For two hours, Dwight Howard had gone hard inside Georgia Tech's basketball facility, moving between the weight room and gymnasium, between conditioning and basketball. No tomfoolery, no high jinks. When Howard does the work, he's ferocious in his approach, meticulous in methodology. During this summer, Howard has lost a little weight, and a lot of anger. He has been humbled, unloaded out of his Atlanta homecoming only to now be re-engaged in possibility with Charlotte. Steve Clifford had driven 3½ hours to watch him work on a sultry summer day, and the coach of the Charlotte Hornets represents something so important to Howard now. Clifford is a link to Howard's glory days with the Orlando Magic, the rarest of NBA coaching species: He wanted Howard. He knows him, trusts him in his locker room and believes Howard can make an immense impact on the Hornets. As much as anything, Howard craves acceptance, and that's why his trade to Charlotte, to Clifford, has him believing all over again. "Cliff's going to push me, but he's not going to ever be one of those guys who I would say would break my spirit," Howard told ESPN. "He really believes in me. Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am -- to just shut people's mouths." Clifford stands as Howard's best, final lifeline to resurrect his good name. He's the coach standing between Howard and a closing career chapter that threatens to transform him into a journeyman. For everything Howard has accomplished, that looms as an ending unfit for a Hall of Fame center. At the end of each of the past two seasons, Howard felt unwanted with the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets. He felt miscast on the court and misunderstood off it. These are themes that seldom go away with Howard, that feed his insecurities and shape his responses to professional adversity. "The other places I was, the coaches didn't really know who I am," Howard told ESPN. "I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I'm very determined to get back to the top. It's a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren't just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more. "In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I'm not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it's all opportunity, the system. I haven't had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando." Eventually, there was something else on this August afternoon, too: Howard circling the 3-point arc, launching shots to the rim. He shoots 3-pointers every day now. For three summers, he has been trying to make it part of his offensive game. In a lot of ways, in this changing NBA, it is a bid to stay relevant. Around Howard, the NBA has dramatically evolved, with the power center slowly, surely losing influence. Howard has a notion to reinvent himself offensively, the way he has often tried to do in his life -- changing those in his inner circle, changing agents, changing teams. As for the 3-pointers, Howard knows where Clifford stands on them. Charlotte has a playbook of ways to use Howard on offense, to get him the ball with actions once executed in Orlando. Charlotte will use his ability to pass, too.
Steve Clifford and Hornets offer Dwight Howard a home and hope
ESPN | Aug 18