How the NBA Got to Where It Is: the Downfall of Dwight Howard

Over the 24 months, the NBA has undergone a series of dramatic changes due to increased player mobility. The league has seen 13 of the 25 players selected to the 2016 All-Star Game change teams.

In this series, we will examine how the league got to where it is today with each blockbuster transaction, and now we look at the fall of Dwight Howard.

July 2, 2016: The Atlanta Hawks sign Dwight Howard

In the late 2000s, Dwight Howard was viewed as the best big man in the NBA and arguably the best player not named LeBron James. Like Superman, Howard carried the weight of a franchise on his back as he dragged a less than stellar Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals in 2009.

After years of being a big fish in a small pond, Howard followed in the footsteps of former Magic superstar Shaquille O’Neal and forced his way to Los Angeles in a four-team mega trade. Howard lasted only one unspectacular year with the Lakers and signed a deal with the Houston Rockets.

Howard took less money to play alongside budding superstar James Harden and the two had one run to the Western Conference Finals despite Howard missing half the season. Howard’s tenure with the Rockets only lasted three years and his effectiveness was no longer what it was due to nagging injuries and a vast change in style-of-play sweeping across the NBA.

This brings us to 2016, in which Howard opted out of his final year in Houston and signed a 3-year deal worth $70 million with the Atlanta Hawks. While $23.5 million per year seems like a lot of money, it was not much more than what unproven players like Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov received.

In signing Howard, the Hawks broke up the front-court tandem of Al Horford and Paul Millsap which had been a force in the Eastern Conference for many years. The Hawks gambled on Howard’s former star prowess over Horford’s modern skills and stability.

Howard only played one year with Atlanta, and at only the age of 30, he was viewed as a washed-up relic of an archaic NBA that he dominated only 5 years prior. Howard has since been involved in the three subsequent transactions as he can’t find a place to call home for an extended period of time.

On June 20, 2017, Howard was shipped to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee, and a swap of second round picks. A former star who was still supposed to be in his prime was shipped out for nothing more than a salary dump.

Howard spent one year in Charlotte where he posted impressive counting stats. However, Howard’s game does not make an impact commensurate with his salary, so he was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets for Timofey Mozgov to shave money from the Hornets luxury tax bill.

The Nets, after pining for Dwight Howard in 2012, bought him out and he eventually inked a deal with the Washington Wizards for the taxpayer mid-level exception. In his press conference, Howard said he wishes to spend the rest of his career in DC.

The downfall of Dwight Howard illustrates how the league has changed so greatly in a short amount of time. Teams no longer want a center who clogs the paint on offense and cannot switch onto smaller players on defense. Dwight Howard is the poster child of how the game can pass a player by in an instant. While other big men like Al Horford and Marc Gasol adapted their games to stay effective, Dwight could not do so and is a member of his fourth organization within only two calendar years. 


Photo: Associated Press

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One comment on “How the NBA Got to Where It Is: the Downfall of Dwight Howard”
  1. Good explainer – Thanks for your thoughts…

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