Scott Fowler

On first day in town, Dwight Howard has a message for those who have written him off

Dwight Howard knows his NBA image has become tarnished. He knows that, at age 31, some people consider him to be all washed up.

“A lot of people have written me off – which is great,” Howard said at the news conference to announce his arrival in Charlotte Monday. “It’s going to make me work even harder.”

The Hornets – who traded with Atlanta to obtain Howard last week – will be the veteran big man’s fifth team in seven years and third in the last three. He has heard the various complaints about his game and his personality, and he vowed Monday to speak up for himself during his time with the Hornets rather than turning the other cheek.

Said Howard about the criticisms of him: “I think over the years there were things said and I’ve always just not said anything back and allowed things that weren’t true to just keep stirred up… And that gave a lot of people opinions about who I was as a person and a player. And I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that. That was probably the biggest lesson that I would say I had to learn.”

Hawks grew disenchanted quickly

Howard didn’t get into many specifics about this – with one exception – but it will be interesting to see if he follows through on this promise. The one exception that obviously rankled Howard: He said he can operate offensively in the pick-and-roll just fine, thank you.

“People have always said stuff about me that’s not true,” Howard said in a 30-minute news conference Monday. “Go back to my time in Orlando. … We used a lot of of pick and rolls…. It’s not that I don’t want to set screens. People just used that to have something negative to say.”

Howard, an eight-time NBA all-star, averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds for the Atlanta Hawks in 2016-17 – solid numbers for any NBA center. And yet the Hawks took less than one full season to grow disenchanted with him. In the first-round playoff series with Washington, which Atlanta would ultimately lose in six games, Howard and his $23.5-million contract spent almost the entirety of the fourth quarters on the bench. He played less than 17 minutes – total! – in the fourth quarters of those six games. He didn’t play a single second of the final period in the deciding Game 6 of that series, which of course made him angry.

Atlanta was Howard’s dream team, because it was his hometown, and he had an introductory press conference with the Hawks a year ago that included about 500 screaming kids in recreational gym in which he had worked on his game as a child.

This time in Charlotte the setting was much more muted, with about 30 people listening to Howard’s news conference in the bowels of the Spectrum Center.

The fear of missing

Howard has been thought of as a high-maintenance player for years, although there aren’t a lot of concrete examples as to why. He is a little bit of a goofball and doesn’t always hang out with his teammates all the time, but it’s hard to take a lot of exception with that. More problematically, Howard has had back problems (he claims he is healthier than he has been in the past five years). And he is a true big man in a league where big men are valued less and less each year and sharpshooting wing players and point guards are at a premium.

Howard knows this and made a comment to ESPN not long ago about how he was working on his three-point shot. Since he has shot 5-for-56 from three-point range in a 13-year career, this statement was widely derided. Howard said Monday he didn’t mean he was trying to turn himself into a three-point shooting center, but admitted he does need to work on his confidence on shooting outside the lane.

Said Howard: “I understand for me to play as long as I want to play, I have to expand my game. … It’s not just shooting 3s but playing with confidence. That’s one thing I’ve been talking to Mike (Hornets owner Michael Jordan) a lot about. How he was able to overcome the fear of missing – because that’s something that has been an issue in the past. In practices I’ll make 3s and jump shots. Then I didn’t want to miss in the game. That’s the reason I said I was working on those 3s – to get shots and shoot with confidence anywhere on the floor. But I also don’t plan on stepping out and shooting 100 3s this year.”

I think it can work with Howard and the Hornets, as I have written before. You just need to know his strengths and limitations and accentuate the former, and coach Steve Clifford has done that as well as anyone over Howard’s career.

As for Howard, he sounded like a player with something to prove. His addition gives the Hornets at the very least the rim protector they have sorely lacked, and maybe a lot more.

Howard closed his press conference with this statement. “Charlotte – thank you for having me here,” Howard said. “I’m going to do my best to give this city every ounce that I have of blood sweat and tears. And hopefully something great comes out of it.”

Hopefully something does. Because the Charlotte Hornets owe Howard $47 million over the next two years. And if he’s truly sick of people thinking that he’s no good anymore, this is the perfect time to do something about it.