Anyone who’s watched Dwight Howard play in a Lakers jersey this season knows that he’s nowhere near the all-world center he used to be during his years with the Orlando Magic.
Howard underwent back surgery during the offseason, and while he’s recovered enough to physically be back out on the court, doctors familiar with that type of injury will tell you that the recovery time is a solid year, and that’s exactly how long we can expect to go by before Howard is back playing at the level we’re accustomed to seeing him play on anywhere near a consistent basis.
In addition to the back issues, Howard suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder earlier this season, and is playing through the pain rather than choosing to have surgery which would shut him down for the rest of the year.
Howard is tougher than most have given him credit for, and after battling public perception for the first part of this season as to where the blame ultimately lies for the Lakers’ underachievement, he’s finally taking responsibility for his part in this season’s mess.
“You’ve got to have energy and I want to bring that energy every night,” Howard said in a revealing interview Saturday afternoon. “That’s my job. They count on me to be that guy. I just know how much more effective I will be when I’m in better shape. And, unfortunately, it’s cost us a lot of games.”
Howard said his conditioning has improved throughout the season, but he’s still “not even close” to where he wants to be, and where he once was before undergoing back surgery in the offseason.
“I knew that would be a process. The better shape I’m in, the more active I can be and the more I’m able to do on the floor,” he said. “But it was a struggle at first because I just didn’t have it in the tank, especially on defense.”
Again, this is not news for anyone who’s watched Howard and the Lakers remotely closely this season. But his comments are important nonetheless.
As has been said many times, no matter what happens with the Lakers this season, the goal of the team is to sign Howard this summer to a max contract extension, making him the face of the franchise for years to come long after Kobe Bryant decides to retire.
The fact that Howard is owning up publicly to his role in this season’s disappointment may mean he’s turning the corner a bit — both in terms of how he views his place on the team, as well as how he may be feeling about his long-term prospects in Los Angeles.