Few NBA players have ever suffered the type of hit to their reputation as a player that Dwight Howard has over the past two seasons. Just two years ago he was the consensus top big man in the game and the gulf between him and the number 2 player was larger than any other top player at his position and the man below him.
In the two seasons, since, however, Howard’s brand as a player has taken a major hit. From the poor way he handled his pending free agency in Orlando to his trade “demand” to his back tracking to his season ending injury and then to how he performed on the court this season during his recovery, the luster to Howard’s reputation as an elite player in the league was severely tarnished.
Now that he’s finally hit the point in which he’s an unrestricted free agent, there are real questions about whether or not he’s worthy of the chase teams are sure to put on in order to obtain his services. It’s probably better to take a step back and realize that, yes, Dwight Howard is worth it.
Does he have issues with his game? Of course. Most every player does. But what Howard has shown, even in a season when he clearly wasn’t at his best, is that teams respect his game immensely. Even with an “unpolished” offensive game, Dwight is swarmed in the post and on his dives to the rim out of the pick and roll. Even when he was clearly limited physically, teams were hesitant to all out attack him defensively by targeting him in isolation or in the pick and roll. Even while he played through what was obviously a still hurting back, Dwight put up strong numbers and had a high impact on the game — though, as the year went on this was more true than at the beginning.
This past week, there have been several rumors and rumblings about where Dwight may go. The latest talk was that the Clippers covet him and would, potentially, be open to trying to trade for him. And then there are the long reported landing spots of Houston, Dallas, and, even, Atlanta. However, in an interview just a few days ago, Kobe Bryant had a simple message for the Lakers and Dwight: Just lock him up.
Kobe’s not wrong. There’s no doubt in my mind that if it came to having to deal Howard, the Lakers could work out a way to get a strong package in exchange for trading him. Whether it’s a version of the rumored offer the Clippers would have on the table or some other group of players and picks from a different team, there will be deals presented to the Lakers should it come to that.
But, in reality, it’s probably better that it doesn’t come to that. Because regardless of what you think of Dwight as a person due to how he’s handled his business over the past two seasons, he’s still one of the top talents in the league. It’s easy to forget that when we all spent so much time picking apart his game over the past 18 months, but as the second half of the season showed, the player who was a consensus top 5 (and probably top 3) talent in the league is still worth holding onto.