By midseason, it may be that reports will surface that Dwight Howard is as happy as can be in Atlanta. It may be that he joins Kyle Korver’s bowling team, that he takes up afternoon film sessions with coach Mike Budenholzer, that he has taken to sharing his tuna casserole recipe with the rest of his Hawks teammates. Maybe then, we’ll finally see that these past five disastrous years in the world of Dwight Howard have been the fault of everyone else except Dwight Howard.
Until then, brace yourself, Atlanta. Howard is signing a three-year, $70 million contract with your local bunch, and you should be warned: He has brought calamity to his last three NBA cities, each of which—initially, at least—contorted itself in order to make things just right for Howard, then watched him slog his way through year after year.
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As an Xs-and-Os move, the signing of Howard makes sense for the Hawks. He’s a more traditional center to pair with perimeter-oriented Paul Millsap, and his signing signals the departure of free agent Al Horford, a power forward who was masquerading as a center all these years. Sure, Howard’s game has declined, but he has mostly been a durable piece in the middle of the floor. He averaged 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds for the Rockets last year, shot 62.0 percent from the field and still showed that he can be a force on the defensive end.
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But then, he also admitted he pretty much shrugged off last season, playing with malaise and disengagement because the Rockets’ offense was not going to call for more opportunities in the post for him. It was much the same waning effort Howard showed in his one season with the Lakers, when he clashed with Kobe Bryant and coach Mike D’Antoni and never established consistency with the team.
And neither of those years compares with the tortured tumult of Howard’s final seasons in Orlando, when he lodged and rescinded a trade demand, then let his relationship with coach Stan Van Gundy collapse anyway amid an unraveling of a once-promising team. The Magic still haven’t recovered from their post-Dwight wasteland. Nor have the Lakers. We’ll see about the Rockets.
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Now we’ll see about the Hawks, who have infused themselves with some youth — making Dennis Schroeder the starter at point guard, bringing in rookies Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry in the draft — while also committing to an aging veteran in free agency. A historically crotchety veteran, at that.
The impulse for change is understandable for the Hawks, who peaked two seasons ago when they finished with the best record in the East and slid back to reality last season. They weren't going to improve much with the same roster. They won’t improve much this year, either, but they will have some youth to develop and could at least maintain their 48-win level from last season.
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