Dwight and the District: A Perfect Match

The last star to represent the East in the NBA Finals without Lebron was Dwight Howard in 2009. Run it back?

The Wizards aren’t exactly known for having a positive, unified organizational culture. Flamboyance, immaturity, and infighting are common in Capital One Arena. Bradley Beal’s, “Everybody Eats,” mantra earned an eight seed. Markieff Morris’, “Death Row D.C.,” swagger lost to a tougher, grittier Celtics squad. Marcin Gortat’s, “Great ‘Team’ Victory,” tweet inevitably helped usher him out of town. Dysfunction and superfluous drama define the modern, underachieving Wizards.

Cue the addition of Dwight Howard, the King of dysfunction, superfluous drama, and underachievement.

The hall-of-fame-bound center has certainly pushed his former teams’ ceilings higher. It just so happened he usually kept them at their floors, too. Because of Dwight’s most recent run of failure (four teams in four seasons), the modern Wizards may be a perfect match to resurrect his reputation as an elite defensive center, while at the same time reviving a franchise longing for more defense and an athletic big to run alongside all-star point guard John Wall. Add the King of dysfunction to a competitive and talented dysfunctional team and the result may be magic, or the NBA Finals.

For all the criticism general manager Ernie Grunfeld takes for his mismanagement of the Wizards’ roster (and it’s all been valid for 15 years), was Lebron, Kawhi, or Boogie ever really going to land in D.C.? The prestige of L.A. and the allure of the West is far too great for the NBA’s elite to put down roots with a team incapable of showing it can win on the big stage, or simply take the next step. So Dwight is the next best thing. Would you rather have Gortat, Ian Mahinmi, or Dwight as your starting center? This is a no-brainer:

Per Game Table
Dwight Howard 2017-18 81 30.4 6.2 11.2 .555 6.2 11.2 .559 .556 3.1 9.3 12.5 1.3 0.6 1.6 16.6
Marcin Gortat 2017-18 82 25.3 3.5 6.8 .518 3.5 6.8 .518 .518 2.2 5.4 7.6 1.8 0.5 0.7 8.4
Ian Mahinmi 2017-18 77 14.9 1.8 3.2 .556 1.8 3.2 .561 .556 1.8 2.3 4.1 0.7 0.5 0.5 4.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/4/2018.
Advanced Table
Player Season PER
Dwight Howard 2017-18 20.5 .577 .639 11.0 33.8 22.2 1.0 4.4 24.2 2.9 3.9 6.8
Marcin Gortat 2017-18 14.7 .546 .291 9.9 24.0 17.0 1.0 2.6 15.5 2.4 2.4 4.9
Ian Mahinmi 2017-18 12.2 .601 .516 13.4 17.4 15.4 1.6 3.2 15.6 0.8 1.4 2.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/4/2018.

The Wizards were predicted to be a top team in the East last season. If Washington stays healthy and embraces its flamboyance/swag/drama/attitude/chips-on-their-shoulders/Death Row D.C./D.C. Family identity, why can’t it be a favorite in the East again? Dwight may be the “leader” needed to bust open the full potential of this messy Wizards crew by having fun, running with smiles, and putting on a show in the nation’s capital, all while averaging an efficient double-double. Laugh all you want. Dwight may be the guy.

Flipping a coin on Dwight presents limited risk and incredible upside. By signing Dwight to the mid-level exception, the upside will only cost roughly $5.6M for a year (for comparison, Mahinmi will cost the Wizards $16M this season). If Dwight is a complete bust and the Wizards stay a dysfunctional, losing mess, then he leaves after the year with little harm done. The Wizards can’t become more dysfunctional or dramatic. You can’t go much lower than the Gortat and Wall broken relationship last season, the notorious on-court disdain between Beal and Wall, or the embarrassing players-only meetings. What can Dwight possibly do to make it worse?

Washington could be a middling team in the east (or the eighth seed) and lose in the first or second round of the playoffs again. Who cares when they do that every year? The reward of having the best version of Dwight is disrupting the status quo and potentially reaching a ceiling of the NBA Finals in a post-Lebron Eastern Conference. This upside is definitely worth the gamble.

Expecting the modern Wizards to immediately shape up and play like stable, mature veterans is naive. Wall must play with a chip on his shoulder; Oubre must heckle opponents; Keef must throw some muscle. This is who they are. Things aren’t changing, so adding Dwight to the mix will only enhance this identity and possibly turn frustration and underachievement into winning. Gortat never fit this mold. Dwight will thrive in this theatrical environment. 

The East is open. What if Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward never fully recover, throwing off the Celtics’ chemistry? What if Jayson Tatum experiences a sophomore slump? What if Embiid can’t get on the floor because of an injury? What if Ben Simmons still can’t shoot? What if the Raptors get stale or struggle without the coach of the year Dwane Casey? Dwight is smiling.

The last star to represent the East in the Finals without Lebron was Dwight in 2009. Run it back?

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