Lakers' Low-Risk Dwight Howard Signing Still Comes with Plenty of History

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterAugust 21, 2019

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard speaks after being introduced to the media as the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers during a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers acquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers didn't seriously just agree to sign Dwight Howard, right? That can't be accurate.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, Howard has completed a buyout with the Memphis Grizzlies and intends to sign with L.A. after clearing waivers. 

ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski added the following:

Obviously, the Lakers were in the market for a backup center after losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL last week. But the last time we saw Howard in purple and gold, he was being ejected in a playoff sweep by the San Antonio Spurs—his final game of an already uncomfortable and disappointing run with the franchise.

Howard, whom the Lakers originally acquired in a trade (primarily for Andrew Bynum and draft considerations), never seemed fully invested in L.A. Even in his introductory press conference, he refused to discuss the future beyond the final year of his contract. The following summer, Howard signed with the Houston Rockets after the Lakers wouldn't commit to moving on from Bryant following the final year of his contract in 2013-14, per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein.

Bryant and Howard later got into it on the court as opponents in 2014, with the former calling the latter "soft."

Suffice it to say, the Lakers have some negative history with Howard. That surely didn't go unnoticed by general manager Rob Pelinka, who formerly represented Bryant as an agent before he joined the franchise.

And the Lakers aren't the only team that's struggled to integrate Howard successfully. Not by a long shot.

While Howard was an elite center with the Orlando Magic in the late 2000s and early 2010s—he fell to Bryant and the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finalshis numbers have been in steep decline since 2013-14.

His relationship with James Harden ended poorly in Houston (Pelinka was Harden's agent at the time). Howard's subsequent stays with the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards each lasted one year apiece.

According to former player and current NBA analyst Brendan Haywood (h/t Bleacher Report's Howard Beck): "The [Hornets] locker room did not like Dwight Howard. Guys were just sick and tired of his act."

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Howard made only nine appearances in Washington, as he was otherwise sidelined with back, hamstring and glute injuries. The Grizzlies acquired him (and his $5.6 million expiring contract) over the summer for CJ Miles in a deal that helped them shed $3.1 million in salary to get under the luxury-tax threshold.

Now here's the thing: Maybe everyone else is wrong about Howard. Maybe he's just misunderstood.

Or perhaps his past suggests that he isn't the ideal personality to bring into the Lakers locker room.

"He brings drama. Why risk anything this year?" one NBA executive said of the Howard and the Lakers, given the team's playoff aspirations.

The answer appears to be his on-court upside.

With the Hornets in 2017-18, Howard averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Those numbers could be enticing to a Lakers team that doesn't want to give heavy minutes to Anthony Davis at center.

Howard, who will turn 34 in December, could back up incumbent JaVale McGee or even start if needed. But that's a huge leap of faith in a player who missed 73 games last season, has been declining for a half-decade (the Charlotte spike aside) and could be a threat to team chemistry.

It's important to note that Howard wasn't the only option available on the market. Or in other words, Los Angeles made this decision not out of complete desperation but because it sees something in the former-turned-current Laker that it didn't in anyone else.

L.A. originally planned workouts with Joakim Noah and Mo Speights and considered Marcin Gortat, according to Wojnarowski.

Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Noah, who turns 35 in February, is only marginally older than Howard. The two-time All-Star has also missed 204 of a possible 328 games over the past four seasons, but he averaged a solid 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists in only 16.5 minutes per contest in 42 games with the Grizzlies last year.

Kurt Rambis may have struggled to overlook Noah's no-show with the New York Knicks, who still owe him $19.3 million over the next three seasons. The Lakers also may have needed to get sign-off from LeBron James, who has feuded with Noah dating back to his Chicago days.

As far as Gortat and Speights, Gortat has a big body at 6'11", 240 pounds, knows how to set screens and is a solid post defender, although he isn't especially agile on switches in front of guards. Speights is a shooter who'd help spread the floor, but he's perhaps the worst defender among the candidates the Lakers were reportedly considering.

Circa 2009-12, Howard was the best player of the bunch. He isn't that guy anymore, but since he didn't burn enough bridges to scare away L.A. in 2019, he could end up being a viable option in his new role.

If Howard doesn't live up to expectations, the Lakers can cut him. That is a $2.6 million gamble they're willing to take.

                        

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @EricPincus.

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