In Chicago, where Derrick Rose is both the present and the future, he has yet to set foot on the court as he recovers from an ACL injury. Neither Rose nor the Bulls want to risk the long-term for some regular season games, even if it costs the Bulls a season.
Dwight Howard went a different direction. He rushed back from back surgery because he had been traded to the Lakers — a team that before the season was considered by nearly everyone a title contender. Instead, the Lakers are a .500 team struggling to get in the playoff mix and Howard has come under scrutiny for sub-par play.
Howard talked about his decision to play from the start of the season and the pressure that came with that to the Los Angeles Times.
“Looking back on it, I could have sat out the whole season until now and starting playing now, but I just felt like we had such a great opportunity,” he said. “Some of these guys, their windows for winning is very small and I just wanted to get back and try to do whatever I can to help this team, knowing that I wasn’t in great shape. My body wasn’t all the way there yet….
“Sometimes I have gotten beat up for it, but that’s fine. I’ll take all those hits and I’ll keep moving,” Howard said. “People watch games and they see me playing so they think it’s all good. It’s just a time thing. I’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing myself and it’ll get better.”
Howard didn’t want to talk about what he should have done or if he should have waited — like most athletes he doesn’t want to live in a world of “what if” and regrets. He made his decision; he’s living with it.
It was a very different situation with different pressures than Chicago faced, but the Lakers and Howard should have taken a little something from Rose’s playbook.
Watching Howard play at the start of this season, it was clear he should have waited a while. What made Howard a special big man was how he moved — he could hedge out and recover on a pick-and-roll better than any big in the game a couple years ago. Now he was slow, late on rotations, struggling with the moves he seemed to make effortlessly in the past. Add to that the Lakers radical switch in offensive identities he couldn’t get any solid footing in hs game. It took time. But because of how the Lakers were formed and the age of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — because of the Lakers impatience — there was no time granted.
This summer the Lakers will almost certainly re-sign Howard, they will alter the roster (hello Pau Gasol trade) and come back next year closer to the team we expected this season.
But next season there will be even less patience around the Lakers as it could be Kobe’s last season.