/Is Dwight Howard Really a Viable Option for the Lakers at Center?

Is Dwight Howard Really a Viable Option for the Lakers at Center?

NBA player Dwight Howard, of the Memphis Grizzlies, arrives at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Richard Shotwell/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t seriously considering Dwight Howard, right? That can’t be accurate.

Obviously the team is in the market for a backup center after losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL last week. One of the names to surface as a potential candidate is indeed Howard, a former Laker last seen ejected from his final game in the purple and gold in a playoff sweep by the San Antonio Spurs. Howard, who is currently under contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, is more than just a name linked to the Lakers.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Grizzlies “are granting the Los Angeles Lakers permission to speak with” Howard.

Howard, who the Lakers acquired in a trade (primarily for Andrew Bynum and draft considerations), was never 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 shouldn’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 first team to struggle integrating Howard successfully, either.

While he 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 FinalsHoward’s 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.

With 16 players on fully guaranteed contracts (and two more with at least $300,000 guaranteed in Bruno Caboclo and Ivan Rabb), Memphis will need to cut multiple players to get down to the maximum of 15 before the start of the season.

The Grizzlies are likely to waive Howard regardless of the Lakers’ interest. If he’s willing to take a buyout, Memphis would likely jump at it, especially if he’s willing to walk away from $2.6 million of his deal (the amount the Los Angeles can offer on a minimum contract).

Now, 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.

If they do, the answer would 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.

In addition to Howard, the Lakers are planning workouts with Joakim Noah and Mo Speights and are also considering Marcin Gortat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

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 across 42 games with the Grizzlies last year.

In terms of fit, Noah has been a defensive-minded role player since he joined the league out of Florida in 2007. His biggest challenge is overcoming his brutal two-year stint with the New York Knicks, where current Lakers adviser Kurt Rambis was an assistant coach.

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

Gortat has a big body, knows how to set screens and is a solid post defender, although he isn’t especially agile on switches in front of guards.

At this point, Noah may be the best of the three defensively, which would be critical for a backup 5.

Speights is a shooter. He’d help to spread the floor, but he’s also perhaps the worst defender among the candidates they’re reportedly considering.

Another option could be Kenneth Faried, who will be turning 30 in November. While he’s more athletic than Howard, Noah, Gortat or Speights, he’s only 6’8″ and could be a liability if asked to spend significant minutes trying to battle against Western Conference foes like Rudy Gobert or Nikola Jokic.

Circa 2009-12, Howard was the best player of the bunch, but he isn’t that guy anymore. If he didn’t burn enough bridges to give Pelinka pause, he could end up being the answer for the Lakers for the time being.

If Howard didn’t live up to expectations, the Lakers could easily cut him. That may be a $2.6 million gamble they’re willing to take.

                

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