We’re a year removed from John Wall calling his Washington Wizards partnership with Bradley Beal “the best backcourt in the league,” and while Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson won their third championship in the meantime, Wall finally got one over on the Warriors.
At least, that’s how Wall’s newest teammate Dwight Howard tells it.
Howard told NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes that the Warriors inquired about his services, but an Instagram message from Wall saying, “Do you want to come to D.C.?” and the lure of playing with a point guard of Wall’s caliber was enough to swing his decision from Golden State to Washington.
“Golden State called and I thought about them,” Howard told Hughes. “But once John sent me that message, I was like man. I couldn’t tell him at first, but I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to be a Wizard.’ That was my mindset.”
The Warriors have long-coveted Howard
It didn’t take long for Howard to join the Wizards. The one-year, $5.3 million deal (with a player option next summer) was reported almost in coordination with him finalizing a long-expected buyout with the Brooklyn Nets, who acquired his contract in a cost-cutting trade with the Charlotte Hornets.
The interest from the Warriors, who coveted Howard in a 2012 trade offer and 2013 free agency, seemed obvious enough. They have the championship carrot to hang in front of any ringless veteran free agent’s face and the locker-room culture to absorb a player who has clashed with past teams.
The Warriors instead came to terms on the same contract with All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, just hours after news of Howard’s decision to join the Wizards was made public. You wonder how much one had to do with the other, and it would be fascinating to know if Golden State preferred Howard to Cousins.
Howard is not the game-changing force he was when winning three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2009-11, but at age 32 he is still an athletic presence in the middle. Cousins is a 27-year-old with the talent to be the NBA’s top center, but he has a reputation for lapsing on defense, and there’s no telling how much his Achilles tendon tear will impact his availability and athleticism.
You also wonder if the Wizards preferred Howard to Cousins, who has a close relationship with Wall dating back to their days together at the University of Kentucky. Wall and Cousins have openly discussed teaming up in the NBA, and Wall shook his head upon learning Cousins joined the Warriors. Yet, it was Howard that Wall direct messaged on Instagram. Maybe he was just as surprised as the rest of us that Cousins signed for so little in Golden State. Or maybe he sent the same DM to Cousins. We don’t have all the answers, but the questions create a fascinating what-if for the two All-Star centers.
You would think winning with the Warriors, who have won three of the past four titles and are heavily favored to win a fourth, would be more of an allure than the Wizards, and it is strange that all it took to convince Howard that Washington was the place for him was a seven-word Instagram DM from Wall, but one thing is clear: Where Cousins took the easier path, Howard chose the road less traveled.
“I was like, ‘Nah, this is the spot right here.’ On the court, Golden State would’ve looked great. We could’ve won. But the impact of winning in Golden State and D.C. is totally different. I think winning in D.C. would be a lot bigger and it would mean a lot for this city. And to accomplish it with a team that has not done it since 1978? That would be amazing. So if we won, I’d be done graduated, man. … I’d be done graduated.”
The odds certainly aren’t in his favor, but let’s remember these exchanges when we debate whether Cousins winning a ring with Golden State means for his career than Howard finishing his without one.
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