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Determined to win a second straight NBA title, Dwight Howard says his journey called him to the Sixers

“So what really matters is holding up that trophy. And that would be my message to everybody on the team. What are you willing to give up to get the trophy?” Howard said.

Dwight Howard (right) and LeBron James celebrate after the Lakers won the NBA Finals in October.
Dwight Howard (right) and LeBron James celebrate after the Lakers won the NBA Finals in October.Read moreMark J. Terrill / AP

Dwight Howard is determined to win personal back-to-back NBA championships.

The reserve center helped the Los Angeles Lakers win their 17th NBA title in October.

Now a 76er, he’s focused on winning another one next season. He made that obvious on Twitter after signing a one-year deal last week.

He also expressed his desire to win the title during a brief interview Monday after arriving in Philly. And he triple-downed on it Wednesday during his introductory Zoom call with local media.

“I believe that this is our year,” Howard said. “It’s been a long time since 1983 [when the Sixers last won an NBA title]. So I think it’s time that we hoist up another banner here in Philly.”

A lot of the Sixers’ success will depend on All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the team’s cornerstones.

Howard saw Embiid cry after losing to the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2019. He remembers the pain the center felt after giving everything he had.

Howard said it’s a pain that stays with a player for a long time. So he knows Embiid has a fire inside him.

This upcoming season is about being focused. Howard sees focus in Embiid and Simmons.

“That’s where it starts, with our two best players,” Howard said. “And then you look at the rest of the guys on the team. They’ve all been hungry. They just never knew how to win.”

That’s where Howard and swingman Danny Green come in.

The Sixers acquired Green and Terrance Ferguson from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford, a protected 2025 first-round pick, the 34th overall pick in last week’s draft, and the rights to Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic.

» READ MORE: Do the Sixers’ offseason moves have people in the organization excited? Oh yeah. | Mailbag

Green was a starting guard on the Lakers’ championship team before being traded to the Thunder this offseason.

It was Green’s second straight NBA championship and third overall. He won the 2019 title with the Raptors and in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs.

“We all know what it takes to really get to the next level,” Howard said. “I think it’s a really great opportunity.”

New coach Doc Rivers also knows what it takes. He coached the Boston Celtics to the 2008 title. Howard said Rivers is always talking about winning and the importance of it.

“I think that this year, with the focus that this team will have and the drive that we have to be successful, this will be our year,” Howard said.

Rivers was actually a major reason Howard came to Philadelphia following a free-agent miscommunications with the Lakers.

The free-agency period began last Friday. Rivers was the only NBA coach to call him during the process. He told Howard the Sixers wanted him. Then the team’s new president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, called him.

“I said this is where I need to be right now,” Howard said. “This is where my journey is calling me, to Philly. I was super happy that Doc called me and gave me this opportunity.”

This move reunites Howard with Morey. As the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Morey signed Howard to a three-year, $70 million free-agent contract in July 2013.

» READ MORE: Sixers president Daryl Morey has already put his imprint on the team | Podcast

This time, the soon-to-be-35-year-old signed for a cap friendly guaranteed veteran minimum deal of $2.56 million.

But for Howard, it’s not about making money or obtaining individual accolades.

He’s already made more than $243 million during his 17 seasons in the league. The Orlando Magic’s first-overall pick of the 2004 draft is an eight-time All-Star and three-time defensive player of the year. He has averaged 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 1,113 career games, with 1,045 starts.

Yet his most gratifying campaign came while averaging 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks this past season as the Lakers’ backup center.

“Winning the championship was everything,” Howard said. “It made me realize that I have the best stats in the world, and it don’t mean nothing.”

He won a championship, yet there were games in which he didn’t score a bucket. There were other games in which he didn’t play at all.

“So, what really matters is holding up that trophy,” Howard said. “And that would be my message to everybody on the team. What are you willing to give up to get the trophy?”