Dwight Howard didn’t change.
The Atlanta native is no longer a member of the Hawks. The former eight All-Star and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year did little about a reputation that far preceded him when he arrived back home. Howard will play for his fifth team since he left the Magic in 2012 after he was traded to the Hornets Tuesday in a move that ended his homecoming after just one season.
Simply, in my opinion, the Hawks couldn’t have Howard in their locker room any longer. Not with a nucleus of young impressionable players. Not with a room becoming devoid of veteran leaders such as Al Horford, Kyle Korver and, now perhaps, Paul Millsap.
It’s easy to look at the trade on a contract-by-contract basis. I believe there was more to it.
Howard’s previous issues were well-documented – with Stan Van Gundy with the Magic, with Kobe Bryant with the Lakers, with James Harden with the Rockets. Current Hornets coach Steve Clifford was on the Magic staff with Howard. He may well know the issues before him now.
Howard’s issue in Atlanta were becoming more and more well-documented. Consider:
* He was assessed a Flagrant Foul 2 and ejected in a game at the Hornets in November. The Hawks were winning but the Hornets went on a game-winning run after the incident. Howard didn’t get the backing of coach Mike Budenholzer or teammates.
* Howard had to be restrained from going into the stands after a heckler after a loss at the Lakers in November.
* Howard and several players had tenuous relationships. Most notably, Dennis Schroder and Howard had an on-court quarrel that led to a wide-open 3-pointer by Stephen Curry in a loss to the Warriors in March. Schroder said he wanted to meet with Budenholzer and Howard to clear the air. Millsap had to step in as an intermediary to help Schroder.
* Howard loves attention. He got a lot of it at times when the television cameras and radio microphones were on him. However, Howard on several occasions declined to speak to the media after a loss, bad game or late-game benching. He left teammates to speak for him, something that did not go over well.
* The morning before the Hawks’ Game 6 playoff elimination loss to the Wizards, Howard was pulled over for speeding in Dunwoody. He was travelling at 95 miles per hour, in a 65 miles per hour zone, at 2:06 a.m. He was driving with a suspended registration and no insurance.
I don’t recount all this to portray Howard as a bad guy. We got along well for the most part. Heck, he taught me all about the ‘Cash me outside’ girl to much locker room laughter. He clearly held a grudge for my story on the infamous ‘Stickum’ incident when he was with the Rockets. He was cautious much of the time in dealing with the media.
I don’t believe Howard is a bad guy. His charitable works speak volumes. He may not be the player he once was but he still averaged 13 points and 13 rebounds last season. He can help a team now. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day. He wasn’t the best fit for the Hawks’ system, a mistake clear now with the benefit of hindsight.
There just wasn’t a place in the Hawks locker room for negative influence. Especially not with a team building for the future with a nucleus of young players.
It appears with a new general manager the first move was to move Howard. A lot of people will look at the trade as a big loss for the Hawks. And they did give up a lot. They brought back a bad contract in Miles Plumlee, who will make $12.4 million for the next three seasons despite averaging less than three points and three rebounds per game as a backup center. The Hawks slid back 10 spots in the second round of Thursday’s NBA Draft. They could have gotten a decent player at No. 31. Will they now at 41?
The Hawks had to know that any trade of Howard was not going to be favorable in the short term.
Plumlee did not have the best reputation in Charlotte. I’m told he was often “disinterested” and certainly didn’t live up to the contract he got when with the Bucks. However, he won’t be a leader in the Hawks locker room. If Millsap leaves, Howard would easily have been the veteran presence. Plumlee has been traded three times in the past year. He could be traded again. His contract might be very valuable to match salary in another deal.
The Hawks also got Marco Belinelli in the trade. The guard is on an expiring contract at a reasonable $6.6 million. He could be traded again soon. He could be traded at the deadline for an asset, maybe even a first-rounder. He could help the Hawks off the bench as a known shooter.
Howard had a tearful introductory press conference last year on his return to Atlanta. The tears of joy didn’t last.