Perhaps the biggest area the Hawks needed to improve this offseason was on the glass. The Hawks were 28th in rebounding differential during the regular season and things seemingly got worse in the playoffs. For the second consecutive year, Tristan Thompson manhandled the Hawks on the boards, creating extra possession after extra possession for the Cavaliers. Al Horford collected a total of 15 rebounds in the entire series. Dwight Howard would likely have had that in a single game. The glaring weakness turns into a strength heading into next season. Howard averaged close to 12 rebounds a game last season and those numbers were even higher per 36 minutes.
In Dwight Howard the Hawks got a true rim-protector. Horford was great on defense. His versatility for a center is unmatched, but he was not a particularly great rim-protector. Opponents attacking the basket were rarely looking over their shoulder for Al Horford to block their shot. This failure to have a true rim-protecting big was the Achilles heel for Atlanta against the Cavaliers. Atlanta was forced to help on everything, and why they did this well, it left open shooters all over the floor for Lebron to hit with laser passes. The addition of Howard on defense will allow for the Hawks to not have to cheat as much on defense. A motivated Howard is still one of the most dominant defensive players in the league. The three-time Defensive Play of the Year has been scrutinized for his decline in defense. However, when you are a superstar that is not involved in the offense it becomes easy to be disengaged on defense. Howard is still one of the most feared shot blockers in the league, and the Hawks commitment to him shows they believe this too.
Financially this is a good deal
Even if Atlanta was going to be able to keep Horford, it was likely going to have to be for the full five-year max deal. That deal would pay him $145 dollars over five years, something the Hawks would have regretted when a 35-year old Horford is receiving $30 million dollars. A 3-year deal for Howard worth $71 million is much more friendly, especially given the spike in the cap. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million dollars from the Lakers. This deal for Howard was a steal. Even if the Howard experiment fails and the Hawks take a step back because of it, this deal is still friendly enough that Atlanta could move it to a team looking for help at center.
The Hawks got a playoff player
Dwight Howard did see a dip in his numbers since his days in Orlando, but his presence in the playoffs remained the same. The entire NBA witnessed the greatness of Dwight Howard when he was able to single-handedly will the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. Howard averaged 20.3 points 15.3 rebounds in the playoffs last year. In his first season in Houston, Howard averaged 26.0 points, 13.7 rebound and 2.8 blocks in the playoffs and followed that up by leading the Rockets to a surprise Western Conference Finals appearance. Howard shines when the lights are the brightest.
Atlanta finally took a risk
Atlanta has been really close to taking the next step and becoming a championship contender. Outside of Cleveland, the Hawks have been the best team in the East over the last two years, but it became obvious the current roster was not going to get it done. By signing Howard, the Hawks are finally swinging for the fences. If Mike Budenholzer can get through to Howard, this could be a match made in heaven. Howard will get his touches and the opportunity to be the star of team again. A Howard resurgence along with the development of the current players such as Bazemore, Schroder, Prince and Brembry could be just what it takes to make the Hawks contenders. The cap is also supposed to rise next season, so Atlanta might bring in another major free agent. If the Hawks miss on Howard, they tank. They let Millsap walk next offseason, try and find another home for Howard and begin to build around their young core. The signing of Howard might just be the end of Atlanta being a treadmill team.