A familiar face in a new place for Dwight Howard

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19: Dwight Howard
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19: Dwight Howard /

A reunion with Steve Clifford could be exactly what Dwight Howard needs as he looks to excel with the Charlotte Hornets.

If you don’t know by now the Charlotte Hornets traded for eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard. They also received the 31st pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and gave up Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the 41st pick.

The Hornets made a trade that had them in the headlines. Only this time it was for the right reasons. The deal has been examined up, down, left and right. Hornets gave up a bad contract (Plumlee) and a player that didn’t make much of difference (Belinelli) and improved ten spots in the second round and got a super upgraded version of Plumlee.

But it may come at a price.

After a quiet season in Atlanta, Howard’s reputation as a diva is still a shadow on a potentially Hall of Fame career. And his antics are well publicized. Trade demands in Orlando, an all-time awkward press conference, accusations of blackmail against the Magic, the feud between him and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and his disinterested days in Houston.

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Luckily for Howard, there is some familiarity in Charlotte. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford was an assistant during Howard’s time in Orlando and Los Angeles. While many believe father time is catching up, Clifford is confident that Howard can return to an All-Star level.

“Yes. He’s a big presence at the basket” Clifford said interrupting the reporters All-Star question. “He’s very efficient offensively and not only does he do things from a numbers standpoint that help your team, but he’s good with details also.”

Per 36 minutes, Howard averaged 16.4 points and 15.4 rebounds per game. Add a 20.8 player efficiency rating which would have made him the second most efficient player on the Hornets roster last year.

Calling Howard the centerpiece of an offense was so 2011 when he averaged 22.9 points per game. But Clifford has led an offensive set based on four out, one into the playoffs back in 2016. Al Jefferson was the “one in” that year and while Howard isn’t the offensive threat Big Al was, he is sure to get his touches.

Insert Howard into the starting lineup with Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams and the Hornets have a formidable starting five. Three of the four can space the floor from three and let Howard operate on the block. Or Walker and Batum can play pick-and-roll with Howard.

Looking at Howard, his offensive game resembles something prehistoric compared to today’s centers. More of a back to the basket, just dunk the ball mentality opposed to stretching the floor with a jumper. Now, Howard said he would expand his game to shoot more 3’s but he’s only made 5 3-pointers in his 13-year career. So that should go without saying.

Defensively, Clifford will look to Howard to anchor the defense. With MKG guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player, Howard can be left to protect the rim, something the Hornets have missing. Clifford has coached the Hornets to top-10 defensive finishes three of the past four season. Adding Howard gives Clifford another tool to strengthen the defense.

While Howard is on the tail-end of his career, there may be no better coach than Clifford to get the best out of Howard.

“I know what he has to do to play well,” Clifford said. “He understands that I know him. I know his game. … There is no reason he can’t get back to playing at a really high level.”

The problem with Howard is how will he act off the court. There hasn’t been a personality like Howard’s in a Hornets uniform since Stephen Jackson back in the Bobcat days. Jackson had an unfavorable reputation outside of his teammates when coming to Charlotte, but thrived in the Queen City.

Next: How the Hornets can become contenders by 2019

Howard’s reputation precedes himself. Luckily for Charlotte, Clifford has established himself as a quality head coach in the league. Now it’s time to see if the familiar face can get Howard to turn back the clocks.