Chris Paul, after posing for photos in his white No. 3 Warriors jersey in Las Vegas, didn’t shy away from the strangeness of his new reality, saying twice, “I never thought I’d see that day.”
The Wild Warriors’ spotlight could grow and shine brighter with another tantalizing addition. The Warriors are expected to meet with Dwight Howard early this week and select the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year as another veteran free agent the franchise is considering for one of its final two open roster spots.
Athletic’s Shams Charania was first to report the news Friday, citing multiple league sources.
The meetings will be even more important than the product Howard shows on the court. Will the 37-year-old former star show a willingness to let go of his past accolades? His mentality has to be selfless and he can’t let his Hall of Fame credentials get in the way of him. Would he be a distraction in the locker room and cause chaos for a team already facing chemistry questions after last season’s struggles? Bringing Paul in was already considered a risk here, and Howard would certainly initially be seen as an outsider as well.
Howard himself has shown interest in joining the Warriors in previous years, and as recently as last year. On an episode of “Club Shay Shay” a little less than a year ago, Howard explained to Shannon Sharpe why he would be a great fit for Golden State, as the team was still figuring out the future of center James Wiseman.
“Oh man, that’s perfect,” Howard said. “I have been a warrior all my life. I started in my school as a warrior. They need a big one. I know they have Kevon Looney and I know they have young Wiseman. But I’m Dwight Howard. Wiseman can learn a lot from me, because he is heading in the direction of becoming a great young man.
“Even in that situation, playing with all the shooters like that, Steph (Curry), the way she opens up with me setting screens, she’s going to open up more. The same thing happens to Klay (Thompson). Draymond (Green) in the pick and roll with me and him. Being able to teach Wiseman how to play defense, how to block shots; I see him as someone similar to David Robinson in his size and the athleticism of him. There are a lot of things I can really teach you.”
Wiseman is no longer a part of the Warriors after being traded to the Detroit Pistons at last season’s trade deadline. The Warriors drafted a big man in Trayce Jackson-Davis last June, and if Howard shows a willingness to mentor him and someone like Jonathan Kuminga, he will only add to their argument that he deserves another shot in the NBA.
However, in August, Howard explained his doubts when asked if he was the Warriors’ missing link on an episode of “My Expert Opinion Show.”
“I can see it, but I don’t think they want my center style,” Howard said. “It’s not that he can’t play or do what’s needed, but why would they go for Dwight Howard when they can go for a young player who may not have a name, that’s not a risk.
“There are no off-court problems or drama with Dwight Howard, not the name or anything. Why wouldn’t they hire someone where there’s no pressure? …I’m just looking at both sides of the issue. I know who I am, I know my talent. But from a business standpoint, why would they do that on their end?
The main part of Howard’s rebuttal was simply trying to play both sides. His comments also came before the Warriors showed any real interest and the franchise appears to be recognizing the need for another veteran center.
But let’s get back to the importance of mentally analyzing where Howard is after a season in Taiwan. Charania reported that meetings will be held with “decision makers, coaches and players” of the Warriors. Everyone has to be on the same page and feel that Howard’s heart is solely on winning another championship. He did not coexist with Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2012-13 NBA season, when Howard was still in his prime at age 27.
As recently as the Lakers’ 2020 championship in the Orlando bubble, Howard showed that he can make the necessary sacrifices alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis to give his team a ring. Howard averaged 18.9 minutes that season and was still able to score 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He last played in the NBA in the 2021-22 season, his third stint as a Laker, and averaged 6.2 points and 5.9 rebounds in 16.2 minutes per game. Those were all career lows for him and would probably be even lower as a Warrior, but that’s beside the point.
Although the Warriors transcended small-ball basketball, size remains a necessity. The Warriors have been lacking and it may have finally caught up to them. Green (6-foot-6) will turn 34 in March and will begin his 12th NBA season. Looney (6-foot-9) surely has set a goal for another 82-game season and, as commendable as that may be, he needs a break. Looney has earned it.
Dario Šarić (6-foot-10) is seen as a perfect warrior for his ability to be a big stretcher, and Jackson-Davis (6-foot-9) is expected to be ahead of past draft picks as a rookie turning 24 years in February. But there’s always a learning curve in coach Steve Kerr’s system.
Kerr, as head coach of Team USA at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, saw firsthand how Howard can help the Warriors, even at this stage in his career. Team USA lost three of its last four games, beating Italy and losing to Lithuania, Germany and Canada. They were outrebounded 113-98 in their three losses and outscored Italy 55-31 in their only victory. The Americans trailed Montenegro and won by 12, a game in which they were outrebounded 49-31.
The Warriors won’t be contenders again if they get big. What can they do when they get larger is to survive and have a better chance of competing in a conference occupied by Nikola Jokić. Someone who can play a few minutes against a handful of teams in a few situations and be physical in the paint, grab rebounds, draw some tough fouls and be an occasional lob threat surely feels like someone Golden State needs. now.
In all likelihood, the No. 14 spot on the Warriors’ roster will go to someone who checks the above boxes, or whose most valuable trait is character and chemistry. It’s safe to assume Howard can fulfill part of that equation. Can he do the same in the second half?
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