Count ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith as a fan of the Charlotte Hornets trade for Dwight Howard.
The Hornets sent a small shockwave through the league in a busy trade season when they sent center Miles Plumlee and shooting guard Marco Belinelli to Atlanta Tuesday night to get Howard. The teams also swapped second round picks in Thursday’s draft. The Hornets will now pick 31st, 10 spots ahead of the Hawks.
Howard was mocked pretty hard on social media following the trade. Just five minutes before the trade was announced, Howard posted on Twitter asking for fans’ opinions about the NBA trade season. And he asked them “to be nice.”
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They were mostly....not.
But some people did like the trade for Charlotte. Observer columnist Scott Fowler is optimistic about the former All-Star that he believes the Hornets basically got for a pack of Twizzlers. And longtime NBA veteran reporter David Aldridge also favored the move.
Howard, 31, will enter his 14th NBA season in October. In Atlanta, Howard averaged 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. And, remember, Howard is still in elite NBA company when it comes to one particular statistic, as WFNZ radio host Chris Kroeger points out.
Speaking about Howard on his national “First Take” talk show on ESPN Wednesday, Smith was -- as Howard had hoped -- nice when talking about one of the latest trades in a very busy NBA trade season.
“I like Dwight Howard as a person,” Smith said. “I genuinely do. I think there have been times when there have been maturity issues, but I’m actually a fan of Dwight Howard the person. I think his heart is in the right place. I don’t think he has a malicious bone in his body.”
Smith thinks that Howard -- who suffered through back pain and back surgery four years ago -- still can be an important piece.
“What happened was, he just lost sight of who he was and what made him that three-time (NBA) defensive player of the year,” Smith said, “focusing on defense, rebounding and blocking shots...What happened was, he wanted to be in a bigger market (leaving Orlando for Los Angeles). He wanted to be up there maximizing monetizing his brand and that became more of a focus for him than basketball. But that doesn’t mean we should forget in 2009, when the Cavs won 66 games and he still knocked off LeBron James and the Cavaliers and took the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals.
“Dwight Howard has to stop worrying about (his brand) and focus on being the best impact player (he) can be.”
And Smith thinks that can happen with Michael Jordan’s Hornets.
“Him going to Charlotte with (head coach Steve) Clifford (who was an assistant when Howard was in Orlando), who he has known for many years, that’s going to be helpful to him,” Smith said. “But he has to get back to the player he was. He was focused on money and brand instead of being who he is. He is a good person. He is not a bad person. He just is misunderstood because he puts himself in precarious situations. You can do a lot worse than a Dwight Howard. You just have to get him focused in the right way.”