CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hornets head coach Steve Clifford believes the newly acquired Dwight Howard can still play at an All-Star level.
Clifford and Hornets general manager Rich Cho met with the media Wednesday morning, about 14 hours after trading Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee and the 41st overall pick to the Hawks for Dwight Howard and the 31st overall pick.
"The guy averaged 13 rebounds a game last year," Clifford said. "He's a big presence at the basket. He's very efficient offensively. The one thing people don't know and you'd only know this if you were with him every day, he's a very intelligent player, very intelligent."
Clifford spent five seasons as an assistant in Orlando, when Howard was dominating the league at both ends of the floor. They also spent one season together in Los Angeles. The Hornets are banking on Clifford's ability to bring out the best in Howard.
"I hope we can, it's not only me," Clifford said. "It'll be all of us. I'm proud of what we have here, and I'm proud of our culture. It's a great city and players love to live here. I love our fans. I'm proud of locker room. I think we have professional guys who badly want to win and they're excited about it."
Since leaving Orlando in 2012, Howard played for three teams in five seasons. Questions linger about his attitude and his ability to fit in, but Clifford sees this as a non-issue.
"This is an easy guy to like," Clifford said. "This isn't a guy who is hard to deal with. He's bright. He's fun-loving, he's got a great sense of humor and great wit. I think he'll fit in very quickly here."
Cho says the reactions from a pair of Hornets' starters has been very positive.
"Nic [Batum] texted me last night and he was really pumped up about playing with Dwight and I also texted with Kemba [Walker] back and forth this morning and Kemba was fired up as well."
Cho didn't speak directly with Howard after the trade, but Chairman Michael Jordan did.
"He [Howard] told MJ that he's really pumped to be here," Cho said.
If there's a Hornet who might not be pumped about Howard's arrival in the Queen City it's Cody Zeller.
"Cody wants to win," Clifford said. "He joked to me this morning that there's a lot of good things about the trade, and one of them is, 'I don't have to play against [Howard] four times this year.' But it does speak to the mindset that he has. Cody will still be playing big minutes. They can play together some. Cody will still play a significant role."
Given Howard's pedigree, it's assumed that he'll start at center, bumping Zeller from the lineup. However, Clifford was non-committal on a potential starting lineup.
"To be honest with you, this just happened. This popped up for me quick, so we'll work all that out as we go."