The Los Angeles (LA) Lakers are arguably the most popular and storied franchise in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The California-based team boasts of not only being the most successful franchise with a joint-record 17 NBA World Championships but also having signed some of the most notable players to their ranks with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James donning the purple and gold over the years. While the above-mentioned stars are often mentioned with fondness and respect for the glory and accolades they have brought the western conference side, the same courtesy is usually not extended to eight-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard, who has had three separate stints with the franchise.
Is Dwight Howard still with the Lakers? No. Dwight Howard is not still with the Lakers. The two-time NBA blocks leader currently plays for the Taoyuan Leopards – a popular club in the T1 League, which is Taiwan’s top-flight basketball competition. The eight-time All-NBA honoree made the decision after failing to sign a contract with all 30 NBA teams for 2022-23 including the Lakers, who opted to prioritize youth over experience for their center position.
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Orlando Beginnings (Destined for Superstardom)
From the moment that Howard was selected by the Orlando Magic as the first pick of the 2004 NBA draft, the Atlanta native appeared destined for superstardom. Initially a power forward, the four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team honoree made the switch to center in his second year in the league – a decision that catapulted him into the conversation of one of the best big men to ever do it.
Howard’s first three seasons with the Magic were a huge disappointment despite playing all 82 regular season games over that duration. The 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion failed to make the playoff twice and suffered a first-round exit at the hands of the Detroit Pistons in his first post-season outing.
The five-time NBA rebounding leader however learned from the experience and went on to have one of the most dominant runs in the history of the league over the next few seasons including making the NBA Finals in their 2008-09 campaign, the eastern conference finals the next season (2009-10), and earning an NBA-record three consecutive NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Failed Kobe Bryant- Dwight Howard Experiment
Due to a mixture of poor roster construction, inconsistent leadership by then Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and a serious back injury, Howard’s final two seasons at Orlando (2010-11 and 2011-12) were subpar at best.
Admittedly frustrated with the Magic’s reluctance to improve their roster, Howard demanded a trade to either the LA Lakers, New Jersey Nets, or Dallas Mavericks upon the resumption of play following the infamous 2011 lockout. It is rumored that the Magic would have gone through with the trade had the two-time Olympic gold medalist not changed his mind about opting out of his contract to become a free agent.
Howard nevertheless made fresh trade demands in the 2012 offseason by implying that he intended to test the free agency market after their 2012-13 season. Rather than lose the talisman for nothing, the Magic entered into a three-team deal with the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers which sent Howard to the Lakers.
Having undergone surgery to fix a back injury in April 2012, Howard only managed to attend a month of training camp which greatly affected his conditioning. By the time the 2012-13 season kicked off, Howard had not regained his stellar form – a development that affected his performance on both ends of the floor and only worsened when he sustained a shoulder injury (torn labrum) the following January.
A less than cordial relationship with five-time NBA Champion and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant along with a slow return to form ruined then-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni’s plans to run a pick-and-roll offense through Howard and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.
Aside from his obvious fitness struggles, Howard failed to endear himself to his teammates by demanding more touches of the ball on offense and complaining that Kobe received more ball possession than he was due.
In a recent interview, former Laker Jalen Rose revealed that Howard’s tenure with the team was doomed from the get-go because of the center’s mixed-up priorities. The 2000 NBA Most Improved Player, disclosed that Dwight had called Kobe immediately after the news of his trade was broken to ask about what the off-court life in LA was like.
Howard even allegedly asked about possible meetings with producers, prompting Kobe to say that the move wouldn’t work after he was through with the phone call. Some pundits believe that Howard tried too much to emulate the larger-than-life persona of former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal who equally had a troubled relationship with Kobe.
After turning down a five-year $118 million deal offer from the Lakers in the 2013 offseason, Howard joined the Houston Rockets where he joined a young talented cast that featured the likes of James Harden and Chandler Parsons. Despite regaining an All-Star form, the Rockets only managed one trip to the western conference finals where they lost to an up-and-coming Golden State Warriors team.
After that debacle, Howard became a journeyman and played for three teams (Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, and Washington Wizards) in just as many seasons. Subsequent back, hamstring, and knee injuries also robbed the player once nicknamed “superman” of the explosive athleticism he had defined his years in the league.
The player who was once one of the most sought-after commodities in the league had a moment of truth when the Memphis Grizzlies traded for him in July 2019 and subsequently waived him a month later. The former Magic star might have sat out the majority 2019-2020 NBA season had the Lakers not signed him to an unguaranteed veteran minimum deal to fill in for an injured DeMarcus Cousins.
Having accepted his transition from a franchise centerpiece to a role player, Howard was brought into the Lakers system and was a key contributor to their 2020 NBA Championship win. His formidable partnership with JaVale McGee allowed the Lakers to spare injury-prone power forward/center Anthony Davis and an aging LeBron James the duty of guarding some of the bigger centers in the league like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid.
The Rocky Dwight Howard – Lakers Relationship
Despite having appeared to let bygones be bygones, Howard and the Lakers fail to agree on a deal prompting Howard to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers for their 2020-21 season. Howard nevertheless returned to the Lakers for the third time in their 2021-22 season on a veteran’s minimum contract.
The third time however proved not to be the charm as the Lakers went on to have a disastrous season thanks to injuries to James and Davis and inconsistent play from former league MVP Russell Westbrook.
Howard recently revealed that he had intended to suit up for the Lakers for their 2022-23 campaign but that the team’s management had informed him that they were not going to “give anybody over 30 a multiple-year contract”.
In an interview with former Laker forward Matt Barnes prior to joining the Taoyuan Leopards, a vividly frustrated Howard lamented that he still wanted to play but that no NBA teams were really allowing him to do that.
Some critics argue that Howard’s time in the NBA is long past due while others suggest that his poor professional conduct over the years, which a section of pundits blames for his snub from the NBA 75 team, is responsible for his misfortunes.