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Re-evaluating the Wizards’ decision to trade Dwight Howard: Was it really worth it?

Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard once called the trade of the center for C.J. Miles as the “quickest trade of my life.” But given how he has bounced back with the Lakers and the Wizards’ cap situation, trading the former All-Star wasn’t necessarily the best decision to take.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Washington Wizards
Dwight Howard played sparingly for the Washington Wizards in the 2018-19 season. He has since bounced back relatively well with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

During the NBA’s off-season/trading season last year, Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard traded center Dwight Howard in exchange for taking Memphis Grizzlies’ CJ Miles contract. And, in unusual fashion, Sheppard famously announced this was

``the quickest trade I’ve ever done in my life.”

From a cap perspective this move was not cheap, as it involved taking on $3.1 million in extra salary:

(This also might have been Woj’s quickest ever tweet, judging by the spelling of the Memphis mascot.)

That is roughly the price of a second-round pick (which the Grizzlies never had to ship).

The media touted this move as a cultural/locker-room reboot that will start the Sheppard era and officially end the Grunfeld era. Of course, no matter that Sheppard was VP when Howard was signed in the first place (and notoriously given a Grunfeldian player option).

Was this such a great move? And was Sheppard’s very public controversial trash talking of Howard exactly the right thing to do?

Let’s evaluate CJ’s tenure here.

The combo guard/forward was only healthy through the first 10 games of the season before undergoing a season-ending surgery. Sounds awfully similar to Howard’s tenure here, actually it’s about 11 percent more durable than Howard, who only played for 9 games during the 2018-19 season. Rumors also indicated that C.J. Miles might not have been completely healthy already when he arrived in D.C. But, you know what, even if C.J. is 100 percent healthy, is it worth paying a second-rounder or $3M for renting him for a rebuilding year?

Why then, not just waive Howard in the first place? Or, even better, tell Howard he will not be practicing with the team until a suitable buy-out partner is found? Having covered the Wizards closely in the 2018-19 season I can personally attest that Howard was not even present in the locker-room most of the season, in part because he was given leave to rehab in sunny Georgia.

Given Howard’s successful season with the Lakers, highlighted by his outstanding contribution to the Lakers’ recent Game 1 win over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, quite a few question marks arise regarding this trade and especially the audacity in which the Wizards carried it out.

Moreover, given the Wizards’ historically bad defense and rebounding in 2019-20, one cannot help wonder whether Howard could have offered any help in that department or perhaps help teach the young Wizards’ centers some of his craft.

On another note, the Lakers and the Wizards are perhaps the two organizations which sent each other’s way the most players in the recent two seasons. The traffic was mostly eastwards, with the Wizards acquiring nearly for free Thomas Bryant, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Johnathan Williams, and Jemerrio Jones.

But Washington did repay handsomely with Dwight Howard for free, plus some scorching public criticism for which Pelinka was probably grateful as it allowed him to pick up Howard for free off waivers (OK, not completely free, they did have to waive Aric Holman) on an extremely team-friendly pay-as-you-go contract (kudos to Pelinka for knowing such a contract is even possible) and it apparently also fired up Howard to one of his better seasons in recent years, assuming fully his intended role.

Finally, if a cultural re-boot was indeed the prescription the doctor gave the Wizards, wouldn’t have it served them better to use this $3 million wiser, perhaps by buying out Scott Brooks’ contract and replacing him with a young rising star from the G-League, as recently advocated by Kevin Broom? A year after scapegoating Howard, a lot of questions are still afloat regarding where the Wizards are actually headed.