Dwight Howard had the worst season of his professional career in 2015-16 while the Rockets self-destructed. Now he’s reportedly likely to opt out of the last year of his deal in Houston (worth about $23 million). So, he’ll likely be hitting free agency as a 30-year-old with bad knees and a bad back who’s left behind three fractured locker rooms with questions of how seriously he takes the game (the latest coming from a damning piece by ESPN’s Calvin Watkins). That being said, he’s still able to anchor a defense, and he most definitely will have suitors if he does hit free agency.
Watkins also names the Blazers, Hornets, Bucks and, hilariously, the Magic as the top four contenders to sign Howard when he hits the market. With all the salary cap room between those teams, Howard might indeed beat the $23 million he would have made next year while locking up some more long-term security if his numbers and production continue to regress.
All of those teams need a stout defensive center to complement exciting, young perimeter players, but the Blazers are possibly the closest to contending, with Damian Lillard having fully risen to superstar status and C.J. McCollum, the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Mason Plumlee is big and probably has more pick-and-roll athleticism than Howard at this point in each of their careers, but he’s no Dwight defensively. The problem is that “superstar” thing.
Watkins’ story isn’t the first to portray Dwight viewing himself as a superstar and wondering why his teammates didn’t treat him like one — and frankly, it’s hard at this point to understand what kind of deferential treatment would suit him. He simply isn’t dynamic or versatile enough to be the focal point of an NBA offense, and he has to be smart enough to realize it. Only in Orlando would Howard be unquestionably the biggest star on the roster, and in Portland, Lillard isn’t going to be anything but the alpha dog.
Then again, Lillard’s charisma and magnetism is the chief driving factor in the Blazers remaining in contention after the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, and he’s one of the strongest locker room leaders in the league. If he wants Howard in Portland, Howard is going to feel wanted, and that might be all he needs.