This part wasn’t on Mike Brown or Mike D’Antoni — if you had watched Dwight Howard when he played in Orlando it was clear that the Howard playing for the Lakers a couple seasons ago was just not the same guy.
With the off-season additions of Howard and Steve Nash that summer the 2012-13 Lakers looked like title contenders on paper, a threat to the Heat, there was a real buzz around the team. Howard wanted to be part of that from the opening tip, even though he clearly was not ready physically for the grind of the NBA four months after back surgery.
Yet out there he was and, after a slow start, he was good (he averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 boards a game that season) but he wasn’t the same. The Howard of pre-surgery Orlando was a dominating freak of nature, this Howard was nowhere near that guy.
“I probably should’ve waited longer,” Howard told Yahoo Sports, “but I don’t regret playing right away. I wish the information could’ve come across to the world about how hurt I really was, how serious the back injury was, but I never thought it really did.
“The good thing about it, I didn’t develop any other major injuries. The torn labrum eventually healed itself. But coming back early from the back, I believed it helped me out in the long run. It made me really develop a thicker skin, going through all the things that I went through because of the injury.”
That season for the Lakers was a perfect storm of things gone wrong. Howard was banged up all season, Steve Nash’s body betrayed him, the coaching change to a radically different system (one Howard didn’t like) five games into the season was foolish, Pau Gasol was injured half the season, Kobe Bryant and Howard’s personalities and styles clashed, and then in the end Kobe’s Achilles gave out.
Lakers fans scapegoated Howard for a lot of that, feeling because he approaches life and basketball with a different style than the god that is Kobe in L.A. he was wrong.
Howard seems to have moved on. He talks to Wojnarowski about how he is physically finally right and ready to lead in Houston, how he and Harden are more on the same page this season. Howard talks about being back to his Orlando-level self or better.
He’ll have to be. The Rockets had a rough off-season losing a lot of quality depth with Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin all gone (and Trevor Ariza in). Basically it has to be the Howard and Harden show — and Howard has to get back to embracing the pick-and-roll where he is far more devastating than he is in the post. Howard is going to have to play at a Defensive Player of the Year level to get the Rockets defense to improve (and Harden has to not be a drain on that end).
And in the West right now, even all that will not be enough.