AJC Hawks beat writer Chrsi Vivlamore confirms the team has agreed to a three-year, $70.5 million contract with free agent Dwight Howard . It won't be official until Thursday, but that's a formality.
The return of Howard is sure to be popular with many Hawks fans. He’s a big name who is a product of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. He's still an elite rebounding big man and a good defender around the basket.
But I don't think it’s worth it for the Hawks to sign Howard . My skepticism has nothing to do with the drama that surrounded Howard in Orlando and followed him to the Lakers and the Rockets. The Hawks have a strong organizational culture. It's a good place for Howard to rehabilitate his image.
My objections have to do with basketball. Howard is a 30-year old big man with a history of back problems. He doesn’t fit with coach Mike Budenholzer’s offensive philosophy, and he’s no longer such a force that a team should change its identity to accommodate him.
Howard is not a pace-and-space big man—he’s among the league leaders in field-goal percentage but almost all of his points come from near the basket. Howard doesn’t do that as well as he used to—Al Horford and Paul Millsap were more efficient post players last season—so why slow the pace to feed him?
Vivlamore reports that the Hawks still could re-sign Horford. If they do, then what happens to Millsap? Would they really trade their best player or make him be a wing when he's not?
If the Hawks re-sign Horford to a max contract, which they may have to do to keep him, will they still have the cap flexibility to sign one of the superstars in the 2017 free agent class? If they don't re-sign Horford, will they be able to put together a good enough roster next summer to entice one of those MVP-caliber free agents?
In any case, what's clear at the moment is that the Hawks figure to be a better rebounding team with Howard. They already were an elite defensive team but now they are stouter in the middle. There's value in that. Cavs big man Tristan Thompson thrashed the Hawks in the paint in the playoffs, and the Cavs thrashed the Warriors in the paint once center Andrew Bogut went out with an injury.
Maybe there's also some intangible, "reputational" value in the Hawks finally attracting a top free agent. Howard is not a top 10 player anymore but he will be in the Hall of Fame one day. Perhaps getting even a diminished Howard signals to other players that the Hawks, already a credible organization, are serious about doing whatever it takes to be true contenders.
I just don't see Howard as being enough to put the Hawks over the top even if they re-sign Horford. We'll see.