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Dwight Howard: “Harden seemed like a young Kobe to me... I don’t know why”

The center regrets how he left the Lakers after winning the ring in 2020: “They could have kept the block but they signed Marc Gasol and Harrell.”

The center regrets how he left the Lakers after winning the ring in 2020: “They could have kept the block but they signed Marc Gasol and Harrell.”
Kevin C. CoxAFP

Dwight Howard’s time in the NBA ended, apparently permanently, when he couldn’t find a team last season and had to go play in Taiwan with Taoyuan Leopards. At 37 years old (although you never know), a return would be be difficult for the center, who has hinted from Asia that he could trying. For example, other NBA players without teams (Carmelo Anthony in particular) went there to play with him. It emerged late last week that Howard is set to meet with the Warriors...

Howard’s career arc had a strange ending. Number 1 in the 2004 draft without going through college, he was one of the best players in the NBA during his time with the Orlando Magic (2004-12). In those years he played six of his eight All Stars and entered the All-NBA team five times in a row (2008-12). He was also Best Defender three times in a row (2009-12), Top Rebounder four times in a row (five total in his career) and Top Blocker twice. On top of that, to increase his popularity, he won the dunk contest in 2008, a year before playing in the Finals, where his Magic could not beat a Lakers side featuring Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Bad move

In his eight seasons with Florida he averaged 18.4 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks with almost 58% shooting from the field. But on 10 August 2012, everything changed when he was traded to the Lakers, a massive operation that, unfortunately, went wrong. The physical problems (his and the entire squad) and his lack of chemistry with Kobe turned the 2012-13 season into a nightmare for the franchise who aspired to regain the NBA throne with Kobe, Howard, Pau and an already veteran and very hampered by injuries Steve Nash. In the summer of 2013, he did something that no star had ever done fully: leave the Lakers as a free agent. He chose the Rockets, to play with James Harden. But it didn’t go well either, and there began a descent into hell in which more and more was said about his lack of attitude while the game evolved towards a style that was no longer optimal for a center of his characteristics.

Return to LA

After three years in Houston he went through the Hawks, Hornets and Wizards. In the summer of 2019 he had one foot outside the NBA for the first time, with no one interested in him, physically depleted and pigeonholed as a problematic player. However, well into August, DeMarcus Cousins’ injury and the absence of a guarantee center made the Lakers take him again to reinforce the first LeBron James-Anthony Davis project. Many made fun of this move, but the Angelenos ended up being champions in 2020. And Howard had a prominent role, perfectly adapted to a very secondary role, with a positive attitude and stretches in which he defended and rebounded with the intensity of good times.

But then the Lakers opted for another route and Howard went to the Sixers, where he again showed an obvious decline that was already very obvious in his strange third stage in the Lakers, the very bad 2021-22 season, marked by the disastrous transfer for Russell Westbrook. Today, Howard regrets that the Angelenos did not choose to maintain the champion block after the Florida bubble: “Why didn’t they just keep the same team? We had just been champions , but they preferred to sign Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell. It was their way of saying that they believed that they were better and younger in the center position.”

Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant pictured during their time together with the Lakers.
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Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant pictured during their time together with the Lakers.STEPHEN DUNNAFP

The truth is that the Lakers greatly remodeled the champion team, which had been (with Frank Vogel at the helm) an excellent defensive block but with traffic jams when LeBron and Davis were not producing at full capacity. Marc, Harrell and Schröder arrived, and the Lakers seemed to have hit the nail on the head: they went 21-6 in February, and seemed on course for a second consecutive title. As soon as everything came together, it quickly fell apart due to a raft of injuries and physical and mental exhaustion. It was a year with a very bad ending for the Lakers... and for Marc Gasol, who was no longer at his best and who had disagreements with the team, especially after the arrival of another center to the team. staff, Andre Drummond. The Spaniard no longer played in the NBA and could not close a historic stage with a second ring for him in the team, in addition, in which his brother Pau is a legend.

Howard, in the My Expert Opinion program, spoke about the differences between Kobe and LeBron, two of the best players in history and two with whom he has shared a locker room: “I was at two different stages of my life and career with both players. With Kobe I was super young, I was in my prime - not that I was egotistical, but I felt highly of myself because of my accomplishments. And, I’d never had a superstar team mate. We bumped heads because of the age gap and me just never experiencing what it’s like to have a star like that in the team. As I got older I started to realize more about what he felt. We didn’t really fall out, we just had some disagreements on the court like any other team, and any other team mate,” he explained.

Kobe, LeBron, Jordan

“Kobe and LeBron... LeBron almost acts like somebody from the south side of Georgia. We actin’ kind of like twins. Joking, silly, have a good time. We get on the court, we still gonna have a good time but we’re gonna dominate. Kobe ain’t bullshitting with nobody. He might not come to the locker room to talk. And everybody’s like: ‘So he’s just gonna walk all the way past us...’” That’s just how he comes in. Now, looking back in it. He was probably just getting everybody ready because it would be too loud with us joking around and laughing. Y’know, he was just a little different, in his approach, but, that’s Kobe, that’s what made him who he is. I feel like he started out trying to catch Mike [Jordan]. And then, after a while he said, ‘I’m Kobe Bryant, I don’t need to catch Mike, I can just do me’. Because literally, everything that Michael Jordan did, he did it x2. Jordan was a mid-range shooter, Kobe could shoot threes. I feel that Kobe, steal-wise, he could do more than Jordan,” Howard explained.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 38,387 points in the NBA.
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 38,387 points in the NBA.Andrew D. BernsteinNBAE/Getty Images

The greatest versus the best

He had to think long and hard when asked who he feels is the greatest player to have played in the NBA, before answering: “I think its 1a and 1b with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Jordan, and then LeBron and then Kobe. Why is no big man put in these categories? Ok, for Kareem to score how many points, 38,000? Without threes? You don’t think that’s harder? He scored the same amount of points as LeBron did, in less time, with no threes and in a different era... even though the basket’s right there, it’s harder to get to the rim, because you’re playing against people that big too and they’re blocking off the paint. It’s not that easy. In the paint there’s no space, you gotta create space and you’re always fighting for position”.

The center also made it clear that surely now he would not repeat his decision of 2013, when he changed the Lakers for the Rockets and the company of Kobe for that of the then emerging James Harden: “I looked at [James Harden] as a younger version of Kobe. I don’t know why I was thinking that… If I would’ve sat down and really thought about my decisions without being in my emotions, I probably would’ve stayed in LA. No disrespect to James. I’m not saying he’s bad or anything. But I was thinking at the time that me and James could be like a new version of Kobe and [Shaq] because he’s the young two-guard that’s coming up in the league and I’m the older center that’s been dominating. So I’m like man, maybe we got a chance. I think that the Lakers decision was solely based on I felt like me and James was going to be better at that time”.