It was just over a decade ago that the Warriors were desperate to trade for Dwight Howard. Stephen Curry was one of the names Golden State lofted to the Orlando Magic in return for the then-superstar’s services. But Howard had no interest in a long-term future with the downtrodden Warriors and demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile Curry transformed into a global superstar and Golden State into a lasting dynasty.
Now fate has come full circle and roles reversed: After a season in the Taiwanese League, 37-year-old Howard wants back into the NBA and Curry’s Warriors are offering a chance to land one of their final two roster spots. In this case, the Warriors won’t be courting Howard.
With a camp invite, Howard likely has to convince head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. that he’s willing to accept a lesser role — playing behind Draymond Green and Kevon Looney — than he was accustomed to during his All-Star years a decade ago.
Funny how that happened. The Curry Revolution in the NBA made obsolete an era that placed more value on seven-foot bully-ball centers such as Howard. But if Howard wins over decision makers, he can give Golden State the depth at center they sorely lacked last year.
Howard has done this before
The 2020 NBA playoffs were a fever dream locked into “The Bubble” at Disney World. So it may have gone forgotten that Howard was a quintessential part of the Lakers’ championship run in his LA reprise.
Before COVID hit, Howard reportedly suggested to the Lakers that he sign a non-guaranteed, one-year contract just to prove how committed he was to accepting a minor role behind bigs Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee. As the ninth man, Howard averaged 19 minutes per game in 69 games with the Lakers in 2019-20, used primarily in specific match-ups. After sitting out for the majority of the Western Conference semi-finals against Hosuton, Lakers coaches tapped him in for the Conference Finals to agitate and defend Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, imperative to helping the Lakers win the series.
With the Warriors, Howard may have to be OK with missing even more games and fewer minutes per game throughout the season with Green, Looney and Dario Saric taking on the majority of minutes in the front court. But there are minutes to be had for Howard to get back into the NBA game.
What’s in it for the Warriors?
Howard is 6-foot-10 and will be 38 in December, but his high defensive IQ and size can give the Warriors center depth they’ve needed the last two seasons. With Green’s workload last season a concern down the stretch, Howard can see playing time in match-ups — in the regular season and playoffs — against skilled bigs such as Jokic and Davis.
Not only can Howard be another defensive look for Golden State to throw out, his presence can help the team manage Green and Looney’s minute load. They could have used someone like Howard last season when Green’s little injuries were piling up as he played nearly every game in a tenuous postseason push. The Warriors are continually considering adding a big in the buyout market for some relief — Howard can be that relief.
Howard plays similar to Looney: a smart defender in the post and rebounder, he can set screens and score, too. If he accepts a non-guaranteed deal like he did with LA, the same optionality Golden State has with Chris Paul’s non-guaranteed deal applies; it gives the team the option to trade or waive him at no cost.
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Reasons to avoid Howard
The Warriors went from their “two timeline” plan of winning with their aging core and developing the next generation to going all the way in on seasoned, high-IQ players. That early playoff exit could be blamed in part on the young and old (literally) clashing, so the Warriors are going all-in on experience.
If Howard wins the coaches over, has a good camp and lands on the 15-man roster, he would assuredly absorb most of the minutes rookie big Trayce Jackson-Davis would have gotten. Against younger and faster opponents, the older and presumably slower Warriors may run into issues matching the athleticism.
The Warriors have six players on roster that are 30-plus years old. To counter the veteran-heavy roster, they’re counting on 20-year-old Jonathan Kuminga to make a significant leap in his third NBA year. Perhaps the Warriors should consider adding more youth and speed at the back of their bench, granted playable athletic wings don’t grow on trees.
Usman Garuba, a 21-year-old forward signed to a two-way deal this week, has an opportunity to fill that role. He plays defense just like Green, but will need to find his niche on offense to earn playing time.
Howard will get his shot, but Warriors officials have to wonder if the 37-year-old has enough in the tank and if he’ll be willing to use what’s left as their 15th man.