2017-18 Statistics: 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.6 blocks
One of the few bright spots for the Charlotte Hornets this season came from dominant big man Dwight Howard. This solid season for Howard could see the last few years of his career turn towards a more positive direction after some were ready to write his career off.
After arriving from Atlanta, many were skeptical on what kind of Dwight the Hornets would be getting. Would it be Orlando Dwight, once seen as the next Shaq, a sure Hall of Fame in his prime? Or could is be Los Angeles Lakers Dwight, blinded by the spotlight and deafened by the heavy voices of other stars around him? Maybe even Houston Dwight, pretty good, but still carrying around some relationship baggage.
We ended up with fresh out of rehabilitation Dwight. Remolded into a once previous self, someone who looked like they thoroughly enjoyed playing the sport of basketball. Something we have not seen from Howard in quite some time. It’s almost as if his stint in Atlanta was just a staycation. One of those work vacations but you just stay at home and do your regularly scheduled activities, giving yourself some “me time”.
Howard made the best of his me time, and it was beneficial to the Hornets. Charlotte acquired Howard last offseason via trade from the Atlanta Hawks for pretty much 50 cents and a bag of flaming hot Cheetos (Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and a 2nd round pick.) Howard would arrive in Charlotte and immediately transform them into one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
Charlotte jumped from 16th in the league in rebounding during 2016-17 season to 3rd in 2017-18 — an impressive leap. Howard would also have one of his best statistical seasons since his all star year with the Houston Rockets in 2013-14. At the beginning of the year I said that if Dwight averaged 10 and 10 I would be happy. So I'm ecstatic.
With that said, Dwight’s future is still uncertain here in Charlotte and it really has nothing to do with how he performed this season. Everyone besides Michael Jordan, general manager, Mitch Kupchak, and maybe head coach, James Borrego, have absolutely no idea what direction this team is going to go during this offseason.
Coach Borrego said that one of his main goals is to be relevant in the Eastern Conference, which, I would argue is something that the Hornets have been able to achieve the past few seasons. If not relevant, at least very least respectable against other Eastern Conference opponents. I think everyone in the front office is ready to take that next step of relevancy. Relevant in the East actually means being relevant against LeBron, in the playoffs, something we haven’t come close to doing in this franchises history.
What does this mean for Dwight? It is unclear whether or not he is seen as a future core piece for this franchise. He is one of the better centers in the league now, and a formidable force on defense, but he is also 32 years old, will be 33 in December, and is on the last year of his contract.
I’m certain that the front office won't be willing to pay Dwight the top dollar contract he may be looking for at the end of next season even though he may very well deserve it. Dwight may be shipped off to a ready contender whose missing that big man in the middle in exchange for draft picks or some younger pieces who may be able to contribute in the long run. I also believe this is something he may want down the line — sure he had a productive year in Charlotte, but the Hornets are leaning closer to a rebuild than they are at contending. A 33-year old potential Hall of Fame player who doesn’t have a championship ring may not want to stick around for that.
One thing that was very attractive to acquiring Howard last year was his previous relationship with Steve Clifford. Clifford was an assistant with Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there. Borrego arrived in Orlando the year Howard left, so they just missed each other.
Clifford was seen as someone who knew how to get the best out of Dwight and that showed to be true with the numbers he put up this season. It’s unclear whether or not Borrego can replicate this kind of production in the upcoming season. To be fair though, it’s unclear what exactly Borrego will bring to the table as this is first full head coaching stint, so we have to be patient as it will be a learning experience for everyone.
So far Howard has had an impressive individual run in Charlotte, and at the very least if things end on a highly positive note we can say we revitalized his career or helped to turn it in the right direction. If there was a stat for smiling, Dwight would lead the league.