Dwight Howard officially rejoins Lakers six years after leaving

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard dunks during the first half of their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, in Los Angeles. Chris Paul is staying in Los Angeles; Dwight Howard could be leaving. NBA free agency opens, with Paul sticking with the Clippers and Howard exploring his options before deciding on his future with the Lakers. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

LOS ANGELES — Dwight Howard rejoined the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, six seasons after his acrimonious departure.

The eight-time All-Star centre and 15-year NBA veteran is the Lakers’ improbable choice to fill the sudden roster vacancy created by DeMarcus Cousins’ knee injury.

Howard spent one memorable season with the Lakers in 2012-13 after joining the club with Steve Nash in Los Angeles’ high-risk attempt to create an immediate championship contender. While he led the NBA in rebounding and valiantly played through injuries, Howard also clashed with Kobe Bryant and subsequently spurned Los Angeles as a free agent after the Lakers lost in the first round of the playoffs.

He bounced to six franchises after his departure, while the Lakers haven’t made the NBA post-season in those ensuing six seasons.

Howard has been aggressively booed at Staples Center ever since he took significantly less money than the Lakers offered him and joined the Houston Rockets instead.

Howard appeared in nine games last season after joining Washington, but he hasn’t played since November after undergoing spinal surgery. When healthy with the Charlotte Hornets in 2017-18, Howard averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.

The 33-year-old Howard will take over the role expected to be filled by Cousins, who tore his knee ligament shortly after signing with the Lakers last month. Cousins could miss the entire upcoming season, so Howard will team with JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis to play centre for Los Angeles.

With career averages of 17.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game, Howard is undeniably one of the greatest big men of his generation. But he has been criticized throughout his career for his attitude and locker room presence, and he made few fans in Los Angeles.

Howard’s impending return to LA over the past week generated conflicting feelings among Lakers fans online, but Howard clearly persuaded the Lakers he can be a strong supporting player and a good teammate when he worked out for the club.

The Lakers had locker room upheaval last season, but it was caused mostly by developments outside the room — particularly the front office’s ultimately fruitless pursuit of Davis in a midseason trade. LeBron James and Rajon Rondo emerged as leaders in their first season with the club, and they’ll again be in charge of a roster with several major changes.

The Lakers waived forward Aric Holman to create a roster spot for Howard.

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