One of the biggest dominoes in the 2016 NBA free agency period has fallen. Shams Charania of The Vertical is reporting Dwight Howard has agreed to a deal with the Atlanta Hawks. The contract is reported to be for three years, paying Howard $70.5 million to come back to his hometown for the next stage of his career.
It's worth noting the Hawks still have Al Horford as an unrestricted free agent on the market, but the addition of Howard and the existence of Paul Millsap at the 4 for Atlanta probably means Horford is no longer going to be a part of this team.
Dwight Howard has reached agreement on a three-year, $70.5 million with the Atlanta Hawks, league sources tell The Vertical.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 1, 2016
The Hawks will be Howard's fourth team after beginning his career with the Orlando Magic, playing one disastrous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and spending the last three seasons with the Houston Rockets.
Here are the five things to know about Dwight Howard heading home to Atlanta to play for the Hawks:
1. This likely means Al Horford is gone
You're not going to sign Dwight Howard and then re-sign Al Horford. Not to mention, Howard isn't as good as Horford at this point in their respective careers. Horford is probably as good defensively if not better (he anchored the Hawks to the No. 2 defense in the NBA this season) and he's a much better and more versatile offensive weapon. Howard is a better rebounder, but that's really the only advantage he has against Horford. So why would you make sure to sign Howard before Horford has made a decision?
Maybe those rumors about Horford wanting out of Atlanta were true after all. If Horford isn't the guy the Hawks are pressing to sign to be their center one day into free agency, they had to have felt he wasn't a realistic option. This leaves the door open to Boston as the most popular landing spot for Horford's services. The Houston Rockets will pitch Horford hard. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks could be dark horses in that chase for Horford, but the Celtics would have to be the prohibitive favorites.
2. Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap complement each other nicely
Stan Van Gundy knew that to maximize Dwight Howard within the offense, you needed a versatile power forward who can play both inside and out. Rashard Lewis was that guy for them. Ryan Anderson was that guy for them. Howard didn't have that with Pau Gasol in his one year with the Lakers. With the Rockets, they never really had any solid power forward options whether they were going big or going small. Injuries usually kept them from getting great, extended looks with Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.
Paul Millsap is going to be the best power forward Howard has ever played with and he can attack from the post, facing up, or stretching the floor to the perimeter. He's also a very good defender, which means Dwight may not have to anchor so much of the defense on every possession. They can allow him to hang back, communicate, and pick his spots in when he challenges dribble penetration to the hoop.
Offensively, Mike Budenholzer's struggle will be to convince Dwight to be involved in pick-and-rolls or orbit the restricted area as a cutter, rather than ask to post up to show he's a dominant force on the block (which he isn't). All of those things are easier said than done, but they're also accomplished much easier with Millsap on the floor, taking the attention of the opposing defense. A nice balance between the two big man can be found quite easily, and Howard, in theory, can feast with the way the Hawks' system moves the defense side-to-side.
3. Dwight Howard isn't as bad as you think he is
He was once a big figure in the NBA and someone who was so effective that people wondered if the Miami Heat should move Dwyane Wade or LeBron James to acquire the big man from Orlando. In hindsight, that's pretty laughable but at the time, it was a real discussion. Since then, he's had a major back surgery and his time with the Lakers really sullied his reputation. He didn't turn the Rockets into a real title contender with James Harden, and their shenanigans in the locker room and behind closed doors ended up adding to the punchline that has become the stigma surrounding Howard.
He also didn't get enough touches -- or the right touches -- on offense. He has to be convinced of it, but he's still a dominant player in the pick-and-roll. He's still a very good defensive player. He's had an impact on both ends of the floor in non-toxic work environments. Sure, he's caused some of the toxicity over the years, but get the right team culture there and he can still thrive. He's also not as bad in the post as people make him out to be, but you don't want to force feed him the ball to prove it. You want aggressiveness and usage in moderation with him.
4. Howard probably not as reliable as Hawks need him to be
With that said, you probably can't rely on him a ton. The Hawks will need Tiago Splitter to get back to full health after his hip surgery to provide a stable backup center. Howard's back is an issue and it's going to continue to be an issue. With the mileage he has, the pounding he endures, and the injury history he possesses, it may be a bit of a ticking time bomb in trying to keep him consistently effective on the court. And if he demands the ball in the post to prove to Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley that he's a dominant player, it will derail what the Hawks love to do offensively.
5. Dwight is this year's Greg Monroe, which could be bad thing for Atlanta
What if Howard is the Greg Monroe of this summer? Big target in free agency. Coveted big man despite flaws. Signs a big three-year deal with a non-powerhouse. Then after a year of this experiment, we're wondering how they can get out of this deal. That could be the reality of where the Hawks stand with Howard. This will be a very fluid relationship and experiment. Maybe going home will energize him to keep the right mindset and fit into Budenholzer's schemes without going the square peg in round hole route. He's going to have to prove this was the right move for both sides though, especially if it costs them Horford in the process.