When the 22-3 Lakers walked into their locker room in American Airlines Arena on December 13 for a game against the Miami Heat, they probably weren’t expecting a visit from Santa Claus. Christmas was still two weeks away, so they were correct. The man with the gifts who did show up, however, was Santa Dwight. Dwight Howard has impressed nearly everyone with his stellar play so far this season in his comeback with the Lakers, but his generosity is just as impressive as his play.
What’s different for Dwight Howard in L.A. this time?
Before we discuss Dwight Howard playing Santa Claus for his teammates, we should explore just how improbable his return to Los Angeles was.
Everything is going smoothly in L.A. now, but Howard’s first contract with the team was far rockier. The Magic traded Howard to the Lakers in 2012 while he was still recovering from back surgery. After taking enough time to get back into playing shape, Howard still wasn’t able to make the plays the team needed and ended up getting ejected in the final game of their one playoff series, where the Spurs swept them on their way to an NBA Finals meeting with LeBron James’ Heat.
After six years, Howard finally returned to the Lakers, signed to fill the hole left by the injured DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins signed as a free agent after an injury-plagued season with the Golden State Warriors, but the bug struck again once he made it to L.A. He tore his ACL and landed on the sidelines in August, barely a month after signing. While the hugely talented Anthony Davis could certainly play at center, he has certainly enjoyed having Dwight helping out at the position, and it’s reflected in Davis’ stats.
This time around, neither Dwight Howard nor the Lakers want history to repeat itself. Howard went so far as to request a non-guaranteed contract in signing talks. Knowing that Howard would give it his all, and with the caveat that he was out if things got too heated in the locker room, the Lakers excitedly welcomed him back to the team.
Dwight Howard plays Santa Claus for his team
Howard gifted each of his teammates a set of AirPods Pro before the game. At $100 more than the standard equipment, the new $249 version would come out to just about $3,750 for 15 players. However, the Lakers squeaked by the Heat 113-110, so who’s to say that Howard’s gift wasn’t the difference-maker? Basketball is all about team cohesion, and Dwight Howard may have just proven his ability to help the locker room relax.
The 2019-20 season isn’t the first time Dwight Howard has played for the Lakers, but he may finally have figured out how to get along with his teammates. Anthony Davis was a major factor in Howard being signed to the team for a second run, and it’s likely he patted himself on the back when he saw Howard’s gesture.
Are the new Lakers championship-bound?
With the Lakers shooting off to one of the best starts in the league, there hasn’t been much time to sit down and analyze if things are going wrong. However, it seems like Howard is keeping up his end of the bargain. With his expensive gifts, he’s doing his best to ensure that he’s a positive force in the locker room, not just a neutral or negative one.
Last year, the Lakers finished 37-45. They could surpass that win total by the time January 2020 ends. LeBron James was asked to do the impossible last year and carry a team full of rookies and youngsters to the playoffs, but offseason moves have turned the Lake Show into a title contender yet again.
LeBron and Anthony Davis are terrorizing the league as a duo, and another hugely talented big man is waiting in the wings. Dwight Howard’s playing time will likely take a hit when DeMarcus Cousins returns. Still, Howard’s generosity and willingness to play with the team will probably keep him in Los Angeles as the team’s quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy heats up.