Dwight Howard, once one of the most dominant players in the N.B.A., is poised to get yet another shot to resurrect his troubled career, this time in a return to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard, a 33-year-old center who spent a contentious season with the Lakers in 2012-13, has agreed to a buyout from the Memphis Grizzlies, and he is expected to sign a non-guaranteed deal with Los Angeles after the buyout is official and he clears waivers, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations who was not authorized to speak publicly. Howard’s plans were first reported by The Athletic.
Once the signing is official, the Lakers will be Howard’s sixth team in five years.
The Lakers were in sudden need of help in the frontcourt after DeMarcus Cousins, who signed with the team in free agency this summer, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee this month. The injury will most likely keep him out for the season.
Howard will be part of a motley crew of past-their prime veteran castoffs whose sole job is to help LeBron James and Anthony Davis bring a 17th championship to the Lakers. But Howard’s fit with the team is perhaps more doubtful than any of the other pieces, given his difficult previous season there and what has become of him since.
In the early years of Howard’s career, his hulking physique, athleticism and jovial personality cemented him as a star. Taken as the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Orlando Magic in 2004, he became known for his exceptional rebounding and won three straight defensive player of the year awards. In Orlando, he reminded many observers of another former Magic center: Shaquille O’Neal.
But the lofty expectations of Howard’s prime quickly came crashing down, as injuries and an increasing preference in the league for big men who can shoot reduced his on-court value. Additionally, there was a perception, fair or not, that he didn’t take the game seriously enough.
Howard joined the Lakers in 2012 as part of a four-team trade. He played through a back injury and had a good season statistically (17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds, which led the league). But the Lakers were swept out of the first round of the playoffs, and Howard and Kobe Bryant, the franchise superstar, never clicked.
“I tried teaching Dwight,” Bryant later told USA Today. “I tried showing him.” He added that he thought Howard had the wrong idea about what it took to win a championship.
Howard left for a fresh start in Houston, where he played three seasons. From there, he bounced from Atlanta to Charlotte, and last year, to the Washington Wizards, where he missed most of the season with a variety of back and hamstring injuries before he was traded to the Grizzlies.
In a July interview with The Athletic, Howard said he was ready to do whatever was necessary to win. “I don’t have an ego — it’s dead,” Howard said. “It had to die for me to be who I am.”