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Dwight Howard ready to show Hawks his mature, leadership side

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) look on as the ball bounces out of bounds in the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill

Dwight Howard’s first preseason performance was nothing too special to get the Atlanta Hawks’ fans excited. In 18 first-half minutes against the Memphis Grizzlies, Howard scored six points on 3-of-7 shooting and added seven rebounds. He was also 0-for-2 from the line.

Still, his presence not only signified the beginning of a new era for the Atlanta Hawks, it also began a new era for Howard. During Media Day, an introspective Howard acknowledged how his career had come full circle and how now, entering his 13th year in the league, he is ready to become the leader he never has been.

“I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can,” Howard said during Media Day. “I’ve taken a lot of steps as far as growing as a person. I’m changing things around me. I just want to be the best leader, best player and best person for this team and for this city.”

It is natural a person will be more mature once he reaches the age of 30. But whether a leader emerges is another issue.

In the past, Howard hasn’t really needed to be the leader of a team. Even in his days with the Orlando Magic, there were always other players or veterans who took the role as team leader, which allowed Howard to just play. In those days, he was young and carefree. In his latter days with the Magic, Howard went through drama with former coach Stan Van Gundy before moving on to what he thought would be greener pastures with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While he was with the Lakers, there was Kobe Bryant, who often questioned Howard’s dedication and couldn’t get him to stay when Howard was able to opt out of his contract after one season. Even in Houston, the place he has been the last three seasons, Howard didn’t have to be the leader of the squad.

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard laughs as he has his photo taken by the Hawks' photographer during the NBA basketball team's media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Atlanta. The Hawks are set to show off a new look that includes Howard and Dennis Schroder in their starting five. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Now, he appears to want the role. Howard seems to want to show everyone how changed he is, and what better place to do it than the place where he grew up. Howard left high school in Atlanta to go straight to the NBA.

“Because I’m from Atlanta, this is my hometown team; this is a part of me,” Howard said. “I’m looking forward to playing here. I don’t look at it as a challenge. I want to embrace it. I’ve changed and grown so much.

“Coming in at 18 out of high school, there are so many things you don’t know,” he said. “You’re forced to grow in front of the world. Those instances that I’ve been in in the past, sometimes I think it made me a stronger, better person.”

There has never been any question about Howard’s talent. The eight-time All-Star is first among active players in rebounding, second among active players in blocks and a four-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Team.

But as time progressed, questions about his desire and focus popped up. Did he care enough? Does he want to win or is he just about the money? Howard seems ready to put those questions to rest at home in Atlanta. In the offseason, he was not only working on his dribbling but also working to develop more of an outside shot. He’ll never be a stretch 5, but he wants to add some range to his game, which he believes will help the team.

“I want to show my teammate every single night, every single practice,” he said of his dedication. “Everything I do I plan to give 110 percent. I put in so much work to get to this point today. The sky is the limit for this team and myself. I just can’t wait to get going.”

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