The Dwight Howard homecoming lasted one season.
The Hawks traded the Atlanta native to the Hornets on Tuesday. The deal was agreed upon in the evening and made official after a late-night trade call. The Hawks receive Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and a second-round pick, No. 41, in Thursday’s NBA Draft in the deal. The Hawks will also send a second-round pick, No. 31 overall in this draft, to the Hornets.
The Hawks signed Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million contract as a free agent last year. Howard, 31, was due to make $23.5 million this season.
The dramatic move is the first for the Hawks new general manager Travis Schlenk, who was hired earlier this month after a shakeup of the organization’s front office.
“It is extremely important for our organization that we maintain our flexibility and this trade helps us achieve that critical goal,” Schlenk said in a statement. “We appreciate the contributions that Dwight made on the court and in the greater Atlanta community this past season.”
Howard averaged 13.5 points and led the team with 12.7 rebounds per game. The point total was the second-lowest average of Howard’s 13-year career, less than every season but his rookie campaign at 12.0 in 2004-05.
There were several games this season when Howard did not play in the fourth quarter. Most notably was the entire period in the Hawks’ Game 2 and Game 6 elimination loss to the Wizards in the first-round playoff series.
Howard was not happy with the lack of playing time in key situations during his exit interview following the season’s final loss.
“It hurts,” Howard said in May. “I’m sure if you wrote the best stories in the world and nobody read your stories and they told you to stop writing and you saw somebody else’s story that wasn’t as good as yours, I’m pretty sure you’d be pissed, too. That’s how it is in basketball.”
The Hawks will take on salary in Plumlee. The center has three years remaining on his contract at $12.4 million per season. Belinelli has one year remaining on his contract at $6.6 million.
Plumlee appeared in 45 games last season for the Bucks and Hornets. The center averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds. Plumlee replaces Howard as the only center on the Hawks roster as of July 1 free agency. Belinelli appeared in 74 games last season for the Hornets. The guard/forward averaged 10.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
Howard joined the Hawks after playing for the Magic, Lakers and Rockets. He was an eight-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA First Team and the Defensive Player of the Year three straight seasons (2008-11).
Howard got emotional during his introductory press conference, with Kent Bazemore, in July. The event was held at the William Walker Recreation Center, where Howard played as a youth.
“I happy to be home,” Howard said. “I know I am in a totally different place physically, mentally and spiritually than I was three years ago. I don’t think three years ago I would be the man I am today. This is really a new beginning for me. I’m happy to share that with my loved ones.”
There were moments – good and bad – last season.
Howard ranked fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage (.633), fifth in rebounds per game (12.7), sixth in double-doubles (53) and 20th in blocks (1.2). He had three 20-point, 20-rebound games.
Howard did not play late in several games. He also refused to speak to the media on occasion after a loss or a late-game benching. He got into an on-court argument with Dennis Schroder during a March loss to the Warriors that resulted in a wide-open 3-pointer by Stephen Curry. Howard and Schroder never developed an on-court chemistry in the pick-and-roll game.
“We are excited to add a player of Dwight’s stature to our roster,” Hornets general manager Rich Cho said in a statement. “He has been a very talented player, an elite rebounder and rim protector as well as a physical presence since the moment he entered the league. Howard’s best seasons came alongside Coach Steve Clifford and we believe their familiarity will make an immediate impact for the Hornets this upcoming season.”
Schlenk faces several major decisions early in his tenure with the Hawks. Paul Millsap is an unrestricted free agent, one of six players from last year’s team. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a restricted free agent and will likely receive an offer that the Hawks must decide whether to match.
Schlenk said at his introductory press conference that he believed Howard could work with the Hawks, despite Mike Budenholzer’s pace and space offensive style.
Just one year later, there was no storybook ending for Howard in Atlanta.