by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10
About his season in Los Angeles and his final years in Orlando, Dwight Howard now speaks casually, not missing a beat. There’s no regret in his voice. Just acceptance. He’s moved on to the next chapter.
That chapter will be unofficially initiated tonight, as Dwight returns to Staples Center for the first time since turning down a five-year, $118 million deal last summer to sign with the Rockets for $88 million over four years. He expects to be booed by Laker fans, who no longer expect L.A. wins.
That’s fine with Howard, who, along with James Harden, has seamlessly taken on the leadership roles on a young Rockets squad. The bond between Howard—the game’s best center—and Harden—the L’s best 2-guard—is developing nicely, and the results show in the standings: third place in the West, 8-2 in their last 10 games. No one’s really talking about it, but the Rockets are as hot as any team in the League.
And no one’s really talking about it, but Dwight Howard is back to his old ways. Hate him or love him, but Dwight Howard’s regained his explosion and is doing what he does best on the nightly: dominate the paint. SLAM caught up with Howard in New Orleans before last Sunday’s All-Star Game.
SLAM: This year, you’re smiling, you’re healthy. This has to be the most fun you’ve had in a long time…
Dwight Howard: Well, I’ve always had fun. Playing basketball is probably the best thing for me because it puts me at a place to where—when I’m on the floor, when I’m at practice—I’m at peace and I’m having fun and I’m enjoying what I do. The last couple years, it was really hard to enjoy the game with everything that was going on off the court with trying to figure out what team I was going to play for. Then the next year, dealing with a back injury and then hurting my shoulder, it was very tough. When you’re not healthy, and you’re trying to battle back from a serious injury, it’s not fun. There were times when I was on the floor, and there were things that I would normally do that I couldn’t do. I just wasn’t having fun. And then this year, with a lot of the young guys that we have on the team, they’ve kind of given me some life. And I enjoy it. I’m having a lot of fun.
SLAM: It seems like you and James Harden compliment each other very well.
DH: Well, we’re actually getting a lot better. In the beginning of the season, we were off. But as time goes on, we’ve gotten a lot better. We talk a lot. We try to figure out ways that we can make each other better and also ways to make our teammates better. We really have a goal in mind, which is to win a Championship. And nobody’s talked about us, and we’re kind of flying under the radar. Nobody’s really respecting what we’ve done. We take that ammo, and we put it on the floor.
SLAM: How do you compare your leadership styles?
DH: This is a new situation for James. Him being in OKC, he was behind Kevin [Durant] and Russell [Westbrook], and here, it’s me and him. He’s a young guy, so he’s learning. But I would say the best way he can lead is by example. So when he practices, he’s going hard. He’s in every drill. He’s running sprints with the losers after we do a couple games or whatever. The little stuff like that, the younger guys pick up on.
SLAM: Have you had a chance to work on any new moves recently with Hakeem?
DH: Dream, he’s been away for a while. The stuff that we work on is very simple. In today’s game, we don’t have time to do a lot of different moves. You got to have one move and a counter. And it’s hard for people to see that if they haven’t played basketball. But Hakeem understands it. Kevin McHale understands it. You gotta have one move and a counter move.
SLAM: Can you explain this [hand gesture]? You post this a lot on your Instagram…
DH: Oh, the finger thing. It means ‘Gotcha’. It’s an old school game. You’re normally supposed to have it below the waist. It’s kind of like the game where you do something, and somebody looks at it, and you get to punch ‘em. It’s called ‘Gotcha’. It’s something that I’ve been doing. My son does it. We’ve been doing it since we were in high school. It’s been out for a while.
SLAM: You’re a fan of all sorts of training. Is there any particular training that you haven’t tried, that you’ve had your sights set on trying?
DH: I actually want to try this workout in the pool, a swimming workout that Tim Duncan’s known for doing. It’s kind of helped him play as long as he’s been playing, and also playing at a high level. I want to try it out. I think it would be very good for my body and my back. Making sure I keep my back strong and my core.
SLAM: Something about the Rockets is that they take the fewest mid-range shots in the League. What’s the philosophy behind that, and do you consider a mid-range shot a bad shot?
DH: I don’t think it’s a bad shot. I just think that everybody on our team is better at shooting threes. It’s a longer shot, and some of those guys are pretty good at the long shots. For myself, I’m even better at it when I do shoot threes. So it’s a great shot to take when you’re open. My team shoots a very high percentage at times. And that’s how we play: inside-out, shoot the three or get the paint points. We do a good job of both.
SLAM: Do you see a young player who could be “the next Dwight Howard”?
DH: I don’t think there ever will be another Dwight Howard. There’s only one. Just like there’s only one Jordan, only one Kobe, only one Shaq. For any kid that reads this, they have to feel the same way about themselves. There’s only one of me. And I’m going to make myself that special to where there’s nobody who can be compared to the things that I’ve done. I don’t think there’s nobody like myself.