Lakers' Dwight Howard Looking Forward to Fresh Start After Hitting 'Rock Bottom'

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst ISeptember 4, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 26: Dwight Howard #21 of the Washington Wizards looks on from the bench during the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 26, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

A reunion between Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers is really happening.

Howard signed his one-year non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers, whom he played for during the 2012-13 season, the team announced on Aug. 26. Howard's signing comes after he completed a buyout from the Memphis Grizzlies and cleared waivers.

Wednesday was the first time Howard spoke to reporters about returning to Los Angeles since signing with the team. He said before joining the Lakers, things in his personal life had been difficult.

"It didn't have anything to do with basketball," Howard said. "It was just stuff going [on] in my personal life. Mentally, physically and spiritually. It had nothing to do with me as a basketball player or anything like that. It was just personal things that I had to deal with which made me stronger."

Howard will wear No. 39 for his second go-round, which he hoped he would have when he left the first time:

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year comes to the Lakers to fill a need at center created by DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL in August. 

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Howard had arrived to Memphis in a money-saving trade from Washington, where he spent last season but only appeared in nine games. The 33-year-old opted into his 2019-20 player option worth $5.6 million but, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, gave approximately $2.6 million of it to Memphis. 

"He can earn $2.6M on his vet minimum deal with Lakers—if he survives on roster past early January," Wojnarowski added. 

Making it to January as a Laker is all but a foregone conclusion for Howard. "Lakers are entering a Howard partnership with caution," Wojnarowski wrote separately. "For years, he's talked about making changes in how he interacts with coaches and teammates. He's still saying those things now, but the ability to cut him without cost keeps leverage with organization."

Howard's first stint in L.A. flopped mainly because he clashed with Kobe Bryant. He then departed the Lakers after one season in free agency for the Houston Rockets, where he played from 2013-14 through the 2015-16 season.

Despite that abrupt departure, Howard said Wednesday he enjoyed his time playing in Los Angeles and Lakers fans:

"I never had any ill will toward any of the fans here in L.A. I loved this city from the first moment I've been here and started playing in the NBA. It was never nothing against anybody here [on] the team or anything like that, it was just a decision I made. I love this city. I love playing in L.A. I'm back here so none of that stuff in the past even really matters to me anymore. I think we all have a fresh start."

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the eight-time All-Star "won over the players in the locker room, including [LeBron] James and [Anthony] Davis, for his approach and mindset" during his visit with the team.

"Everybody here wants to win, and I want to win, too," Howard told reporters about what he said during the meeting. "It wasn't about selling myself. It was just letting them know everything I'm about, and what we're trying to accomplish."

Howard arrived to his meeting in L.A. 25 pounds lighter and proved to the Lakers his back was healthy after undergoing an L4-L5 lumbar microdiscectomy in late November, per Wojnarowski. Howard also had surgery on a herniated disk in his back in April 2012 while still in Orlando and before he joined the Lakers the first time. 

While Howard certainly helps the Lakers at the center position, they don't necessarily need him if the cons start to outweigh the pros with JaVale McGee also on the roster. McGee averaged 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks for L.A. last season across 75 games (62 starts). 

Even though the Lakers have given themselves an out if they want to move on, Howard sounds like he's ready and willing to embrace any role that will be carved out for him. The 33-year-old has a lot at stake with the opportunity to win big and rebuild his value next season.