The Hawks had a boatload of critics when they opted to sign Dwight Howard to a three-year deal last offseason. His past three marriages in Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston all ended miserably for both sides. Howard has been nabbed as a team cancer that will never contribute to the winning culture of a locker room. However, he vowed that his homecoming to Atlanta would be different.
For eighty-two games, that appeared to be the case. But after a disappointing playoff series versus the Washington Wizards, Dwight Howard was upset with how he was utilized, particularly in the fourth quarter. Howard said, “I want to be on the floor. I want to make an impact. You can’t do it on the bench.” It is the first time Howard has voiced frustration about his role with the Hawks.
Howard is no stranger to expressing this type of frustration. In both Los Angeles and Houston he wanted more touches on offense and made his frustrations known to the public. Although, this time it seems like Howard’s complaints are legitimate. He had a marvelous regular season for Atlanta, where he was featured in a more DeAndre Jordan-type role. He scored 13.5 points on a career-high 63.3% from the field and averaged 12.7 rebounds, the most since his last season in Orlando. What is even crazier about those numbers: they took place in a career-low 29.7 mpg. Howard had the highest PER among Hawks players at 20.89, with a significant lead over second-place Paul Millsap at 17.91.
So why was the 8-time all-star on the bench for the majority of the fourth quarters in the playoffs? Coach Budenholzer says it was all about matchups. The Wizards were killing the Hawks in transition, and Dwight was not doing a good enough job at getting back in transition. To be fair, it is tough for any man that size to chase John Wall up and down the court. The Hawks also needed more scoring and specifically shooting on the court. The Wizards can score with the best of them, and Atlanta had to step up their offensive game to upset them. Howard played terrific in his new role in Atlanta, but he was never a threat on offense.
It was not uncommon for Coach Budenholzer to go to a smaller lineup to finish games. He loves to space the floor to win games. If that is the case to the extent that he is willing to play Mike Muscala in the fourth quarter, who shot 27.8% from the field in the series, over Dwight Howard, then why even get him in the first place? Whatever the reason, it seems the love affair between Mike Budenholzer and Dwight Howard has ended.
Coach Budenholzer said he would be getting with Howard “within a week or two” to discuss the situation. The decision regarding Howard may have a direct impact on the impending free agency of Paul Millsap, so it will be figured out as quickly as possible. Howard was a successful player in his role with the Hawks, and some team would certainly be willing to take on his contract. Atlanta will not get much more than a second-round pick for his services, but given what has happened to franchises once Dwight Howard becomes unhappy, it might be better for Atlanta to part ways with him this offseason if this is the beginning of a cancerous relationship.