The Atlanta Hawks might be one player away from contending for a championship, and that one player just might be Dwight Howard.
Following one of the grittiest comebacks in the history of the franchise on Friday night — a 123-111 double-overtime victory over the Boston Celtics in a game where a 27-point Boston lead was erased — the Hawks’ record sits at 25-18. They’re 4.5 games behind the Miami Heat in both the Southeastern Division and the overall Eastern Conference standings. If the postseason began today, the Hawks would be the No. 6 seed in the East, facing the No. 3-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round.
For the last half-decade, the Hawks have been a strong force in the East that always seems to lack one piece: a big man to dominate under the hoop. It’s no surprise that the basketball world isn’t taking Atlanta seriously. They’re too small, and you have to rebound the ball to win in the playoffs.
It’s precisely the reason why the Hawks should take a long look at center Dwight Howard if they have any intention of making noise this year.
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Let’s put a few facts on the table. In Howard’s first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, things haven’t gone as planned. They’re a putrid 18-25 going into Sunday’s game — a really bad mark for a franchise used to winning 55-60 games per year (they’re on pace to win about 35 games this season). Howard has put up numbers that are basically on-par with his career averages, even while battling a pesky shoulder injury.
It’s just not working out, and Howard went to L.A. to win a title. That won’t be happening in 2013, if he stays with the Lakers.
2,177 miles to the east, the Hawks are dealing with their own issue — Josh Smith’s contract is up at the end of this season. The morning after their gutsy win over the Celtics, Smith was telling the media he deserves a max contract and will walk if the Hawks don’t offer one. He’s not wrong, if he can find a team that will offer him that deal, but the Hawks might balk at re-signing the near-All-Star because of the way they were burned when they gave Joe Johnson a similar contract.
Atlanta can’t afford to let Smith leave without getting anything in return, so why not reach out to the Lakers to see if they can sketch up a deal?
Keep in mind that Howard is a local boy, and he would probably love the opportunity to return to Atlanta and play in front of friends and family full-time. What if the Lakers were willing to take Smith and, say, a youngster like John Jenkins in return for Howard? Wouldn’t the Hawks be dumb to reject that deal?
I believe in the mission GM Danny Ferry has for this team, and I’m sure he has a vision for molding the roster into an even stronger bunch. But I can’t stop thinking about what a handful the Hawks would be if they had Al Horford and Dwight Howard fighting for rebounds.
It might be the perfect plan.