There is no place like home. For Dwight Howard, that saying rings very true after he decided to join his hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks, as he looked for a change in environment.
After enjoying much success during the first eight seasons he spent with the Orlando Magic, Howard’s career took a downward turn when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 for a single season. He then moved to the Houston Rockets prior to the start of the 2013/14 season, but nothing went according to plan there either.
After three seasons with the Rockets, Howard has had enough and subsequently opted to sign a three-year, $70.5 million with the Hawks.
Not only is Howard thrilled to be playing for the Hawks, but he has also changed his jersey number from 12 to eight, as in the Bible the number eight represents resurrection and rebirth.
“My prayers are answered,” Howard said on Wednesday. “I’m home. I’m with my family, so thank you.
“One of the things biblically is the purging of the heart and throughout the years there are things that have happened behind closed doors that it really hardened my heart towards different situations.
“I really have to purge my heart and come at basketball in a different manner. I was very upset with how things turned out and what people were saying. I hardened my heart towards everybody.”
With Howard taking a new outlook on his career and life in general, Hawks coach and team president Mike Budenholzer is confident that the 30-year-old will play an instrumental role in the upcoming season.
“He can have a huge, positive impact,” Budenholzer said. “He can take us to another level if he and everybody are kind of playing and understanding their roles. We feel like it can be special.”
Budenholzer compared Howard’s inside game to that of recently retired San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan. But, while Howard doesn’t have the shooting touch and finesse that Duncan possessed, Budenholzer believes that his height and big frame is just what the Hawks need on the offensive and defensive end.
“He’s more of a traditional center,” Budenholzer said. “It’s been clear he’s been one of the top defenders in our league for a long time. Offensively, he’s somebody who’s a presence inside, who’s putting pressure on the rim whether it be in pick-and-rolls or post-ups. It will probably be something more like what San Antonio had for the majority of time I was there” as an assistant coach.”
Howard was speaking at a homecoming the Hawks had organized for him at a youth recreation centre in southwest Atlanta, where he had grown up.
Reminiscing about how he had used the recreation centre as a stepping stone to fulfilling his dream of playing in the NBA, Howard broke down in tears.
“This building is where I spent a lot of time working on my game and wanting it to make it to the NBA,” he said. “This brings back chills. This area was home for me. My school is two minutes away.
“Every morning at 4 a.m., my dad and my cousin were back there with me on the track, trying to make it to the NBA. It’s great. A man told me, ‘If you want to get back to the top, you’ve got to go back to your roots.'”