The skeptics may outnumber the supporters when it comes to the Wizards’ decision to sign Dwight Howard, a guy who may¬†someday be in the basketball Hall of Fame, but comes to Washington with well-documented blemishes on his r√©sum√©.
His reputation as a teammate and locker room presence has taken a beating over the years. He has been accused of inconsistent effort, selfishness and being hard-headed, among many things.
Howard is joining his fifth organization in four seasons and many would say that’s not a coincidence. The 32-year-old center has more to prove as a person than as a player and both he and Wizards’ brass did their best to downplay those concerns at his introductory press conference on Monday.
When asked about the fact he’s bounced around so much in recent years from team to team, including the Nets who promptly bought him out after a trade earlier this month, Howard first used humor to address the situation.
“I learned Magic for eight years. I traveled to La-La Land. I learned how to work with Rockets. I learned how to fly with some Hawks. I got stung by some Hornets. It’s just a joke. But through all of that, it’s taught me how to be a Wizard,” he said.
Howard insists that many former teammates and others around the league he’s friendly with reached out after stories surfaced from Atlanta and Charlotte about his effect on locker room chemistry.¬†
He said much of what is out there about him is simply not true.
“I’ve tried to find reasons for why I could be considered this type of person, but that’s not who I am. I know that anybody who has spent any amount of time with me, they would know that’s now who I am. They would tell you a different story,” he said.
Both head coach Scott Brooks and team president Ernie Grunfeld said they found the same through their own background research before agreeing to a two-year contract with Howard. They are both NBA lifers and have many friends and associates that have been around Howard in the past.
One takeaway for both of them is that questions about Howard’s passion for the game of basketball are overblown.
“We’re not going to have a problem. Things are out there, some are true and some aren’t,” Brooks said. “I talked to a lot of guys that called me and said ‘hey, you’re gonna love him.’ What am I going to love about him? They say that he’s competitive and he plays hard.”
“We’ve talked to people and everybody says he likes the game of basketball and that he’s a very good person. We’re not looking back, really,” Grunfeld added.
Howard admitted that his passion for basketball had wavered in recent years. He mentioned his prolonged back injury as something that affected his career significantly at times.
What he believes re-installed his love for the game was being around kids. He would show up to pick-up games in the Atlanta area and it helped him remember why he was drawn to the sport in the first place.
Howard spoke from experience and on several occasions told reporters how ego can destroy locker rooms. He said he has learned to put his ego aside and focus on winning.
Those are the very things he has been accused of not being able to do, and not that long ago. At this point, it is understandable to take a wait-and-see approach. He has to prove the opinions about him are untrue and he knows that.
Adding Howard to the Wizards’ locker room, which had its own issues last season, will create questions that need to be answered. But what is already clear is that he fits in very nicely on the court and that’s hard to ignore.¬†
The Wizards certainly see Howard, as enigmatic as he can be, as worth the risk.
“He averaged [16.6] and [12.5] last year. What is there not to like about that? My job is to make it all work,” Brooks said.
Tyler Byrum contributed to this report
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