Is it Good or Bad That the Wizards Signed Dwight Howard? | Wizards Blog Truth About

Is it Good or Bad That the Wizards Signed Dwight Howard?

Updated: July 5, 2018

The Washington Wizards will reportedly sign Dwight Howard to a one-year contract. He’s an eight-time All-Star and three-time defensive player of the year. He averaged 16.6 points and 12.2 rebounds last season with Charlotte. He plays a position of desperate need, and he is getting paid a relatively paltry salary (at the most $5.3 million).

These are all good things. His signing should, theoretically, be cause for celebration. Yet, the reaction to Dwight’s pending arrival is far from universal glee. In fact, there is legitimate debate about whether his presence is even a positive for this team.

Howard might be the most polarizing Wizard in years and he hasn’t even played a game — or even officially signed his contract. To some, he is the missing piece to put Washington back in contention. To others, he is the ticking bomb that will finally and irreversibly blow up the team’s fragile locker room. The range of potential outcomes is limitless and harrowing.

It seems strange to have to ask this question about signing such an accomplished player, but the answer is far from clear:
Is it good or bad that the Wizards signed Dwight Howard?

TAI’s Adam Rubin, Kyle Weidie, Bryan Frantz, and Sean Fagan attempt to answer that question…

Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)

The most common refrain from fans in the wake of Howard’s signing was to ask: “What was the alternative?”

It’s a very Grunfeldian way of looking at the world. If you ignore why the Wizards have no cap space and why they have no viable center on their roster and only evaluate the Dwight Howard signing through the prism of, “Is he better than Ian Mahinmi?” … then the answer will almost always be yes.

But the calculus is a little more complicated with Dwight for two reasons: one off-court and one on-court. Despite being one of the most physically dominant athletes in the NBA, Howard has spent the last three seasons on three different teams. One of the purported reasons is locker room issues. From afar, Dwight doesn’t appear to be a bad guy. He’s more like the annoying kid who thinks he’s funny but he’s not. According to comments from Zach Lowe and Brendan Haywood, his act quickly wears thin and his former teammates have celebrated his departure.

To be fair, these reports only tell one side of the story, but when you hear that same story multiple times in multiple cities, that’s a lot of smoke. Washington has a fragile locker room. They just shipped out one starting center who clashed with the star point guard. Bringing in an even bigger prima donna is an undeniable risk.

Some in the media insist Dwight is ready to change his image. That sounds great but it is also not the first time we’ve heard it. Here’s what the New York Times wrote when he joined the Atlanta Hawks two years ago:

After five mostly disappointing years with Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers since leaving Orlando, Howard says this time will be different. Atlanta is where he belongs.

“One of the things biblically is the purging of the heart, and throughout the years, there are things that have happened behind closed doors that it really hardened my heart towards different situations,” Howard later told reporters. “I really have to purge my heart and come at basketball in a different manner. I was very upset with how things turned out and what people were saying. I hardened my heart towards everybody.”

Two years later, NBC Washington’s Chris Miller and Chase Hughes are singing the same song about Dwight wanting to change his image. It all sounds very familiar.

Then there’s the on-court fit. Dwight brings certain skills the Wizards need. Namely, shot-blocking and rebounding. If Dwight sticks only to those skills (and dunking), he’d be a great fit. But that’s not what he has done in his last few stops. Again, like the unfunny kid who fancies himself a comedian, Howard is an offensively challenged big man who fancies himself a back to the basket post-up player. Amazingly, Dwight had more post-ups last year (499) than the entire Wizards team combined (462). He was third among all NBA players in number of post-up possessions behind Joel Embiid and LaMarcus Aldridge.

This is a major potential problem. If Howard breaks off plays and calls for the ball in the post, John Wall is not going to defer to him in the same way Dwight’s teammates did in Charlotte. Wall will yell at him to clear out and will continue yelling at Dwight all the way to the bench if he puts up a fight. In short, Dwight is not getting those shots with the Wizards, whether he likes it or not. Wall is blunt, both on and off the court. Marcin Gortat could take it, for the most part — and even he clashed with Wall. It remains to be seen if Howard is willing to do the dirty work on defense while being the third, fourth or fifth option on offense. If he does — if Dwight accepts a role as Clint Capela to John Wall’s Chris Paul — then the pairing has the potential to be a big success. History, though, isn’t on Dwight’s (or Washington’s) side.

So, you asked the question: Is it good or bad that the Wizards signed Dwight Howard? I’ll respond with a question of my own: What’s the alternative?

Kyle Weidie (@truth_about_it)

No advanced stat could capture the impact Dwight Howard once had. How do you count the times players simply did not drive the lane because he was there? His shoulders, his wingspan, his hops, his immovability. A similar human specimen with such once-upon-a-time incredible influence on the NBA may never exist again (and probably never existed before).

But Dwight Howard is now washed. He’s not the answer the Wizards need. Yet, in a league with limited talent pool and resources, he’s ‘one’ answer to ‘a’ problem — Defense. Howard is an experiment that could be doomed to fail, but a very low risk (salary-wise) perhaps worth taking. It’s batshit difficult to know how to feel about the Wizards getting him; on top of Jeff Green, on top of Austin Rivers — yada, yada, yada.

Good? Bad? If the Wizards are going to navigate foggy Eastern Conference skies in a race to land, might as well put all the sails up and onboard all the scurviest pirates who
could still be able to wield a sword. I love the Wizards; I hate this team; I don’t know what to do with this summer. Take my words, and Tweets, with a grain of salt.

Turning 33-years-old in December with over 1,030 NBA regular season games and nearly 100 playoff games under his belt, Howard is on his sixth team within the last six calendar years. His stint with the Wizards might work under all of these conditions:

  • He doesn’t demand the ball in the post.
  • John Wall gets him the ball at the rim.
  • His lateral movement isn’t completely washed.
  • He doesn’t do stuff like fart on reporters and think it’s funny.
  • When he sits every fourth quarter because he’s a 56% career free throw shooter he doesn’t get salty.
  • He shuts up but also smiles. It’s OK to be strategically goofy.
  • He blocks shots (fifth-lowest career blocks per 100 possessions last season, 2.6).
  • He rebounds (second-most career defensive rebounds per 100 possessions last season, 15.0)

There is no answer to the question other than to say that we are on a present-day, NBA version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Bryan Frantz (@BFrantz202)

The Dwight Howard signing, paired with the Jeff Green signing, seals this as an incredibly Wizards offseason. Washington needed to get Marcin Gortat out of town for the sake of the locker room. Say what you want about the return, but the objective was completed. Replacing Gortat with Howard, however, is almost guaranteed to turn disastrous. The Wizards have a bad locker room culture. Even if the stories about Howard being terrible in locker rooms are overblown, there’s still more than enough there to think he won’t improve the locker room culture.

Howard’s first year with the Houston Rockets was the only post-Orlando season that ended positively. His best Lakers teammate hated him, there are mixed reports on his time in Houston but the drama was always there, his homecoming to Atlanta ended with him benched in the playoffs, then he was shipped out after a year for a laughable return to Charlotte, who gave up on him after a season and sent him to Brooklyn, where he was promptly paid to go away.

And this is the guy Ernie Grunfeld has decided will get the Wizards over the hump. His per-36 numbers last year were more or less in line with those of his dominant Orlando years — and teams still want nothing to do with him. Stan Van Gundy,Mike D’Antoni, Kevin McHale, Mike Budenholzer, and Steve Clifford have all worked with him, and there’s not much to be found as far as positive reviews.

But hey, I’m sure all he needs is a fresh startReally.

Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)

Here are a few things that we know about Dwight Howard’s imminent signing with the Washington Wizards.

  1. When approached with the idea of signing Howard, the entire Golden State Warriors team vetoed the idea according to Tim Kawakami. (Kawakami later clarified to say the choice was between Howard and Cousins.)
  2. The Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins, whose disciplinary record is checkered at best and most likely won’t be able to suit up until December, if at all.
  3. In Howard’s last two stops (in Atlanta and Charlotte) there have been reports of open locker room celebrations when his departure has been announced.

This … well, this isn’t a great narrative. In fact, since departing Los Angeles (where a campaign was waged to keep him) Howard (and the media) have tried to reframe each subsequent stop along the way. Atlanta was going to Dwight’s coming home party – instead it marked the end of the Budenholzer regime as Dwight never acclimated and pulled his now patented passive-aggressive shenanigans. Shipped off to Charlotte, there was a hope that he would thrive in a smaller market where the media lights glowed dimmer (much like Orlando) and he could reinsert himself as an above average NBA starter. While Dwight was a double-double machine in Charlotte, the rest of the offense broke down whenever he had the ball. He reduced the efficacy of two way players like Nicholas Batum. In an era where bigs run the pick and roll almost exclusively, Howard kept demanding the ball in the post and often loafed on transition defense.

The key issue when trying to judge Howard’s impact on the Wizards is in separating Howard’s impact as a personality with that of the ability he provides on the court. Howard wears out his welcome by appearing either disingenuous, out of touch or at the worst disengaged. Placing him within an already volatile Wizards locker room sounds about as safe as putting a 10x more talented Andray Blatche back into the mix. Add in noted agitator Austin Rivers and becomes unclear whether Ernie Grunfeld is building a basketball team of conducting an extremely dangerous science experiment.

Then the actual “basketball” part of this equation. John Wall thrives in concert with his center while working the pick and roll. Howard has shown only a passing interest in running the play — instead happy to continue to exist a stasis where the league is still stuck in 2011. What Howard does bring (rebounding, the ability to put back easy bunnies) he seems to take more away from in an already limited offense. The concern here is that Scott Brooks already limited play-calling ability will be taxed in keeping his new rental somewhat happy without completely breaking the scheme his team’s success has been predicated upon.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day — the Wizards choices were limited. Reports indicate they did not bid on Cousins, nor were they actively working on taking a risk to acquire a center who might thrive under John Wall like Myles Turner. What we are left with again is another patch job – as the organization plugs gaping holes with quick fixes without really considering the consequences on or off the court.

Maybe Howard will go down as one of Grunfeld’s greatest reclamation projects. If Grunfeld has one talent, it is plucking players from the scrap heap and getting more than their “designated” value. It is more likely though that this grand experiment is doomed from the start both from a perspective of fit and an organization that continues to think small and make minor adjustments, rather than admit that as currently comprised they are dead in East.


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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.