Following the sudden playoff exits of the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers are the last team standing among the seasons’ three main title favorites. The Laker faithful should be pleased with superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they ought to be just as thrilled with how well supporting cast has been playing.
The ‘other guys’ have bought in to their roles, including former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. It’s been quite the roller coaster for the big man over the last couple of seasons, and it looks like he’s settling in for the first time since leaving the Orlando Magic.
Let’s recap how Howard’s reputation fell off a cliff in the 2010s:
Howard was known as a lovable giant and the clear-cut best center in the league in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and even finished second in MVP voting in the 2010-11 season.
However, he suddenly became one of the most hated men in basketball after a super awkward interview late in the 2011-12 season, where his then-coach, Stan Van Gundy, publicly admitted that his star center wanted him fired. Having no clue what was being talked about, Howard walked up to playfully interrupt and do his usual goofy, playful shtick. See if you can handle the cringe.
Here’s what ensued: the Magic were bounced in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Van Gundy was fired, and Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. In L.A., he played up-and-down and butted heads with coaches and teammates, most notably Kobe Bryant. They then got the Lakers swept in the first round of the 2013 playoffs with Bryant sidelined, and Dwight left for the Houston Rockets at the end of the season. It’s important to note, though that Howard was suffering from back problems during that first stint in LA.
Howard only had one strong season in his three years with the Rockets as his play and production steadily declined. He then proceeded to be a journeyman starter, spending one-offs with the Atlanta Hawks (2016-17), Charlotte Hornets (2017-18), and Washington Wizards (2018-19, only played nine games), where he failed to fit in at each turn.
Then, a probable re-birth
With all that has transpired, not much was expected from Dwight when he returned to the Purple and Gold this season. It was even deemed to be a desperation move on the Lakers’ part, and some believed that Joakim Noah was the better fit.
Dwight, however, more mature than he’s ever been, was quick to acknowledge that he’s damaged goods and well-aware of his faults, also assuring that his ego were dead and gone.
He proved himself well in the regular season as he put up 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 18.9 minutes per game as Anthony Davis’s reliever. The Lakers also went 8-1 when he recorded a double-double.
Fast-forward to now, he’s among the best back-up centers in the league, and playing valuable minutes for the Lake Show in the Western Conference Finals.
He’s looking good playing his new role that he can step right in and contribute anytime. After only playing a total of 15 minutes across two games in the Houston Rockets series, where they needed to go small, Dwight played 16 minutes in Game 1 vs. the Denver Nuggets and logged 13 points and two blocks, and also helped Nikola Jokic get into foul trouble.
Head coach Frank Vogel liked what he saw, and even hinted that he may start Howard for Game 2 tomorrow.
While the dirt that came his way were mostly self-inflicted, it’s nice to see that Dwight has had a considerable turnaround. It’s been intriguing to watch his progression as a back-up big, decoy, and defensive role player. We’ll see if he can continue being a strong presence against the red-hot Jokic.
Catch Game 2 of the Lakers and Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals series tomorrow, Monday, September 21st, at 7:30 AM, Manila time.