Because their cast apparently didn’t have enough comic relief, the Lakers went ahead and decided to sign Dwight Howard on Friday, according to multiple reports. Howard’s reunion with the Lakers picked up steam after center DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL earlier this month. Howard joins Javale McGee as the only other center on L.A.’s roster—though Anthony Davis should see substantial time at the five during the moments that actually matter.
There’s not much to say about Dwight’s return to the Lakers that hasn’t already been said. Yes, it’s hilarious. Yes, it makes some sense on a basketball level if Dwight is actually willing to do the things he always promises he’s willing to do but never actually does. Yes, everyone is going to post the infamous “Now This Is Going To Be Fun!” SI cover and think they were the first person to make that joke. The Dwight cycle was always going to be predictable, but it is heartening to see the end of at least one trope.
The redemption narrative.
Whether or not Dwight Howard even needs to redeem anything is a separate conversation (he probably doesn’t?), but it is probably fair to say the Lakers represent the last chance for Howard to have something of a normal finish to his NBA career, and frankly, that’s the way it should be. For as great as Howard was for so much of his career—he’s going to the Hall of Fame—he’s been just as annoying and frustrating over the last few years. From his first stint in L.A., to Houston, to Atlanta, and then to Charlotte (D.C. doesn’t really count), Howard has basically promised one thing and done another. He reportedly refuses to be a willing screeer. He allegedly gets on his teammates nerves. And he follows this up with often cringeworthy public statements.
Once legitimately in the argument for the league’s best player—and someone who outdueled LeBron in a playoff series—Howard, 33, is now joining forces with James on a non-guaranteed contract. He has no leverage left, and the Lakers are making the smallest possible commitment to Dwight to ensure that he stays in line.
Despite all of the caveats and his public missteps, Howard still finds himself in a wildly good situation. He’ll probably get opportunities to start at some point during the regular season. He’s going to get to run pick-and-rolls with LeBron James. He’ll be expected to play defense, but he’ll have an absolute stud frontcourt partner in Anthony Davis—who can cover up for any mistakes. Howard has basically fallen glutes backward into the best gig for any NBA center—catch lobs from LeBron, and slow down opposing centers while playing next to the ultimate safety net.
If Howard can’t make this work, it’s hard to imagine what place there’s left for him in the NBA. Dwight still has utility if he’s willing to commit himself to the Clint Capela role for the Lakers—there’s a reason why Capela replaced Howard in Houston. If Dwight can’t run end to end while flanked by superstars, it’s unclear what other basketball situation could wake up any talent he has left. The pieces are in place for Howard to finally deliver on what he’s said he can do. If he’s unable to be a positive on this team, it’s hard to imagine there will be another opportunity (let alone a better one) for Howard to keep his NBA career going.