LAS VEGAS — The Washington Wizards and Dwight Howard have both seen better days. Two springs ago, the Wizards fell one game shy of playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but last season they toiled in mediocrity. Howard in the not-so-distant past was considered the premier big man in the NBA only to become an itinerant center.
Friday, their paths finally crossed with Howard on the brink of a new contract with the Wizards. The deal, while not yet official, is expected to be for two years and $11 million, with a player option, according to a source close to the situation.
The Wizards will become Howard’s fifth team in the past four years and third in less than a month — he was traded from Charlotte to Brooklyn in June, a deal that became official Friday. Howard’s representatives then completed negotiations on a buyout with the Nets later Friday, clearing the way for the 32-year-old center to come to Washington. Howard still must clear waivers before the contract can be signed, which means the deal likely won’t be official until sometime over the weekend.
The 6-foot-11 Howard, an all-star for eight consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2014, was slated to make approximately $23.8 million in the final year of his contract. However, he will come to Washington for the team’s mini mid-level exception, a tool used by franchises that are over the NBA luxury tax level of $123.7 million.
Howard’s deal will be a far cry from 2013, when he signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Houston Rockets. Much has changed over the past five years. The Wizards aren’t getting “Superman” at his peak, when he was a dominant defensive force who led the league in blocked shots twice and total rebounds five times.
Howard, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, has been stripped of some of his athleticism by age and injuries. He has been traded in June for consecutive years — first, by his hometown Atlanta Hawks — and will soon play for his fourth team in four years. After his eighth consecutive all-star appearance in 2014, Howard’s shine dimmed as his playing time, shot attempts and scoring decreased over the following three seasons.
Although the Wizards are getting the Clark Kent version of the former all-star and three-time defensive player of the year, Howard is still likely a future Hall of Famer, which would make him the best center to pair with point guard John Wall over his eight-year NBA career.
Howard can still set punishing screens and roll to an easy finish. As The Post’s Neil Greenberg highlighted, Howard averaged 1.04 points per possession as the roll man in pick-and-roll plays last season. And once he’s near the rim, Howard remains a formidable scorer.
Last season with Charlotte, Howard made 70 percent of his shot attempts from three feet and closer, compared to Washington’s former center, Marcin Gortat, who scored at a 65.2 percent clip. Howard’s strength of playing inside, however, contrasts with the style of play the Wizards have envisioned for the future.
The team drafted a wing player in Troy Brown Jr., then traded Gortat for guard Austin Rivers. Team President Ernie Grunfeld justified both moves as part of the plan to play faster and stretch more to the perimeter. After Monday’s news conference to introduce Rivers, Grunfeld praised his new player for these very qualities.
“The way he plays, [Rivers] fits in real well with what we’re trying to do. And that’s move up and down the floor a little bit more. Be able to switch out on the perimeter,” Grunfeld said. “And the more players you have that are versatile and that can create not only for themselves but for others, the better off you are.”
Although Howard does not offer these characteristics, the Wizards see him as a missing piece in their lineup. Howard views Washington as an opportunity to compete for a playoff team (and one that had the slight money to pay him). Together, both sides appear to have found what they were searching for in free agency.
Staff writer Tim Bontemps contributed.
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