I’m sorry, but I don’t see a happy ending for Howard and the Hawks

BJS_6343

Dwight Howard wipes away tears. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC photo)

This could/should be a great story: Hometown guy, tears in his eyes, returns to lead a team and its surrounding city to glory. Sure enough, the hometown guy wept during his unveiling Wednesday. (Then again, Kent Bazemore wept, too, and he’s from Kelford, N.C., and has played here the past two seasons.) Friends and family and day campers cheered the hometown guy who’d grown up playing in the very gymnasium where everyone was gathered, and he thanked the Atlanta Hawks “for believing in me.”

Here’s the thing, though. The hometown guy is Dwight Howard, who hasn’t exactly led the world in sincerity.

He could have signed with the hometown Hawks three summers ago had he so desired. “It wasn’t the right time for either of us,” he said Wednesday, which was true, kind of: In 2013, Howard was still regarded as a great player and the Hawks were coming off a 44-38 season and working with a new coach. He was too good for them then.

He’s not too good for them now, and therein hangs a tale. From 2007 through 2011, he averaged 13.6 Win Shares per season. (Kobe Bryant averaged 12.3, which tells us what sort of company he was keeping.) Over the past four seasons, Howard has averaged 6.2. Al Horford, who just left for Boston, averaged 7.4.

Howard hasn’t averaged 20 points a game since 2011-2012, his final season with Orlando. He’s still a good (though no longer great) rebounder, and the Hawks, as we know, have been starved for rebounds. But that’s the only way he’d appear to fit. At 30, his offensive game is more rudimentary than, say, that of Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s 10 years younger. Howard scores only on dunks and follows. He made six – that’s correct, six – jump shots last season. His reputation as a defensive ace is in large part outdated.

Put simply, the Hawks didn’t bring Howard home because he was their Missing Piece. They bought him because they were afraid Horford would leave – even though Horford has denied it, Howard’s signing might well have hastened him down the wind – and because not many other teams wanted a guy who’s viewed as damaged goods and, even worse, a threat to do damage to his surroundings.

In an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein, Howard said: “The one thing that just really I hate to hear with a passion is that I’m a cancer in the locker room and I’m a guy that wants to separate and divide a team. I’ve never been that way my whole life.” But why, then, is the man once considered the best center since Shaquille O’Neal about to work for his fourth franchise in five years?

As harsh as this sounds, it’s hard to take anything Howard says on its face. The folks in Orlando coined a word to describe his final years as a Magic man – Dwightmare. The Rockets, who signed him when he was the hottest free agent of 2013, weren’t overly interested in keeping him this time around. And then, not to put too fine a point on it, they ponied up $118 million to keep James Harden, with whom it’s believed Howard clashed.

Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni didn’t warm to Howard in his one season with the Lakers. After Kevin McHale was fired early last season, the Rockets’ coaching job fell to J.B. Bickerstaff, who would later describe the team as “broken.” The NBA world will never forget the image of Stan Van Gundy speaking to the media about how Howard was lobbying to have him fired when the oblivious Dwightmare walked up and threw his arm around the coach’s shoulder.

That’s the guy the Hawks have brought home. It’s true that Mike Budenholzer and Howard seem to have bonded – this dates back to their meeting in L.A. in the summer of 2013 – but we’ll have to see if that lasts. And maybe this is making too much of one tiny moment, but during Wednesday’s festivities Budenholzer, who’s not a touchy-feely type, put his arm on Howard’s shoulder. The big man didn’t flash his famous smile. If anything, he appeared puzzled.

I really wish I could feel better about this. Contrary to popular belief, I’m human. I’m a sucker for a feel-good story – the Iceland players doing their Viking Clap after beating England is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen – but I don’t see a happy ending in Hotlanta. The Hawks might indeed believe in Dwight Howard. I do not.

Reader Comments 0

59 comments
tyger
tyger

Hawks will be alright...


Prolly about the same...

Maybe a little worse...

Depending on East moves...


Howard/Humphries stronger inside...

Horford/Humphries better but alas...

Horford gone to greener pastures...


Howard draws attention...good or bad

Hawks prolly sell more tickets...

Get more national TV games, etc...

But offensive weaknesses glaring...


Bigger issue for me is lack of goto guy...

Appeared to be in good shape to get one...

That's why Howard signing so puzzling...


Budz big on team play...

Has a collection of assets...

Perhaps the whole, better than the parts...

But, somehow that seems old hat now...


Draftees Bembry, Prince promising...

But their contribution is 2/3 yrs. away...

Thus, THJ, KK, Thabo, Baze still core wings...

All fine players, but none upper echelon...


And all prone to disappearing acts...




ATLBrown
ATLBrown

Ok - I choose to be a little more optimistic than MB.  You don't need Howard to be Orlando-era Howard, and we didn't pay him that much, either.  What you want him to be is a solid post presence, especially on defense and rebounds.  Someone that can keep guys like Tristan Thompson from dominating you on the boards, block shots, etc.  That's what this team has lacked for years.  This is what has stopped them from getting past Cleveland the past two years.


He doesn't need to be great offensively, but having Howard down-low will keep defenses honest - meaning guys have to stay down there to guard him instead of coming out to double-team Korver and other shooters.


Also, even though he's had a few not-so-great years, he's still an NBA star and his signing here in Atlanta - especially if it works out well - could help in future free agent endeavors.


The Rockets are horribly-coached and the D'Antoni Lakers were a failed experiment.  I don't think Howard will be back to his Orlando dominance, but I expect he'll be better under coach Bud than the previous few years.


One more thing - I think Taurean Price will be quite good.

DrTruth
DrTruth

@ATLBrown What stopped the Hawks from getting past the Cavs this season was this:


77 3-pointers in 4-game series (NBA record)

25 3-pointers in game 2 (NBA record, reg season or playoffs)

15 or more 3-pointers in 4 consecutive games (NBA record, reg season or playoffs)


While Howard may prevent some of the off rebounds they eventually shot for 3-pointers, I doubt he is out on the perimeter blocking 3's.

WW5
WW5

maybe they just want howard to sell some tickets??

agentoranj90
agentoranj90

@WW5 Bingo.  That's what I thought.  I think there is really no other plan.  That plan disappeared after Ferry left. 

AnthonyHurley
AnthonyHurley

I don't know how the AJC still exists. They don't have one single good writer here.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

Hmmm, lets see here.

1. You picked the Falcons to make the playoffs last year after the 5-0 start...I think you said "book it".

2. You picked the Braves to make the playoffs a couple of years ago..and you like the rebuild project.

3. You also said that Horford would resign..."you were sure of it".

4. You also picked the Dogs to win the East last year.

You see this theme here? Take the opposite on whatever you write in these articles. Hey Bradley do us a favor and stop the predicting...you stink at it! Let us be fans and enjoy the ride, you and that hack Schultz always seems to muck it up for us somehow.

SouthGeorgiaStrong
SouthGeorgiaStrong

Going home mean more to a player who friends and family can see him play. I fee you will see the real Howard a youthful Howard that will fit just we Welcome Home Howard. Horford had his mind already made up he was not coming back 

FokalPoint
FokalPoint

I don't fault anyone for not signing with the Hawks three years ago or any other time when the Atlanta Spirit group was the owner.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Hey Mark....Horford is gone....either way second round ceiling right now...the key is going to be if we can keep Millsap next summer and attract a third star into the mix

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@ATLAquarius "...attract a third star...?" Who are the first two? Milsap? No. Howard? Five years ago, maybe. Even Horford wasn't truly a "star" by NBA standards.

jcarson
jcarson

You might be right but at least we have something different to watch, other than the 6'10" Horford shooting 15-foot set shots...brutal. 

agentoranj90
agentoranj90

@gama1mom3 @jcarson Yah, I like Al but he was not a banger.  It was a good scoring option having a good w/ a good set shot but it killed on defense and where we needed it most.

SnoopyJenkins
SnoopyJenkins

I fault the Hawks for the following:


(1) not discussing with Al AND anticipating Horford's reaction to pursuing and signing Howard


(2) make offer to GS for Bogut (can be signed cheaper the Howard) and pitching the ideal of freeing up cap space for GS to sign Durant


Signing Bogut would give us rebounding scorer/rim protector, allow Al to play the "4" and provide incentive for him to stay (but only if he would accept a deal similar to the deal the Celtics offered him)  Moreover, this deal would provide INCENTIVE for Milsap to stick with the Hawks long term after next year


BOTTOM LINE: A Bogut-Horford-Milsap team BEATS the hell out of a Howard-Milsap team!!!

Dis custed
Dis custed

Something new and I'm giving it a chance. Lots of other components to this year.

Draftees, player developments, Schroeder, injuries or lack of, Jack, whole year of Humpries, Korver finding his shot, Splitter get better and Moose on the loose.

TrueFan1
TrueFan1

Mark Bradley:You are Mr. Doom and Gloom about everything! I believe this has something to do with Salary envy....

POV1948
POV1948

@TrueFan1 Everything except the Braves teardown, which he thinks is brilliant.  

jerunamo
jerunamo

How cares what you think Mark Bradley.  Let the whole thing play out before you rush to judgement with your opinions.

escapeplan
escapeplan

@jerunamo you read his article, didn't you?  apparently YOU care what he thinks.

DarrynLee
DarrynLee

"Howard hasn’t averaged 20 points a game since 2011-2012, his final season with Orlando."


It's tough to average 20 when your average attempts goes down every year during his time in Houston. Last year he only average 8.5 FG attempts a game, shooting 62%. If this average goes up to around 13, where Al was, at the same 62% clip he would be a point per game better than Al was last year.  And that's without the free throws, which he average 3 makes per little over 6 attempts. 

DrTruth
DrTruth

@DarrynLee When looking for the strengths in Howard's game, you probably shouldn't mention free throws.  Just sayin'....

Braveschop
Braveschop

So much doom and gloom it's only July Go Hawks

patriotdog
patriotdog

MB, this may be your most accurate column ever, when it's all said and done. Let's hope not, however.

Keysman
Keysman

Hey give the man a chance and another thing is Stan van gundy was not only run out of orlando, he was run out of Miami As well. Name another star that wanted to play with Kobe Bryant. James harden is a good player but he will not win anything in Houston. I wish Al Horford good luck but how many championships have we won with him here, none , goodbye!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Keysman

A more important question:

How many championships have we won--PERIOD?

NONE, goodbye!

UGAdawg34
UGAdawg34

Resign Bradley. Statistics dictate that Atlanta will lose 2.5 more games without Horford and with Howard. They got boat raced in rebounding- especially in the playoffs. Howard had more than 100 rebounds more than the leader on the Hawks last year (which wasn't Horford). Did you ever wonder why the Hawks didn't sign Horford to a 5 year deal and then trade him to a team that wanted him to get a return? Answer: 0 teams in the entire league wanted Horford on a max 5 year deal or that would've happened, i.e., 0 teams deemed him worth that. Name the big plays that Horford made when it counted. Oh, one put back against the Wizards and I was there to see it. After that they got destroyed due to no rebounding or defensive presence. Trust the coaches and the brain trust rather than trying to cast a negative light on what should be a celebration of a local guy coming home. 

DrTruth
DrTruth

When a president/head coach signs a proven coach killer to be a team's salvation, nobody should be surprised when the wheels fall off.  Howard has been in the league for 12 years and coach Bud will be his 10th head coach.  In his wake are 9 fired coaches....

For everything to go right and have a happy ending here, it all hinges on Dwight Howard being re-born into the kind of player he has never been in 12 seasons....one receptive to coaching and a positive influence in the locker room.  So good luck with that.

Of course it's not impossible for Howard to remake himself and make coach Bud look like a visionary.  But give me the farm on Howard screwing it all up before his contract expires.  It's the only bet on the table.



Peachtree Bart
Peachtree Bart

@DrTruth People pretty much are who they are by 30.  There's growing left to do at any age, sure, but by 30 the character and social style are set.   That bodes poorly for this signing long-term, but I do think Howard will put on a good face and try hard to act grown-up for his first year.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Yea Bradley.......and you've picked the dawgs to win the East the last 3 years...lol

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

He's also picked them to beat GT most of the two-and-a-half-plus decades he's been with the AJC.

And whaddayaknow--he's been right far more often than not.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@DawgNole @TOJacket Wow professor, guess we can call him Mark the Greek.....to be a grammar grunt.....you sure can post some stupid shat.

Can'o'corn
Can'o'corn

don't think we are any better than we were last year, some new names, but just the same mundane team being run out.

bowman
bowman

The Hawks are a team of wants. Horford wanted a larger contract but wasn't worthy. Howard wants to come home a hero, which he could've done three years ago, but can't play Superman with his limited physical skills. Budenholzer wants to be a general manager but lacks the depth of his predecessor. Atlanta wants a winner but the Hawks are better at teasing than winning when it most matters.


Perhaps Howard, in the final year of his contract and with even further diminished physical skills, will become a hometown hero when he leads to the Hawks to winning something important: first pick in the NBA draft.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@bowman

First pick in the NBA draft is important only if you have a front office that knows how to draft.

ATL's never been known for that.

DjYogi
DjYogi

You also need to post J.J. Redick's interview on The Vertical about this incident.  He played with 2 ball hogs in LA and Houston. D'Antoni was also a run and gun coach.  Mark, I know you're not drinking the Kool-Aid.  Let's watch the games first. 

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Love the optimism!


Howard is a better pure center than Horford was and ever will be. We already have an all-star power forward. This is a no-brainer risk to take, though, admittedly, a risk. But standing still was not an option, and Durant wasn't coming. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@RoyalDawg

Standing still's been an option for the Hawks for 48 years.

It's actually refreshing to see them finally make a "splash" move.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@DawgNole @RoyalDawg If by "splash move" you mean a Knicks-esque signing of a name player who is five years past his prime, you might be right. 


Hey, maybe the Braves should trade for Ryan Howard! He's got an MVP trophy, right?


Maybe the Falcons can get Chris Johnson! He was tearing it up last election cycle!


You think maybe Atlanta United could sign David Beckham? That'd be sweet!


Anybody else you want to add that we could pay millions to for diminished returns?

Stinger2
Stinger2

Mark: Time may prove you to be one hundred pct. correct in your

doom and gloom prognosis about Dwight fitting in with the Hawks.

However, it seems that you could have at least waited and not put your opinion out in such harsh terms on the day he was introduced. 

UGAdawg34
UGAdawg34

@Stinger2 Exactly. Resign Bradley. Give the GM a chance. Geez freaking Louise.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Stinger2

He already put out his opinion--when they first announced that DH was coming home.