Dwight Howard can finally be himself.
He doesn't have the pressure of carrying a team. He doesn't have a superstar teammate who resents his laughter. He doesn't have anyone in the locker room doubting him.
And most importantly, he doesn't have crippling feelings of self doubt.
"I'm just grateful," Howard said after the Lakers' 128-99 win over Cleveland on Monday. "I don't look at the stat sheet. I don't look at anything. I'm just happy to be out there playing basketball. Playing here in LA has been such a blessing for me and I cherish every single moment. So when I'm out there on the floor, can't do nothing but give 135 percent and have fun in the process."
Howard had 21 points on nine-for-11 shooting and a game-high 15 rebounds in the Lakers' ninth-straight win, their third in a row without Anthony Davis.
The Lakers' 6-foot-10 center was effortless. He picked his spots. Heck, he even made a three-pointer.
And he did it all with his signature smile.
While sitting by his locker after the game, he was asked if this is the most fun he's ever had on the court.
"It's more accepted," Howard said. "I think a lot of times in the past, it wasn't accepted for guys to have fun like this on the court. But I think what it's showing is that it's just pure joy. For me, this is like my sanctuary. For an artist, when they want to show how thankful they are, they make music. For a basketball player, it's on the court."
After a disastrous one-year stint with the Lakers in 2012-2013 in which Kobe Bryant felt as though Howard wasn't serious enough, he left for Houston. Howard went on to join five more teams, including two that waived him. Last season, he played in only nine games for Washington after a back surgery.
His career was flailing. Many thought it was over.
Then the Lakers, the very team where his decline started, decided to give him another chance, signing him to a non-guaranteed contract, which became fully guaranteed last week.
"I did anticipate that if he came in and his attitude was right and his role acceptance was what we had hoped it would be, that he could be a heck of a piece, a heck of an asset for us," Lakers' coach Frank Vogel said. "So I did anticipate that he could have a strong impact. Maybe not as much as he's having. I mean, he was a monster tonight, 21 and 15."
Howard is averaging 7.3 points on a career-high 73.7% shooting from the field and 7.1 rebounds a game this season.
He finally found his home. It makes sense when you think about it.
It's on a team whose superstar can be just as lighthearted and silly as him. LeBron James sings to his music in the locker room and posts silly videos on Instagram of him and his family celebrating taco Tuesday.
"They were always like the kids on the team, just always playing around," Quinn Cook said of James and Howard. "That's how they are today, 17, 16 years in the league. They're very selfless. They have relationships with everybody on the team."
Howard fits into the culture. He fits in with James.
It's all one giant sigh of relief for Howard, an eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, who was flirting with irrelevance.
This is his second chance.
"He’s accepted his role and he’s thrived in it," James said.
Now, Howard can't help but have fun. And in this Lakers' locker room, that's finally not a bad thing.
"We enjoy watching each other thrive," Howard said. "When you have a team full of brothers that enjoy picking their brother up and seeing them thrive and seeing them be the best version of themselves, it just makes the chemistry of the team."