By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO
By all accounts NBA All-Star center Dwight Howard seems to finally be in his happy place.
Howard said during his introductory press conference July 23 he is happy to be in Washington because he “loves history” and “always wanted to play here one day.” He is happy because he and former Georgetown great Jeff Green – who just played in the NBA Finals with Cleveland – could help John Wall and Bradley Beal get beyond the second round of the playoffs. But after earning a reputation as an immature malcontent Howard is happy to have a job.
When an eight-time all-star, who averaged almost 17 points and 13 rebounds, is traded and then has his contract bought out by the Brooklyn Nets maybe the maturity light bulb turns on. Howard learned that Charlotte was trading him via social media on a night where he had a speaking engagement.
“I understand it’s the business of basketball,” Howard said. “I would think that anyone who was fired by his job or traded to another team in this case doesn’t want to learn about it on social media especially when I’m getting ready to speak. That was a tough pill to swallow but I just told myself that where I go next I’m going to give 110 percent and I’m healthy now.”
There were no bold predictions or TV soundbites that could return to haunt him should the Wizards have another traditional slow start that send fans into a panic before Christmas. He was soft spoken and professorial when addressing the circumstances leading to his departure from Charlotte earlier this summer.
Howard seems to have been humbled after maneuvering through five franchises over the past four NBA seasons. He no longer speaks in veiled utterances but with the wisdom of a seasoned veteran who realizes his career is closer to the finish line. The coming season marks 10 years since making his only Finals appearance where he and the Orlando Magic were swept by the Lakers. There may never be a better chance for he and the Wizards to get there either.
Washington has fortified their deficient areas this offseason. Austin Rivers gives them great perimeter scoring while Green should give them more than adequate reserve scoring and serviceable defense from the wing off the bench as well. Adding Howard will move Ian Mahinmi back to an easier role as a reserve where his minutes and fouls off the bench gives them depth in the paint which has been a war of attrition for nearly a decade. Despite neither being a conventional center in today’s NBA their size and athleticism is a formidable combination.
“We match up well with anybody,” Howard said. “We can play uptempo or slow it down. The game slows down late in the playoffs and if we stay healthy we can be a real tough team”.
Howard says that Wall was the main reason he chose to sign with the Wizards. They’ve developed an off-court relationship and it was a sales pitch that was hard to refuse. He hasn’t played with a better pure pick and roll guard than Wall since he’s been in the league either. Both have grated the nerves of former teammates in the past but suddenly its Howard who should have the credibility of the locker room.
Wall has never played beyond the conference semifinals while Green and Howard have. Having played on the ultimate stage gives them a perspective that Wall doesn’t know anything about. Howard has played with Kobe Bryant and for Michael Jordan and Wall has been home by Memorial Day each year.