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Atlanta Hawks Free Agent Wish List: Dwight Howard

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) dunks against San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) during game three of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. This is one of the worst-kept secrets in all of the NBA, but the question is: does it really factor in to the All-Star center’s NBA Future?

There has been a thought in the NBA world that Howard’s “hometown” affiliation is a huge factor in, at the minimum, getting the Atlanta Hawks to the table as a factor in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. When Howard was in Orlando, the circus followed him everywhere, but the Hawks were reportedly “involved” in attempting to trade for him (before his move to LA), and Howard is certainly a prime target going into the off-season.

On the court, Dwight Howard has simply been the most valuable big man in the league over the past 7-8 years. He is a five-time All-NBA 1st team selection, a three-time NBA defensive player of the year, and his career averages of 18.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game scream “superstar” at full volume. When he’s at full strength, he’s the most impactful defensive player in the league and a quality offensive option at the other end.

After that paragraph, why would there possibly be a question about whether NBA teams would want to give Dwight Howard a “max” contract? For the answer, we have to look at his 2012-2013 season in Los Angeles and the months prior to his arrival on the West Coast.

Howard’s scoring average dipped to 17.1 points per game (his lowest since 2005-06), his rebounding slipped to 12.4 per game (lowest since 2006-07), and his PER of 19.48 was his lowest since 2005-2006. His trademark defense also visibly stumbled, as he was still a top-flight defender for the most part, but his intensity and athleticism took a step back in the wake of back troubles, and he wasn’t the dominant force of years past. The aforementioned back trouble references an off-season surgery that was the main “excuse” for Howard’s play, but back injuries are notoriously hit-or-miss and there is no guarantee of health and explosiveness going forward.

When he isn’t playing basketball, Howard has also been a bit of a disaster. He single-handedly transformed the 2011-2012 Orlando Magic into a circus, getting Stan Van Gundy (a current Hawks coaching candidate) fired, and dragging his teammates through the mud as he was forcing his way out of town. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, he famously didn’t get along with either Kobe Bryant or Mike D’Antoni, and as a result, he complained about his usage for the duration of the Lakers’ subpar season and failed to take responsibility for his slip in effectiveness.

As far as his prospective place in Atlanta, Dwight Howard and Al Horford teaming up in the frontcourt would be the dream of any Hawks fan. The fit is perfect between the two of them, as Howard is the shot-blocker/helpside defender who creates offense on the block, while Horford is the positioning guru defensively who excels in the pick-and-pop game at the elbow on offense. The duo would immediately form the best 4/5 combination in the NBA, and they would be the envy of every coach in the league. Other than the off-court issues (addressed previously), there is absolutely zero concern in the “fit” category.

The debate will rage on about Howard in various NBA circles as the off-season approaches, but I am firmly in the camp that he should be inked to a maximum contract by virtually any team that can afford to offer one, with the Hawks at the front of the line. His off-court headaches have certainly worn out their welcome, but dominant centers are an endangered species in the NBA and Howard (even at 90% health) is one of them. I’m not 100% positive that the 2010-11 Dwight Howard (who averaged 23 and 14 with a 26.13 PER) is coming back, but even if he is the exact player that hit the court in 2012-2013, he is worth maximum money.

If Chris Paul is “Target #1″ for Atlanta GM Danny Ferry, Howard is certainly number two, and if it wasn’t for the presence of Al Horford, the order of those two players may be switched. At any rate, Howard will be wooed by many teams, but the hometown connection is unique to Atlanta, and the best chance of the Hawks luring Howard to town will be to tug at the familiarity that home brings.

Topics: Atlanta Hawks, Dwight Howard

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