- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2018

Over the last two offseasons, the respective general managers who inherited Dwight Howard couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.

In Atlanta — where a previous Hawks regime signed Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million deal in July 2016 — the center was traded in June 2017, a month after GM Travis Schlenk was hired. A year later, the Charlotte Hornets, with Mitch Kupchak at the helm instead of Rich Cho, took on an additional year of salary to dump the eight-time All-Star. And with Howard’s departures from each, reports quickly emerged about the center’s negative impact in the locker room.

That didn’t deter the Wizards from offering Howard a two-year contract (with a player option after Year 1) at the mini mid-level exception last week.

Washington, in need of a center, determined the 32-year-old’s divisive personality was worth the risk.

But the deal carries plenty of questions for the Wizards — primarily, can Howard still be an effective player in the modern NBA? Even putting his character concerns aside, Howard is far removed from his prime, while remaining stubbornly reliant on the post-up moves that are often out-of-sync with the modern game.

If Howard’s not willing to change, look for the more of the same problems in Washington that he’s had at last few stops.

The Hawks and the Hornets both bent over backward trying to appease Howard to get him more touches.

Last year, 36 percent of Howard’s possessions came on a post-up and he accounted for 60 percent of the Hornets’ total post ups. With the Hawks, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on the play.

Some might say that it’s good coaching to tailor an offense around the strengths of a player. But Howard’s strength isn’t posting up — at least not anymore.

Howard was once unstoppable down low, especially during the 2010-11 season, when he scored 0.92 points per possession on post ups with the Orlando Magic. That year, he finished second in MVP voting.

But Howard scored only .083 points per possession when posting up last year — putting him in the 39th percentile of scorers.

The Hornets went from running the fourth-least post ups during the 2016-17 season to the third-most last season. The Hawks, while not as drastic, went from the 25th to 18th when they acquired Howard.

Howard had a productive season (16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds per game), but the Hornets missed the playoffs.

Under coach Scott Brooks, the Wizards hardly post up at all. Washington ran less than 500 post ups in each of the last two seasons, which puts them in the bottom 10 of the league. Howard alone had 499 post ups in Charlotte.

Instead, the Wizards’ best hope will be if Howard meshes with star John Wall.

Wall loves to the run the pick-and-roll, and Howard has the athleticism to be a capable partner. Howard will benefit, like departed center Marcin Gortat did, from Wall’s passing and ability to draw defenders as he drives to the lane. The two could also thrive in transition, with Wall setting up alley-oops.

But style of play was a source of tension for Howard during stops in Los Angeles and Houston. After a 2015 playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Howard admitted he could have been better in that regard.

“As a big, sometimes you want to feel part of what’s going on,” Howard told TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court … that would be great, but I have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get the ball.

“Now there’s been times where I’ve been upset, and I’ve taken myself out of games and situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow and be a better player at that.”

That was three years ago. These days, much of the conversation around Howard remains the same.

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