It’s no secret that Dwight Howard isn’t close to the overpowering force he used to be.
He’s no longer one of the best defensive players in the NBA. No longer a threatening lob threat. No longer Superman. Age was his kryptonite, and he’s nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.
Keeping that in mind, and keeping expectations low, he would be a perfect fit for the Celtics as a low-risk, medium-reward acquisition. As the roster currently stands, there’s a lot of pressure on Al Horford and Robert Williams to log heavy minutes. They’re both capable of doing so as needed, but it’s better to rest them as much as possible in the regular season so they’re fresh for the playoffs.
Outside of Horford and Williams, the Celtics can turn to Luke Kornet at the 5, see what Mfiondu Kabengele has to offer or go small with Grant Williams, Danilo Gallinari or even potentially Jayson Tatum at center. With all due respect to Luke Kornet, none of those situations scream championship.
Kornet has decent touch around the rim, makes sound decisions and plays unselfishly, but he’s a bit of a liability defensively and isn’t necessarily a threat at the rim. Of course everything is rosy if Horford and Robert Williams stay healthy and don’t log too heavy a workload, but the Celtics can’t bank on that.
They have three open roster spots. It would make sense to bring in a guard with an outside shot (Matt Ryan?), a forward also with range (Justin Jackson?) and a big backup. Now that the $17.1 million traded player exception has officially expired, it appears unlikely they’ll spend a significant amount on any of the three.
If only there were a player who wouldn’t need a lot of money, is on the hunt for one more championship and would fill one of those needs…oh, wait a minute. There is.
Howard doesn’t have the same burst, but he would still thrive as a shot-blocker and rim-protector for the Celtics. He’s one of the best defensive players in NBA history, and nabbing even a shell of the player he used to be would be beneficial.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are the best defensive team in the NBA, and it makes sense to acquire a center who adds to that rather than detracts (see: DeMarcus Cousins). Howard may have lost a step, but he’s not totally washed up. He averaged 6.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.6 steals in just 16.2 minutes per game last year for the Lakers. His field goal percentage of 61.2 (mostly dunks) exceeded his career mark, and he even shot 53.3 percent from 3-point range and 65.8 percent from the line (no seriously, look it up).
He’s not going to win any shooting awards, but that shows that he’s learned to adapt as he’s gotten older. He’s also reliable in the pick-and-roll and could pair nicely with Malcolm Brogdon, Marcus Smart and Derrick White in that regard. Howard isn’t going to pummel you in the paint anymore, but he’s figured out clever alternative ways to contribute to winning.
With the Celtics, it would be impossible for him to be an off-court distraction. You can’t just walk into a team with an elite culture that’s extremely close to a title and goof off. He would blend in and contribute, like he did in 2020 when the Lakers won it all. People forget that Howard was instrumental in that run, just two years ago.
Robert Williams already has Horford as a 1A mentor, but it never hurts to have a champion and future Hall of Famer around. He may be a bit of an odd ball, but he’s excelled at the highest level.
Howard and Horford are both 36, and having the other nearby would only serve as motivation. They may not get coffee, but they’re two guys with a common goal. You think Horford would let Howard slack off? Not lucky. Or Ime Udoka? No way.
So maybe you agree the Celtics need a big with Howard’s skill set but that Howard isn’t the dude. Well, honestly, it’s pretty slim pickings at this point. Montrezl Harrell is facing a felony drug charge, so the Celtics likely wouldn’t take a chance on him. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t a true center and is washed up. Cousins is a liability defensively and even less predictable than Howard. Hassan Whiteside probably wants more of a role than he would get and is very inconsistent. Blake Griffin simply isn’t the guy. The Tristan Thompson era doesn’t need a sequel. Neither does the Greg Monroe era, for different reasons.
There are other options, yes, but none of them are particularly intriguing. Get Howard for some front-court depth, play both him and Kornet as needed and let him prove he still has something left. He doesn’t need to be Superman. He just needs to be Clark Kent.