Orlando Magic should explore bringing back Dwight Howard

Jan 14, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Magic appear poised to make a splash in free agency, with lots of money to spend. Former Orlando Magic player Dwight Howard is worth looking at.

It has been a week since Ric Bucher of Bleacher/Report noted Dwight Howard was making “back channel” communications to see if the Orlando Magic were interested in signing him. A week for Magic fans to digest and debate it. The reaction seems split right down the middle.

Breaking it down though, the rumored Dwight Howard reunion with the Orlando Magic is not a bad idea.

Forget all the baggage — both from his tumultuous final year in Orlando and built up since. Forget that this is the same guy that set the franchise back for almost half a decade by forcing his way out.

The Magic owe it to themselves at least to consider signing a player who can make them better and give them something the current team lacks. If he can help, he is worth looking at.

If Howard wants to come back though, why shouldn’t the Orlando Magic explore the possibility?

Yes, he is 30 years old and likely out of his prime. And yes, he is not always the most mature player on the court. This is not a standalone move to fix the Magic. Howard does not fix everything.

But is he not still a very talented basketball player? Is he still not arguably a top-10 center in the NBA?

His numbers are sometimes overlooked — 14 points, 12 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Those are not what they used to be when he was in a Magic uniform. But when healthy, Howard is still a productive player and a player defenses have to account for. Not to mention he can still be a deterrent defensively.

There is undoubtedly baggage that has to be overcome. It may be too much to overcome. Many fans complain he betrayed the team and left them in the dust and have not forgiven him for it. He pitted the franchise against itself in many ways.

None of that should matter.

In the end, this may have been a blessing in disguise. During the end of Howard’s tenure the Magic had many, overpaid players who did not match expectations, such as Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas, Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. The choice was simple, the team ultimately decided to hit the reset button, rather than be stuck in the infinite loop of mediocrity, in addition to the likely chance Howard would leave in the offseason anyway.

If it was not for the trade, they most certainly would not have the young talent they have now — no Nikola Vucevic, no Victor Oladipo, no Elfrid Payton, no Aaron Gordon or Mario Hezonja.

The deck was cleared. And with this opportunity, Howard can still be a valuable player.

There are plenty of reasons why the Magic should consider pursuing him this summer.

The Magic have failed to make that leap they were looking for this season. Hopeful for the playoffs, the Magic only self destructed after the new year. They have now missed the Playoffs for four straight years, tying the franchise record for a playoff drought.

Orlando made a gutsy cap-clearing move at the trade deadline, trading Tobias Harris away to free up an additional $17 million heading into the summer. The Magic, now have the potential to sign two players to max contracts.

But the Magic are not likely to attract the top flight of free agents. Kevin Durant and LeBron James do not seem to be interested in going to Disney World, and players like DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond will likely have their respective teams do whatever they can to keep them on the roster.

That leaves names like Al Horford, Mike Conley, Harrison Barnes, Chandler Parsons, Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard as possibilities.

Now, if Al Horford stated he was interested in signing with the Magic, this would be an article about him, because he would be the better option. But there are no indications yet that it will happen. The Magic’s first, second and third options may fail them. There has to be a fallback plan in the end.

Every option needs to be on the table. To take that next step the Magic have to upgrade their roster and no stone should go unturned.

This leaves Dwight Howard as a viable rim protector worth going after, along with Hassan Whiteside, who will undoubtedly command nothing short of a max contract in the summer.

The Magic lack rim protection. There is no doubt Nikola Vucevic is a talented center, but he does not seem to have as much of an impact on defense.

Any thought of signing Howard is more about the contributions he would make defensively, as the Magic seem to be set with their big man’s offense and have plenty of offensive weapons elsewhere on the roster. Obviously, he will not have as much of a defensive presence as he was previously in Orlando, but it will certainly be an upgrade over Vucevic’s.

Howard’s worst season defensively is still slightly better than Vucevic’s best season. Howard is posting one of his worst defensive years of his career, but his 1.7 defensive box plus-minus is still better than Vucevic’s 1.2 (meaning the Magic play 1.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Vucevic on the floor over an average player).

Offensively, Howard does not really limit anyone’s opportunities, not anymore at least. His scoring could be down because of his lower usage rate — it is less than 20 percent for the first time since his rookie year when it was limited to offensive rebounds, put backs and lobs.

Howard’s value remains on defense and even with his offensive limitations, teams have to respect his rolling ability. He can ignite a Magic fast break with his defensive play and provide that back stop this team needs.

Howard is clearly not the same player he was. But it is clear he can still impact a game when healthy.

Now, if he decides he wants to pursue a max contract, then Orlando may not want to provide that, which is understandable. The price and contract has to be right. And, as noted, Howard probably should not be the team’s first option in free agency.

If this is purely a basketball decision, putting all the drama to the side. Dwight Howard is still a great basketball player, who could help a lot of teams, including Orlando.

Perhaps Howard has matured since leaving. Who knows? Maybe he wants to get his act together, and if he knows exactly what he is coming back to, he would be a good addition to the team.

This is not LeBron James returning to Cleveland like. This is more so Howard trying to make up for what he left behind. And the Magic getting a player that can help them take the next step.