NBA players are real people; they won’t always agree with each other or like each other and this has been a common feature throughout Dwight Howard’s career. Having once been an undoubted superstar in Orlando, leading the Magic to the NBA Finals, Dwight has since played for the Lakers, Rockets and now the Hawks. Sadly, his star has never shone as dimly as it does now.
And part of that is because, during his stints in Los Angeles and Houston, Howard clashed with the franchise stars, namely Kobe Bryant and James Harden. Going home to Atlanta was supposed to be a fresh start, a chance to get things going again and there’s no doubt he’s had some great moments already in a Hawks’ uniform, with some monstrous rebounding tallies in particular.
But, during last Monday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, we saw Howard clash yet again, this time with Atlanta’s young point guard, Dennis Schroder. It was Schroder who was benched for the argument but events like this are all too common in Howard’s career and you have to wonder what exactly the problem is?
Kobe and Harden
We all know about Howard’s clashes with Bryant and Harden. After being acquired from the Magic, Howard stayed in L.A. for just one season. It was a forgettable year too, marred by outbursts in which the Atlanta-born big man thought that he wasn’t getting enough touches or that Kobe was shooting too much. Many players can tell you that you don’t mess with Kobe Bryant and Howard quickly moved on to Texas.
A fresh start in Houston, teaming up with James Harden, was supposed to unleash the Rockets as the next big threat in the West. Only that didn’t happen. Howard was again put with a player who was both ball-dominant and shot-happy, and the relationship between the pair deteriorated quicker than Derrick Rose’s knees. Howard felt disrespected by Harden and each party tried to have the other traded.
Sure enough, last summer, the Rockets let Howard walk in free agency. From being a superstar to the Rockets happily letting him go, it’s been a harsh decline for Dwight. At 30-years-old, he decided to come home to Atlanta for the next step in his career and a shot at redemption.
This clash with Dennis Schroder comes as a surprise, but it is a big one for Dwight Howard because he is not butting heads with a superstar like Kobe or Harden. That’s not throwing shade at Schroder, but he’s not at that level yet. And if they are falling out on the floor, then where does that put Howard’s stock?
It was a really bad moment for the Hawks in a tight game. Schroder and Howard bickered on the floor and in doing so gave Stephen Curry a wide-open three. That cannot happen in a tight game and the Warriors overcame an early deficit to take the game 119-111. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was vocal in telling his guys to “stay together”.
As Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard argue, Steph Curry runs down and drills a three pic.twitter.com/kHiNM5Pav2
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 7, 2017
In the end, it was Dennis Schroder who paid the price, it was his lack of attention which left his match-up open for the three. Having scored 19 points in just the first quarter, the German point guard found himself firmly on the bench for almost all of the second half. And this is where Dwight is redeemed somewhat as Budenholzer sided with him, keeping the big man on the floor over the young point guard. Schroder has struggled with discipline recently, returning late from the All-Star break and turning up late for the team coach. So perhaps Dennis is too headstrong?
And yet Schroder is the player the Hawks would ultimately back if they have to choose between the two. At 23, he is their future. A talented young point guard, explosive and dangerous, who puts up 17.5 points and 6.2 assists per game. Atlanta are trying to transition from their spot in the upper-middle of the standings, where they regularly make the postseason but rarely do any damage there. So if Dwight damages the team chemistry, he is the one who will be expendable.
The incident with Schroder remains somewhat minor. Though it had a big impact on the game, fortunately it appears to be limited to just that. There is certainly no indication this will ferment into something akin to the Kobe and Harden situations, where the relationship sours until the two have no chemistry and one looks to engineer a trade that sends the other one away. But there is something there.
“We have to figure it out, me and coach,” Schroder said, via Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I want to talk about it. Dwight’s got to be in there too. Get on the same page.”
That doesn’t sound great but Howard was quick to nip suggestions of real discord in the bud.
“Listen, we are a team right?” Howard said, also via Vivlamore. “It’s not always conflict when you have a conversation with your coach or a team meeting. That’s what you are supposed to do. By him wanting to have a meeting, it’s great. It’s great for our team. It’s great for each other… We just have to move forward when we have plays like that… We made mistakes. We are human. Wish it didn’t happen but it did. Hopefully, everyone will just let it go and move on.”
Atlanta’s leader, Paul Millsap, was quick to insist that Atlanta has a “tight locker room” and Thabo Sefolosha echoed those sentiments so it is hard to say how real this beef between Schroder and Howard is. In fact, the two could get on well off the court but not on it. But the fact that Howard is involved again, must raise some eyebrows.
What is the problem?
Kobe Bryant. James Harden. Dennis Schroder. There are common characteristics that those three players share. All of them are confident and headstrong. Each of them is deadly serious about the game. They all play hard. They all want to win.
Dwight Howard is well known for a lot of things, but perhaps most prevalent is his playful and jovial attitude. It is hard to blame him, of course. He makes a living playing the sport he loves. In fact, it’s nice to see a smile on the hardwood. But it’s very much like marmite- you love it or you hate it.
If your team is down and Dwight’s smiling, you question if he really cares or if he is even trying? If his teammates see him smiling when they’re working hard to chase the game, you can bet there is going to be tension there.
Of course, there is more to it than that. Howard needs to change. Even when playing with greats like Kobe and Harden, Dwight was adamant that he needed to be used more. But his post play is inconsistent and often inefficient and that is where one problem lies. Even now, with a Hawks team once renowned for their ball movement and free-flowing offence, Howard is often the target of aimless and inefficient interior possessions that are out of character for both the coach and the franchise.
Combine that with a seemingly wavering interest on what happens on the floor and you have a player who is at least partly responsible for all of the drama. But Kobe and Schroder, in particular, are well known for being abrasive. Kobe had a long-running feud with Shaq, and Schroder has had real beef with Isaiah Thomas. So, obviously, those guys aren’t blameless either. In the end, it is simply a matter of the personalities clashing and that is an inescapable part of life.
As mentioned, we can’t be sure of the true extent of the discord between Schroder and Howard. It’s too early to say if this is something big or not. Arguments happen during a game because of pressure, tension and emotions. So, it is important not to get carried away with jumping on the anti-Dwight bandwagon again. He’s still a great player.
And yet it is Dwight Howard who is once again involved in a dispute with a headstrong personality and teammate. That cannot be ignored and it seems as though this kind of thing will plague Howard for the rest of his career. He is who he is, smiling and jovial. Although it can raise questions about his commitment, he would be the first to tell you that he is dedicated to the game and that he gives it his all (remember he’s the only player to win back-to-back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year award).
Perhaps he will always clash with people of Kobe and Dennis’ mould. Perhaps he will never get along with players who are so competitive, serious and headstrong. But Dwight Howard is Dwight Howard. It’s harsh to call that a problem.