“I’m happy to be home”, said Dwight Howard in his introductory press conference for the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. It was the center’s first appearance after signing a three-year, $70.5 million contract with the team. Howard expressed his sentiment with playing in his hometown before he broke down and cried over the moment.
Rewind to about three years ago and Howard started his rocky road with the Houston Rocketsafter ending an equally rough and highly scrutinized road with the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard’s three seasons with the Rockets were filled with rumors about his relationship with James Harden, unmet expectations, conflict with management, and a general disinterest with the team. Many critics believed that Howard was a “cry baby”, calling him a cancer in the locker room. His statistical output reflected those sentiments. Last season with the Rockets, Howard averaged 13.7 points, which is close to his rookie season for a career worst. Overall, it was clear that Howard was not that same fun and explosive center that he used to be and he was obviously disinterested.
But something changed in May when he made a surprise appearance on Inside the NBA to address the rumors about him. It was from that interview that it seemed like Howard was ready to dismiss the negative perceptions of him through the media and push for a fresh start. When asked by Charles Barkley about why people disliked him , Howard answered, “It really hurts me because my heart and my attitude toward the game has always been the same; my drive has always been there.” He further mentioned how he is so interested in winning that he sometimes cannot watch the NBA Finals because his absence from it hurts him. Overall, it seemed like Howard felt he was being judged because his glory days with the Orlando Magic were over.
Then, in a candid interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Howard was honest about the downfalls of his career with Orlando and Houston. When asked about why he seemed disinterested when playing for the Rockets sometimes, Howard replied, “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’”. He also mentioned how things went wrong with the front offices ofthe Magic and Lakers. With the Lakers, Howard felt like he was not apart of an actual team, and with the Magic he felt like winning was no longer the priority. Of the disappointing season with the Rockets, Howard mentioned how he was ready to hit the reset button for this upcoming season.
A new beginning is just what the big man and eight-time All-Star is hoping for after he decided to opt-out of his $23.2 million contract with the Rockets to sign with his hometown, the Atlanta Hawks. He says the Hawks’ interest in him got him to start feeling “really good about myself again”, in an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein. Not only is Howard playing with a different team, but he has chosen to play with the number eight (which has a biblical meaning of “new beginnings”).
After all of the rumors, negative feedback, constant criticism, and team changes, Howard seems to really feel at home with the Hawks. And given that opting out with the Rockets was his last shot at greatness, it seems as though the center will be there to stay and contribute his best to the franchise.
Spark Sports NBA Analyst