can He Be A Winning Player? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Dwight Still Has Star Power, But Can He Be A Winning Player?

Updated: July 24, 2018

The Washington Wizards media market is B-list, at best. There just isn’t a large contingent of journalists who show up for every single team press conference or media availability. If Monday afternoon’s introductory press conference for A-list NBA superstar and future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard was any indication, that might change this week.

When Howard was asked about all of his team movement in the latter stages of his career, he electrified the Etihad Lounge in the bowels of Capital One Arena with a pre-written soliloquy charting his journey in comedic form: “I learned Magic for eight years. Traveled to La La Land. Learned how to work with Rockets. And then I went and learned how to fly with some Hawks. Got stung by the Hornets. Just a joke. But through all of that, it’s taught me how to be a Wizard.”

This was peak Dwight Howard—jovial, corny, and histrionic. And for the most part, media members, team officials, and a group of season-ticket holding fans ate it up.

That stand-up comedic bit seemed like an act to draw attention to himself and to deflect attention away from the real questions  about why Howard keeps bouncing around from team to team. He got the exact reaction he wanted with his quote of the afternoon—Google today—and even took some time after the camera lights went off to check his phone to see how “viral” the comments had gone. Dwight elicited the exact response he was looking for because that seemed to be all everyone on NBA twitter talked about for at least an hour after his press conference ended. If Dwight Howard was looking to win over people with his introductory press conference—mission accomplished.

What most resonated with me was how he plans on retiring in Washington. “For the rest of my career here, and I plan to be here until I retire, it’s about this team. It’s about us winning,” Howard said.

With his trainer seated in the front row, right next to Dwight Howard, Sr., the artist formerly known as Superman stated that, while he’ll be 34 when his contract expires in 2020, he does not plan on retiring anytime soon. “For me, I plan on playing this game for another good eight years,” he said.

Howard insinuated that he plans on playing until he’s 40, prompting Scott Brooks (sitting next to him) to say that he doesn’t even know if he can coach for eight more years. The joke about him bouncing around from team to team is based in fact and when Dwight Howard begins throwing out lofty and perhaps unrealistic expectations, he begins to show a chink in the armor of his Superman exterior. As twitter investigators found out yesterday, this is not the first destination that Dwight has claimed to be his last.

Now, there is room to be optimistic that the Wizards may be the best fit for Dwight since his days of dominance in Orlando.

Howard voluntarily left the Houston Rockets after falling out with James Harden, plus he could see the writing on the wall about his role being diminished with the emergence of Clint Capela. Howard’s next destination was his hometown Atlanta Hawks, where he had reasonable success, helping lead that team to a fifth seed in the playoffs. After that season, Atlanta decided to pivot as an organization to tanking mode after the harsh realization that they had capped off a run with their current core.

Last season Dwight Howard had one of his better season in the last five years, averaging 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game close to his career averages of 17.4 points and 12.7 rebounds. The Hornets did not reach their goal of making the playoffs, but to no fault of Dwight Howard. After the season, Charlotte fired head coach Steve Clifford, prompting an organizational shift that would not include Howard. Part of the reason Dwight has bounced around so much has to do with teammates being frustrated by his old-school playing style of being a center who demands post touches instead of focusing on rim-running and screening. While there have been negative things said about him in the press, Howard felt as though he had been about winning.

The center said he felt “stung” by being traded from the Hornets and even put in a call to General Manager Mitch Kupchak to find out why.

“I asked Mitch and I asked the coach: What did I do? Was it something in the locker room that I did? And Mitch said, ‘No, it had nothing to do with the locker room. It has nothing to do with you as a person. We just felt like we wanted to go in this direction as a team. If this is the truth, you need to come out and say this stuff, because people are thinking it’s because I did something in the locker room or acted a certain type of way. And I’m like, ‘This is not who I am.’ “

How does Dwight fit on the floor?

The driving narrative in the signing of Dwight Howard has been largely about what it means in terms of locker room fit, and only time will tell if that is much ado about nothing or actually something. What we do know is that at the end of the season, John Wall commented in his exit interview that the team needed to add an athletic big man, and that is what they did.

Dwight Howard is as athletic as they come in terms of centers in the NBA, a major upgrade in athleticism over Marcin Gortat. There is a lot of speculation that John Wall and Gortat’s deteriorating relationship is the reason why Gortat was shipped out of town—and it can only be taken as a positive sign that it was Wall who reached out to Dwight via Instagram to ask him about joining forces in Washington. Basketball-wise, Wall is by far the best point guard that Dwight Howard has played with in his career. Howard admitted so himself: “No disrespect to the point guards I’ve played with in my career, John is a different type of animal.”

Scott Brooks seems just as excited to have Howard on the team because he’s the best center that he’s ever coached and, even in the small ball NBA-era, Howard should help Brooks open up his playbook.

“We want to shoot more 3s, and with him [Dwight] on the floor, he spaces it because defenses key on him,” Brooks said. The Wizards ranked 23rd last season in 3-point attempts despite finishing tied for third in 3-point percentage, with only Golden State and Boston besting them. The Wizards should not have to dramatically change their offensive sets that were predicated on lots of Gortat screens because Dwight actually finished sixth in the NBA last season in screen assists, just two spots behind Marc.

So let’s talk verticality. The Wizards pick-and-rolls can now be finished with alley-oops at the rim instead of bounce passes for layups (which Gortat would often miss), and that will indeed draw enough attention away from Washington stable of sharp-shooters to be more active than they were last season. Howard said he’s back to slapping the backboard like he did in his old Superman days and word is the cape will make a comeback in Washington: “It was a little dusty, had a couple of holes in it, so I had my seamstress put it back together and got it cleaned.”

Defensively, Dwight adds much needed rim-protection to a team that finished 22nd in blocks per game last season, led by their point guard in that category. There will be some questions as to which lineups Brooks will choose to close games with, as most teams tend to go even smaller in fourth quarters, but Howard says he’s not worried about that right now.

He came to D.C. because he sees this as an opportunity to not just forget the past and rehab his image, but to win, too.

“I’ve been put with a wonderful organization,” he said. “It all worked out perfect. I really think we have a great opportunity to win in the East. All of us are hungry. To finally be here, it feels like home. I’m looking forward to it.”

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.