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There’s no question that Dwight Howard is going to get a max deal. Whether that’s a five-year option with the Los Angeles Lakers or a four-year contract elsewhere, the big man is going to get paid.
But is the All-Star center really worth max money?
At first glance the answer is, “Of course! What are you, an idiot?” But beneath the surface of Howard’s accolades—three-time Defensive Player of the Year, seven-time All-Star—there are some red flags.
In his first (and perhaps only) season with the Lakers, Howard regressed statistically following back surgery. A torn labrum in his shoulder simply exacerbated that problem. Now there’s reason to believe he isn’t the same player and perhaps never will be again.
In a May column, Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons delves into that exact issue:
From 2008 through 2011, Howard dragged a half-decent Magic team to a 219-102 record and one Finals appearance. These last two seasons, Howard’s Magic/Lakers teams finished 75-55. Huge, huge difference.
If you’re still skeptical, check out Howard’s stats from 2011 compared to those he posted in 2013:
2011: 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds, 59 percent field-goal shooting, 60 percent free-throw shooting, 227 dunks, 26.1 PER (2nd in the NBA).
2013: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 58 percent field-goal shooting, 49 percent free-throw shooting, 187 dunks, 19.4 PER (36th in the NBA).
Howard’s only an honorable mention on this list because he still led the league in rebounding even though he was never 100 percent from a health standpoint, and he plays center, a premier position that only has a handful of elite guys at the moment.
Even so, he may have already peaked as an NBA player. If he never recuperates from the back surgery, he may not be worth huge money for much longer.
Update: According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Howard has agreed to a four-year, $88 million deal with the Houston Rockets.
Verdict: Accurately paid.
This could very easily shift to "overpaid" status if Howard doesn't return to his usual athletic form, but at least now he's in a situation he chose.