Just last week the Atlanta native, Dwight Howard, agreed on a three year, $70.5 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks- a deal that will bring Howard back to the Eastern Conference for the first time since playing for the Magic.Sometime in the past five years, Howard found his way onto my most hated players list. I had no problem with him leaving the Magic to join the Lakers; after all, it was a path that Shaquille O’Neal took. But the manner in which he left Orlando annoyed me. He caused a ton of unnecessary media attention to the team and essentially got Stan Van Gundy fired.
Going beyond his off the court problems, Howard wildly underperformed during his stints with the Lakers and Rockets. To quote one of my favorite movies, A Bronx Tale, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” At 6’11”, 265 pounds, and a body that looks like it could have been sculpted by Michelangelo, Howard should be an unstoppable force in the paint. But instead, as Skip Bayless put it, he looked like Tarzan and played like Jane.
Now, Dwight looks to put all that behind him as he starts anew playing for his hometown Hawks. Frankly, I love his decision and believe he has a chance to revitalize his career. First reason being that the Atlanta Hawks are a team that better fits his style of play than the Lakers and Rockets. Those two teams are very similar in that their main offensive weapon is a guard (Kobe Bryant and James Harden) and they use a myriad of isolation plays.
That’s a tough scenario for a big man to be placed in. You can ask any of the league’s front court players, they’ll tell you it’s easy to feel irrelevant on offense when you aren’t being fed the ball. James Harden led the league last season for most isolation plays and Kobe Bryant, well, we all know he’s not a big fan of passing. It’s easy to see how Dwight could have felt undervalued and began just going through the motions. But things will be different next season with the Hawks.
I consider the Hawks to be a poor man’s Spurs because they play great defense and rely on ball movement. This is a recipe for success for big men. Just look at the career Tim Duncan made from playing in that system. There are no selfish players that plague the Hawks and for the most part, their top scorers change night in and night out. Dwight Howard, especially because he will be the main offensive weapon on this team, will receive a ton of touches. Enough touches to show us that he can still be one of the most dominant big men in the league.
I believe that talent doesn’t just disappear. Howard was one of the best players in the league during his mid to later years with the Magic. He took them to the NBA Finals with the likes of Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Rashard Lewis. All decent players at the time, but overall have had sub-par careers. When was the last time you can remember a big man single-handedly taking a team to the NBA Finals? The last I can think of is Charles Barkley with the Suns in 1993. Although Howard was bested by Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the NBA Finals that season, he had to get past LeBron’s Cavaliers and the defending champion Boston Celtics to get there. Against the Celtics, Superman averaged 16 points and 17 rebounds and against the Cavs, he averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds. I still believe that he has the ability to take over games and be an unstoppable force in the trenches like he was with the Magic.
As I mentioned earlier, Howard’s move sends him back to the Eastern Conference, a very watered down Eastern Conference. Aside from the Cavs being the unambiguous best team, it will be a toss-up to see who can claim the number two spot. As of right now, I see very few, if any, big men from the East who can matchup with Howard’s size and strength. I truly believe that this will be the season, barring injury, that Dwight Howard returns to his top form. After all, the motto for the city of Atlanta is Resurgens (Latin for rising again).