Dwight Howard in Dunk Contest.. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/GETTY IMAGES

Dwight Howard, A Risk Worth Taking For The Golden State Warriors

It’s decision day for the most physically gifted big man on the planet, Dwight Howard, and the only team in California he’s thinking about suiting up for next season plays in Oakland.

A seven-time NBA All-Star, the most coveted free agent on the market, the Golden State Warriors are smack-dab in the middle of the conversation — and no one’s laughing.

Just look how far these Dubs have come.

Regardless of what happens with Dwight, or free agency this summer, the fact the Warriors are even involved in articles, clandestine meetings or mentioned in rumors suggesting they might acquire the services of one of the NBA’s top-tier talents shows the enormous progress Golden State has made.

These articles aren’t wondering why a player as good as Dwight would want to play with the Warriors, they’re wondering if a team as young and promising as the Dubs would be wise to clear the necessary cap space, which by definition means losing either Klay Thompson, an elite perimeter shooter and emerging defender, or Harrison Barnes, a versatile and explosive wing who suffers no fools near the rim.

Personally, I think it’s a risk worth taking.

The Warriors would first have to trade Andrew Bogut and shed contracts, and, even if the Dubs do find a taker they’d have to toss in a first-round pick along with one of those popular young perimeter players. But unless they can move David Lee’s hefty contract, the Warriors are almost certainly going to lose Thompson or Barnes when their rookie deals come up, and that will happen whether or not they manage to sign this always giggly, formerly dominant and recently creaky big man, with a tendency to coast, to a max contract.

May 8, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots against San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (4) during the first half in game two of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the AT

So the price to upgrade from Bogut to Dwight down low is a first-round draft pick and one of these two very promising young players, who will probably be gone in a couple of years anyway.

Howard has been raked over the coals these last few years for a variety of reasons, several of his own making, but here is my thinking on why the enormous conundrum named Dwight, who won’t turn 28 until December, could be an excellent fit for these Warriors:

Golden State is stuck with David Lee, and his contract. For all his offensive wizardry Lee doesn’t hold up his other end of the bargain, but Howard’s mobility and intimidation would mask Lee’s defensive deficiencies even more so than the outgoing Australian, and on offense Howard stays out of those mid-range areas Lee favors, unlike Bogut.

Dwight’s post game has never resembled Hakeem Olajuwon, but when healthy, he’s quick and explosive, he draws fouls and double-teams in the post — something neither Bogut or Lee, or any other Warrior, does regularly — which leads to offensive rebounds, cleaner looks on 3-point attempts and tip dunks for Black Falcons. It would also mean the Warriors getting in the bonus earlier and putting opposing big men in foul trouble. (Dwight’s foul shooting isn’t ideal, but neither are NBA offenses, which on average score one point per possession.)

Personality. Dwight talks like an Alpha dog but if he gets his fair share of the limelight and some touches on offense he’ll do fine as a high-profile second banana; he just doesn’t wanna be anybody’s mascot (Mamba?). Steph is exactly the unassuming type of superstar Howard would be comfortable around, and let’s face it; this Warrior team is all about goofy.

If the Dubs did get Dwight: 1) It’s a vertual certainty the Warriors would be scheduled for the most national TV appearances in franchise history, with Charles Barkley giving them the kiss of death by picking them to win it all, and, 2) Once the bright lights are back on it will become clear once more to all the world, and the Warriors starting center, Steph Curry is not just the best player in Oakland, he’s the most entertaining deep threat this league has ever known — one who loves to hook up his bigs by dropping succulent dimes for devastating dunks.

Health is obviously a huge factor with Howard. He may join the long list of big men beaten by injury, which is scary, but the large fella sporting a headband and wearing No. 12 for the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of last season sure didn’t look ready to retire.

In March, Dwight had 17.9 points, 15.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game while the April version of Howard averaged 20.9 pts, 10.5 rpg and 2.4 bpg.

That’s exactly the kind of washed-up center I want starting for me.

Finally, there’s one angle that hasn’t had much play, but I do wonder if it’s been a factor in Golden State’s pursuit of Dwight, and whether it might help him find a home in Oakland – faith.

Howard’s prominent Christian roots have rarely been mentioned in recent years, but the graduate of Southwestern Atlanta Christian Academy in Georgia is still quite involved in charity work, and prior to being drafted he famously said he wanted to use basketball and his faith to “raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world”.

I myself am agnostic, (as in much of life, I have no clue.) But I do know this from watching the Dubs play, huddle, interact, support one another, and connect with their coach during timeouts — faith runs deep among these Warriors, and binds them together.

Warriors head coach Mark Jackson smiles and pats Stephen Curry on the chest in the second half. The Golden State Warriors played the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA playoffs at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, April 28, 2013. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

I don’t do head counts at local churches, but, the Warriors head coach, Mark Jackson, is a practicing pastor and licensed minister. His point guard, Steph 54, is also man of great piety, as are Lee, Draymond Green and as many as 10 Warrior players who met regularly for bible studies last season.

As far as I’m concerned that is totally their beeswax, but I do see their union of spirit and shared belief helping them at times. And, it leads me to wondering if this beleaguered big man who has felt the sting of criticism for so long might like to be amongst a a group folks who make hard work fun. Ones who would be willing to embrace and encourage a side of himself that may have taken a back seat during his quest to become a brand or an icon. Several of these young men also happen to ball out before sellout crowds on the regular — when they’re not scribbling scripture on their sneakers.

There’s no doubt Howard plays best when he’s healthy and happy. His body may not ever be 100 percent, but the Warrior’s jigsaw pieces could make the puzzling big man smile, which might make the Dubs a contender for more than just the swimsuit contest in the playoffs.

And, maybe Mark Jackson is exactly the kind of coach Dwight’s been searching for, one who will skip past the diagrams and reach straight into his heart.

Who knows?

Sometimes it seems like Dwight is that dream girl from high school who everybody wanted to date, but for some reason she could never keep a steady boyfriend.

Although I must say, it is nice to know Golden State could show up at the prom on Friday night with that kind of eye candy — and nobody would be wondering why she’s rolling with the Dubs.

Tags: Dwight Howard Dwight Howard Saga Golden State Warriors NBA Oakland Stephen Curry

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