In Dwight Howard‘s first game as the Washington Wizards’ starting center, he scored 20 points and dominated the first quarter. Washington lost this game by 23 points.
It seems like no matter what Dwight does now, he and his teams are doomed to fail.
Back in 2008, Howard was Superman. He stood atop the NBA universe where he could do no wrong. Fast forward to now, and Howard can’t do much of anything right. Somewhere along his five different stops around the country, he must’ve been cursed.
When Dwight was on the Orlando Magic, everything was different. On the court, he dominated. He was part of several All-NBA teams, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and even pushed his 2009 group to the NBA Finals. On camera, he was funny and endearing – a jolly young man who was taking over the NBA while poking fun jabs at his hoarse head coach Stan Van Gundy.
Of course, these little pokes and jabs became more serious. Eventually, Howard requested that the organization fire Van Gundy. This desire resulted in one of the most infamous press conferences in NBA history:
After Van Gundy says he knows that Howard wants him fired, Howard appears next to Van Gundy with an arm around him, denying such a request was ever made. Somebody was lying…
Following only a few months after this press conference, both Van Gundy was fired and Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
And here begins the All-Star’s downfall… Five teams in seven years, each one more excited than the last to get rid of him.
Since leaving Orlando, Dwight Howard has never returned to the fun-loving, dominant presence he once was. He has been on-and-off the court with injuries, less effective offensively, and his defense has naturally waned.
But it’s more than that. When Howard first became a Charlotte Hornet, Albert Burneko of Deadspin wrote:
“… he has spent much of his career shuffling between a gratingly phony Kooky Fun Guy routine, smarmy piety, and a surly, passive-aggressive, self-pitying petulance that is both far more authentic seeming than either of the first two and no less off-putting. He didn’t get along with Stan Van Gundy in Orlando; he really didn’t get along with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles; he really, really didn’t get along with James Harden in Houston; he even bickered with Dennis Schröder in Atlanta.”
Dwight has become a walking fault line for NBA locker rooms. And in some respects, he is becoming a player that fans only love to hate. A villain, but not quite… more like your most annoying friend.
At least, that’s how the whole Charlotte situation played out.
The Hornets got the band back together with Howard and head coach Steve Clifford, so to speak; Clifford was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles during Howard’s time with those franchises. Sure, they had heard the rumblings of the Hawks being annoyed with Howard’s antics, but they trusted they could get a lot out of him by reuniting him with a former coach. They trusted that Dwight was talented and he meant well, and that he really wasn’t so bad to be around.
They quickly learned he was that bad.
But the writing should’ve been on the wall when, learning about the trade, Atlanta Hawks players reportedly screamed with jubilation.
And only one year after being traded to Charlotte, Howard would be traded from Charlotte – for Timofey Mozgov.
While assessing the trade, Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer accounts how Howard disrupted the locker room and did little to help the team win:
“Like Howard, Mozgov is a traditional, back-to-the-basket center…
But unlike Howard, Mozgov should not be a locker-room issue…
Howard compiled great numbers last season for Charlotte (16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game) and yet he made absolutely no difference on the Hornets’ bottom line. The team finished 36-46 the year before he came, and it finished an identical 36-46 in his one season in Charlotte.”
Again, Howard was ineffective and a nuisance. In Atlanta, he was unable to play in crunch time playoff minutes while grumbling about wanting more post touches. And in Charlotte, he was just a cog in a mediocre machine as the team quickly became “sick and tired” of his jokester act.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 20, 2018
Since leaving Orlando, Dwight Howard has been uninspiring on the floor and crumbled locker room chemistry. His teams have consistently been disappointments.
And that brings us to the Washington Wizards. After the Brooklyn Nets bought out Howard’s contract, the Wizards picked him up on a 2 year/$11 million contract.
The Wiz are a talented team in the East, who should have very real playoff aspirations with a core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. But strapped by big contracts, the team was forced to take a risk on some questionable players this summer by try improving the team: Dwight Howard was among them.
The risk, so far, has not worked out. And we’ve already seen pieces of the entire Dwight Howard roller coaster throughout the course of this young season.
He’s already missed games due to injury
NBA Twitter has already clowned him, for the injury of all things:
Prayers up for Dwight pic.twitter.com/eGXv6uKxlo
— Ryan Schroedter (@Shane_YCreydort) October 9, 2018
And he’s already been putting up pretty decent numbers as a Wizard.
But just like Charlotte, his help has done little to help Washington’s big picture, winning in only one of his first four appearances. And while there haven’t been any rumblings around the locker room about him yet, you’ve got to assume some sort of drama is brewing over there in the nation’s capital. With Dwight, Austin Rivers, and Wall – it seems inevitable.
The Wizards are 2-9 to start the season. Last year, they barely got into the playoffs. This year, it looks like it could be even harder.
And this is not to say that the Wizards’ struggles are all Dwight’s fault. That’s not it at all. But it is to say that when they acquired Dwight, we should’ve expected some regression, at least by now. And now, with this team’s context, it’s not a question of whether there will be locker room issues, but when.
It’s not accidental or supernatural that Dwight Howard’s career, past and present, has followed this trajectory. He was once one of the best players in the league, his jokes were new and fun, and now, due to injury and age, he can’t produce in the same way as he thinks he still can, and his personality has become grating.
So, maybe that part of it all isn’t a curse.
But the fact Dwight was somehow claimed by the Wizards, one of the most volatile and passive-aggressive locker rooms in the league, that seems the work of something higher that wants to watch the world burn as it spins. As Dwight’s team becomes more depressing than ever and the in-house drama has more potential to explode, he will continue making little impact on-the-court.
The Wizards should start planning how they can appease whatever demons are hovering around their team and right the ship before it starts sinking.
Dwight Howard can still be a valuable player in this league as a screen-setter and defensive powerhouse inside. We haven’t seen a razor sharp, role-focused Dwight practically ever. But if the Wizards can somehow, somehow coax this kind of play out of him, they’ll be a stronger team.
My advice to Dwight and the Wizards: head over to the nearest church, enlist the help of a priest, and pray to the basketball gods that everything starts falling into place or this could be a long, ugly season for everyone involved.