by Jason Howard Kelly
Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I want the Celtics to sign Dwight Howard this offseason. This revelation is coming off this morning’s news, reported by ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, that the Celtics have secured a one-on-one meeting with Howard to discuss a possible deal to bring him to Boston. While Howard isn’t the dominant big man that he once was he is still a good fit for this Celtics team, and he brings a rim presence that they desperately need. So, let’s examine what Dwight Howard coming to Boston would mean for this Celtics team.
Can he protect the rim?
Um…. Sort of?
Look, It is no secret that the Celtics’ biggest problem right now is their lack of talent at the center and power forward positions. Last season they were saddled with having to play Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson in big minutes at those positions. Sullinger is out of shape, slow, and does not seem overly committed to improving his game in any way. Amir Johnson is a serviceable player, but certainly not the kind of player who should be playing big minutes in a playoff game. Kelly Olynyk, the lanky 7-footer, is a decent offensive player with the ability to stretch the floor and shoot. However, Olynyk leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the ball. Bringing in Dwight Howard would bolster Boston’s defense underneath the rim to a certain extent. Essentially, the Celtics would be paying for another big, 7-foot, physical player who can occasionally block shots and give them a certain intimidation factor underneath the rim. However, the defensive metrics on Howard are troubling, to say the very least. According to ESPN Stats, Howard’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) is 1.62, which ranks 35th among 77 qualifying centers. That number also puts Howard below his potential teammates, Kelly Olynyk (2.13) and Jared Sullinger (2.48). Defensive Real Plus-Minus is measured by how many points a player gives up her 100 defensive possessions. The numbers get even uglier when it comes to Howard’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM) which is a disappointing -0.04. This means that Howard’s team is essentially losing points every time he is on the floor. However, it is important to keep in mind that RPM also takes into account the performance of Howard’s teammates and the opponents they play against. The Houston Rockets, as a whole, were not a good defensive team last year. They also had to play against a lot of Western Conference teams, which means Howard was seeing a lot of players like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, and Kawhi Leonard. Should Howard come to the Celtics he would be joining a better defensive team that plays in an easier conference, so there’s a good chance that those metrics would improve.
Is he healthy?
For a 30-year old, 7’0 center with back problems he is as healthy as he’s going to be.
Howard played in 71 games last season, which was a drastic improvement over his previous season in which he only managed to play 41 games. While Howard’s problems with his back have been well-documented, it’s worth pointing out that only twice throughout his 12 seasons in the NBA has Howard played less than 70 games. He’s no spring chicken, that’s for sure, but he’s also not made of plexiglass. More often than not Howard will tough it out and suit up for the game when he’s needed.
Has he fixed his free throw shooting?
In fact, last season was Howard’s worst at the free throw line. He shot just .489% at the line, making less than half of his free throws. Every NBA fan has heard of the “Hack-A-Deandre” strategy that opposing team use against Clippers big man Deandre Jordan. Jordan, much like Howard, is an atrocious free throw shooter, so opposing teams will intentionally foul him early on in the game just to get him to the free throw line. It is reasonable to expect that Celtics fans will have to deal with opponents using a “Hack-A-Dwight” strategy against Howard in Boston.
How much will he cost the Celtics?
This is perhaps the biggest problem with this entire situation. It’s going to take a max contract. Sorry, folks, but that’s just the way the NBA works these days. Howard may not be a superstar anymore, but if guys like Chandler Parsons are getting max contracts then Dwight Howard certainly will, too. The Celtics have the cap space to make two max offers this offseason, which raises the ultimate question: are the Celtics willing to use one of their max contracts on Dwight Howard? It is a high-risk, high-reward type of move, which, rather worryingly, is exactly the type of move that Danny Ainge loves to make.
Seriously, dude? You’re OK with the Celtics signing this guy?
Honestly? Yeah, I’m on board with it. He’s not perfect, and certainly not a superstar anymore, but he could be in line for a bounce-back season. Coming to the Eastern Conference could really help Howard, since he’ll no longer have to deal with Russel Westbrook barreling into him, or watching Steph Curry launch 3-pointers over his head. He would also be signing with a team that is already solid defensively, so he would not be leaned on to carry the load on defense like he was in Houston. I would compare Dwight Howard to another tower of power here in Boston, Zdeno Chara. I know, they play different sports, but bear with me here. Chara is 39 years old, and has clearly lost a step in his overall game. When Chara first signed with Boston he was arguably one of the top 5 defensemen in the NHL. Now, here in 2016, Chara is no longer a top defensemen and cannot be relied upon to carry the load on defense. Chara needs a supporting cast around him to help shoulder the burden of playing defense. It is no different with Howard. Howard was basically on an island defensively last year playing with Houston. Should Howard sign with Boston, he’ll be playing with above average defensive players such as Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Couple that with the prospect of feasting on weak Eastern Conference teams like Philadelphia and Orlando and I think Dwight Howard would feel right at home on the parquay floor at the TD Garden.