One year after signing star center Dwight Howard to a big contract, the Atlanta Hawks have decided to move on. The 31-year old big man was shipped to the Charlotte Hornets in odd trade that landed the Hawks the sharpshooting Marco Belinelli and another big man in Miles Plumlee:

Atlanta was forced to hand the Hornets the 31st overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to orchestrate the deal, while the Hawks included the 41st pick in the draft to sweeten the deal. The move registers as largely a salary dump for the Hawks, who give away one of the league’s top big men for virtually nothing. Atlanta does get a strong outside shooter in Belinelli and unloads a big contract, but they take on Plumlee’s huge deal in the process.

Dying Star

This move tells us all we probably need to know about Dwight Howard, who was the man of the hour ahead of signing a big deal with the Houston Rockets just four seasons ago. Howard slowly seemed to wear his welcome out in in Texas, however, and after delivering mixed reviews in his first year with the Hawks during the 2016-17 NBA season, it seems Atlanta opted for a different direction, as well.

Soon to be 32 years of age, Howard’s time as an elite difference-maker in the NBA is quickly being put behind him. Seemingly never able to grasp his true role in the league, Howard could be better served embracing the idea that he can be an elite defensive stopper and rebounder and doesn’t necessarily need to be his team’s top scoring option. Howard may have received a taste of that during his first year with the Hawks, where he averaged just 13.5 points per game – his lowest since his first year in the league back in 2004.

Who Wins?

As far as the actual trade goes, the Hornets are the obvious winners. A fringe playoff contender for years, one of Charlotte’s biggest issues has always been interior defense and finding a reliable center to hold down the fort. The team thought they had that in top shelf scorer Al Jefferson, but injuries and poor defense made him expendable entering last offseason. The team then turned to the likes of Cody Zeller, Roy Hibbert, Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams, but weren’t able to find a reliable answer.

On paper, Dwight Howard is still physically in his prime and can be what the Hornets need; a tenacious rebounder who can defend and block shots. Howard has always thought he was a bigger star than he actually is, however, so it will be interesting to see if he can embrace just being a piece of the puzzle and not the piece.

Charlotte already has some interesting pieces, as star point guard Kemba Walker, swing man Nicolas Batum and big men Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams give them some solid scoring. Losing Belinneli may not be a huge loss from the bench, either, as backup shooting guard Jeremy Lamb proved last year he can handle an enhanced role as a spark scorer.

While the Hornets could have made a deal to solidify a viable playoff contender, the Hawks don’t lose here. Howard looked like a poor fit from the beginning and with fellow big man Paul Millsap seemingly departing in free agency, the Hawks have correctly realized they’re arriving upon a rebuilding stage.

Dennis Schroder seems to be the team’s point guard of the future and the team has a collection of interesting young perimeter prospects, but they need to redefine who they are and also make changes at the four and five spots. Letting Millsap go and ditching Howard was part of that process, while Plumlee gives them some depth down low and Belinelli enhances an already strong outside game.

2017-18 Prospects

It’s still safe to say neither of these teams will be vying for the 2018 NBA title. Howard does provide a big impact if everything breaks just right, though. The Hornets were a playoff team two years ago and almost pushed past the Miami Heat and into the second round. They finally have – on paper – a reliable big man who can be an effective two-way presence. Howard being a positive impact will require him buying into his new role, but he’s Charlotte’s best bet they’ve had, perhaps ever.

The Hornets could make one more big move to really push them up the ladder, but as they stand they could be a playoff team and compete for a first round win.

Atlanta will sink from here. They will continue to develop their young talent and hope that unloading Howard will free up the lane and help make them a quicker unit. That will probably be the case, but they will surely see a defensive dip and will also take a hit on the boards. The Hawks have now lost a ton of talent over just the last two years and provided Millsap leaves, three of those losses will have come from the post, alone.

The Hawks have been a playoff threat for years, but it looks like they can safely be ruled out as a realistic threat to be that going into the 2017-18 season. They could remain competitive thanks to some strong perimeter talent, but unless they make another big move to improve at power forward and center, they aren’t a good team to bet on for another playoff run. Long-term, however, the Hawks might be in the better spot. They can now groom their solid young talent they already have and start figuring out what kind of players they want to fill in their post positions.

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