It was all so predictable. Two desperate parties. Two delusional perspectives. They had to come together.
So Dwight Howard is returning home to Atlanta on a three-year deal worth $70.5 million, as first reported by Yahoo Sports.
Atlanta is betting on Howard reestablishing himself as a dominant defensive player and finding a niche offensive role in a pace-and-space system that will rarely (if ever) get him the ball with his back to the basket.
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Howard is betting on finding long-lost adoration in his hometown.
Howard's interest from teams on the open market was tepid, at best, but there was a connection with Atlanta. There was talk before free agency started that Howard was intrigued by the concept of returning home to Atlanta, especially after seeing LeBron James win a title for his hometown team.
But Dwight Howard is not LeBron James and the Atlanta Hawks are not the Cleveland Cavaliers -- Paul Millsap and Dennis Schröder are good players, but they're not Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
The problem is that it seems both parties seem to believe they're still in the league's elite class.
If the Hawks are able to retain Al Horford, they might stand a chance to be a high seed in the Eastern Conference again next year, but all indications are that Horford is going to walk -- Oklahoma City (should he get an indication from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that they plan on being around for the long run) and Boston stand out as the favorites to land the versatile big man, who has a free agent meeting set with the Rockets, as well.
Howard is a noticeable downgrade from Horford, but they're also markedly different players. Horford was the perfect cog in the Hawks' system that was properly dubbed "Spurs East." The Howard we know will look out-of-place in that system.
Do the Hawks adapt, or does Howard? Is that a question you want to be asking after coming to an agreement worth $70.5 million?
This is a deal that reeks of desperation and delusion. The Hawks, after reportedly refusing to give Horford the fifth year that only they can offer him, had to expect that the Florida product was going to walk. There are few (if any) big men available on the market who can replace him, so they signed the best available center who just so happens to carry a confounding and intriguing storyline.
We might be less than 24 hours into free agency, but this feels like a last-call, 4 a.m. hookup between two forlorn parties. Sometimes those work out well, right?
Instead of tanking for a year and rebuilding around a high draft pick, Schröder, and one of the best coaches in the game, the Hawks appear keen to be mediocre for the next three years, all while presenting that mediocrity as contention.
The Hawks aren't the only team in the NBA to do that -- the Eastern Conference is littered with pretenders -- but that doesn't make the move prudent.
But the move makes perfect sense for Howard, who, after back-to-back stops that could only be labeled as disasterous, was searching for big money, a team that could present itself as a winner, and the ability to be a beloved superstar once again. The Hawks might have been the only team offering all three.
It remains to be seen if the city of Atlanta takes in Howard with a warm embrace, as he probably expects. More importantly, it is yet to be determined if the Hawks' system takes in Howard in a similar manner.
There's a good chance this is the third-straight disastrous stop for Howard. If that's the case, it might be his final stop. But if it works, it could be truly glorious for both parties.
Either way, the Atlanta Hawks, a team that exuded consistency that bordered on boring for the last two years, will be one of the most interesting teams in the NBA for the next three.