After completing a contract buyout with the Memphis Grizzlies, Dwight Howard will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Los Angeles Lakers that comes with a clear message, league sources told ESPN: Disrupt this team — and you’ll be gone.
In meetings with Lakers management, coaches and teammates — including Anthony Davis — late this week, Howard sold himself as an eight-time All-Star who had hit “rock bottom,” in the words of one team source, and promised that he’d humbly accept the responsibility to rebound and block shots for the Lakers.
He showed the Lakers that his surgically repaired back was healthy and that he had lost 25 pounds to get into better condition, and ultimately the Lakers chose him over Joakim Noah, sources said.
With DeMarcus Cousins probably lost for the season because of a torn ACL in his left knee, and Davis reluctant to play significant minutes at center, the Lakers and Howard found themselves needing each other for a reunion of a miscast partnership that fizzled in the 2012-13 season.
For years, Howard, 33, has sold an almost annual idea of a personal renaissance and epiphany, only to infuriate coaches and teammates with behavior that moved from selfish on the court to childish and disruptive off of it. Since signing with the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent in 2016, Howard has been traded three times and waived twice. The Lakers will be his sixth team in five years — far from the All-Star and All-Defensive team appearances he earned with Orlando and Houston.
The Lakers will hold the leverage on Howard, able to cut him before the NBA’s Jan. 7 deadline to guarantee contracts for the season without cost to the team. Howard’s arrival moves the Lakers’ roster to a full 15 players. His contract buyout with the Grizzlies — who acquired him in an offseason trade with Washington — will require him to clear waivers next week before signing with Los Angeles.
Howard will surrender $2.6 million of his $5.6 million guaranteed salary to Memphis in the buyout, league sources said. He can earn back the $2.6 million on his veteran’s minimum deal with Lakers — if he survives on roster beyond Jan. 7.
Memphis never intended to bring Howard to training camp, so the savings turns out to be a significant financial bonus for the franchise.
The Lakers will be Howard’s fifth team since he signed as a free agent in Atlanta in 2016. He has played with the Hawks, Charlotte and Washington — and been waived after trades to Brooklyn and Memphis without ever wearing a uniform. He played only nine games with Washington before back surgery ended his season.