Twelve years ago, Dwight Howard, the Atlanta native who had an outstanding high school career at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy chose to forgo college and entered the 2004 NBA Draft, and was selected first overall by the Orlando Magic.
On that night, we saw him smiling, winning, and happily popular as the media and fans around the league expected great things from Howard.
During his time in Orlando, he was named an All-Star multiple times, winning Defensive Player of the Year awards and helped the Magic make their NBA Finals second appearance in team history; despite losing in five games to the “Black Mamba” Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Sounds great right? It does actually. However, after demanding a trade (to the Los Angeles Lakers) he and others witnessed his career take a turn in the wrong direction and what seemed to be a happy experience for Howard now turned into bitterness. “I didn’t try to cry my way out of Orlando. That was never my intention, or not what I did at all. And I understand everybody thought it was that way because of what was being put out there,” Howard said.
As a member of the Lakers, experts and fans expected for the dynamic duo of how a potential dominant force of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard could unfold and keep the Lakers as the class of the NBA for years ahead; unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Howard and Bryant started off with good chemistry together, however, as the season progressed, the players started bumping heads, injuries began to affect the team and nothing went right. To make matters worse, Howard’s once clean image around the NBA was tarnished and multiple reports of not learning Dantoni’s system, not taking care of his health, and the locker room rumblings. Therefore, after just one season that was a tremendous nightmare, he left in free agency and signed with the Houston Rockets.
Houston appeared to be a better fit for Howard and he would form another dynamic duo in his new fresh start playing along with NBA’s best shooting guard, James Harden. Again, it was the same song, but different verse. Howard and Harden only got along to a certain extent.“It wasn’t as good as it needed to be for us to succeed. But, you know, looking back on it, there’s really nothing that we can do about it now. Talking about it amongst ourselves is great, but for myself, and I think for the Rockets, we all have to move on and let that chapter of all of our lives pass. I wish the relationship would have been a lot better, but throughout all the things that happened the last couple of years, I think it’s shaped and molded me into the player — the person — that I am today. It made me stronger.”
Statistically, Howard’s numbers declined by due to his lack of involvement and very far from his Orlando days when he was a primary scoring threat. According to Basketball-Reference, his career average in Orlando was (18.4) points per game and (13.0) rebounds per game; As a Laker, he posted (17.1) points and (12.4) rebounds per game; in his Houston days, his production dropped to (16.0) points and (11.7) rebounds per game while only having (8.5) attempts per game, which was his lowest since his rookie year.
Going forward, Howard started to care less for the NBA frequently during his tenure in Houston. “There have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games and situations and that’s on me. I’m always interested in winning. As a big, sometimes you want to be part of what’s going on…but I have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get me the ball.” After a dramatic ending in Houston, Howard wanted to move on and again find another way to resurrect his image and during the Summer, he returned home and came to an organization that pursued him years ago and was hoping to gain the love of a franchise and a fan base as well. He found both signing with the Atlanta Hawks.
Atlanta was the obvious destination where Howard would have the chance to turn over a new leaf and make people have a second thought on their perception about the former SACA (Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy) product. NBA analyst Steve Smith is confident that if all goes well with Dwight and the team, they have chance to beat the defending champs, the Cleveland Cavaliers. In addition, Greg Anthony believes that Howard’s reduced numbers can ascend; despite at the age of 30.
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer is expected to utilize Howard as often as he was with the Magic. “I think the way he has been probably been used the best is the way Orlando used him, a lot of pick-and-rolls to a post-up and pick-and-rolls to create spacing and create pressure on the rim, and create angles and places where he can catch it in the post and catch it deep and score quickly and a of more traditional post-ups.” The Hawks is the key for Howard to change things around before his career ends. Talking is one thing, but reality is the million dollar question. I have a strong feeling that “Superman” will return to the status as one of the NBA’s dominant centers and regain a positive meaning to that name.
In his return to Atlanta, he’s off to a tremendous start. The Hawks are 4-2 through their first six games of the year and Howard has posted a few notable games. In last week two surprising losses to Los Angeles and Washington, he’s been far from the issue, Howard had 31 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday night and 20 points and 12 rebounds Friday night. On Saturday against his former team, the Houston Rockets, Howard had another solid outing, with 20 points, 14 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. He’s been the prototypical fit at center that Atlanta has missed over the years and gives the Hawks some hope as a playoff contender this season in the Eastern Conference.
Phil Veasley is a resident of Atlanta who has been a die-hard Hawks fan since 2005. He is Civil Engineer student at KSU. Currently, Phil writes for Atlanta Hawks Talk while also managing all ATLSportsHQ sites. He can be reached on Twitter at @_ATLPhil