Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Free Agency 2021: Dwight Howard Agrees to Return to Lakers

Dwight Howard agreed to return to the Lakers in free agency, per multiple reports.

Howard heading back to Los Angeles in free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Dwight Howard took a one-season detour in Philadelphia before returning to Los Angeles.

The 35-year-old center has agreed to return to the Lakers, his agent, Qais Haider, told The Athletic's Shams Charania.

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Howard was an elite rebounder for the Sixers — he led the league with 17.5 boards per 36 minutes — and also made useful contributions as a shot blocker and interior scorer.

The veteran big man’s excessive turnovers and fouls were issues, though, and both proved costly in the playoffs. Howard posted a career-worst 22.8 turnover percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass. During the Sixers’ second-round losses to the Hawks in Games 1, 5 and 7, Howard totaled zero points, five turnovers and eight fouls in 24 minutes. 

Though he was discussing second-round selections Charles Bassey and Filip Petrušev, not Howard, it was interesting to hear Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey say on draft night, “I think with the bigs we’re bringing in, we want to make sure they’re either switchable or can shoot.”

Howard doesn’t match that description, and it’s one reason why his on-court pairing with Ben Simmons was ineffective. The Sixers had a minus-10.4 net rating with Simmons and Howard on the floor together during the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass, minus-12.7 during the playoffs. 

Howard enjoyed playing in Philadelphia, especially when Wells Fargo Center was cleared to host fans again in March. 

“First I want to say that I am thankful,” he said. “I’ve been loving every minute of having the fans in the stadium. It means so much to me. For me, I know that everybody’s been at home during COVID and now they get a chance to come back and see their team play. I just try to provide some energy, get the crowd into it, because we miss these guys.

“We miss our fans, we miss seeing them at the games. I personally enjoy it; it brings me so much joy and energy to see the crowd. I’m just grateful. I’m grateful that the fans have been very appreciative of my hard work and energy and effort. When I get on the court, it’s like I’ve got to hold myself to a higher standard because all of the fans are looking for me to come out and play with energy and effort every night.”

A champion with the Lakers during the 2019-20 season, Howard was enthusiastic about serving as Joel Embiid’s backup and aiming to help younger players like rookie Paul Reed off the floor. 

“Dwight is a really good guy, for real,” Furkan Korkmaz said in May. “In the beginning of the season when I first met with him I was really impressed, because Dwight Howard … sometimes big stars, superstars, you’re a little bit afraid of what kind of character they have. It takes a lot of time to figure that out. But I think Dwight was perfect for us.”

The Sixers will now go about configuring a different backup center situation behind Embiid. Howard was the only player head coach Doc Rivers consistently trusted to back Embiid up after the Sixers dealt Tony Bradley to the Thunder at the trade deadline in March.

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