For anyone who watched your Los Angeles Lakers last season, it was fairly obvious which aging former All-NBA center between DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard had something left in the tank. And yet, the guy who was so ineffective a reeling L.A. team cut him in February is the one who inked a fresh veteran's minimum contract with a contender this summer. Jordan will back up reigning two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic on the Denver Nuggets. Former eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, on the other hand, remains a free agent as of this writing.
That's not to say Howard won't end up on a league roster at some point this year. But the preseason has already kicked off. DeMarcus Cousins had to wait until late November last season to sign a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. He was eventually waived, but quickly joined the Nuggets as Jokic's primary backup for the home stretch of the 2021-22 NBA season. This seems more likely than not to be the path the Artist Formerly Known As D12 (he wore jersey No. 37 last season with the Lakers) will have to take.
As the 6'10" future Hall of Famer, 36, continues to wait for an NBA opportunity, he has been doing a bit of a media lap, perhaps to help drum up awareness. Appearing on a brand-new episode of Showtime's highly-entertaining "All The Smoke" NBA show, hosted by former "We Believe" Golden State Warriors teammates Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, Howard shed some light into his experience with the Lakers during their ill-fated 2021-22 season.
Howard, of course, has enjoyed three separate tours of duty in Los Angeles at different points in his career, to wildly disparate results.
First, he was the blockbuster returning asset for a chemistry-free 2012-13 season, during which L.A. shuffled through three head coaches, and Howard, then still close to his Orlando prime (though somewhat limited by back issues), apparently clashed with Lakers All-Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant. They were joined to by two other Hall of Fame players in the team's starting lineup, point guard Steve Nash and power forward/center Pau Gasol (Metta Sandiford-Artest was the lone non-Hall of Famer in that starting five), but every non-Howard player was getting a bit long in the tooth. L.A. barely squeaked into the playoffs with a middling 45-37 record and promptly got swept by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, a pre-All-Star Kawhi Leonard, and the rest of the San Antonio Spurs. Howard left in free agency to join the Houston Rockets, despite (or, perhaps, because?) L.A. launched a somewhat desperate billboard campaign more or less begging him to stay in town.
No longer an All-Star, but still a solid rim-running big, Howard joined L.A. on a non-guaranteed "prove it" contract during the team's first year with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the pack, 2019-20. Howard indeed did prove it, and was an invaluable role player on what would be a title-winning club.
After a disappointing offseason negotiation, Howard linked up with the Philadelphia 76ers to serve behind All-NBA starting center Joel Embiid. He promptly re-joined the Lakers for 2021-22. Howard had become a more limited iteration of his 2019-20 self, but could still wreak havoc in the paint during spot minutes.
In a conversation at some point in the year with Jeanie Buss "advisor" Kurt Rambis, himself a former reserve big man, Howard apparently was given a blunt reality check of his NBA status. Last year on L.A., Howard averaged 6.2 points (on a beastly 61.2% field goal shooting), 5.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.6 blocks, and 0.6 steals across just 16.2 minutes a night. For his career, he's averaging 15.7 points (while shooting 58.7% from the floor), 11.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 assists, and 0.9 steals over 31.8 minutes a night.
"Kurt Rambis said to me, You're not Dwight Howard anymore,'" Howard told Jackson and Barnes. "It really hit me like, 'Damn... I just gotta shut my mouth and do what I'm asked to do... That was real hard."
Check out the full episode below:
Los Angeles opted to move on from Howard in free agency this summer, getting younger at the position with two athletic players under 28, Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant.