How L.A. Lakers Will Adjust with Dwight Howard Sidelined to Begin Preseason
The Los Angeles Lakers will have to wait just a little while longer to unwrap their most prized gift from a summer that was busy with improvement on multiple fronts.
Howard is not expected to be ready to participate when the Lakers start training camp Oct. 2.
The newly acquired center, who had surgery in April to repair a herniated disk in his back, said last month that he might not be ready by the Lakers' season opener Oct. 30.
With all the good news this summer has had to offer, it's hard to get too down about a minor and not entirely unexpected delay. We've known all along that Howard would have to follow a strict set of recovery guidelines after getting back surgery in April.
And, we also know championships aren't won or lost during the preseason.
If anything, Los Angeles should view Howard's recovery period as an opportunity to give more playing time to some key role players who really could use it, albeit for different reasons.
Jordan Hill played sparingly for the Lakers last season after he was acquired in the deal sending Derek Fisher, ever so briefly, to the Houston Rockets. He probably won't play significantly more minutes this season, but you can be sure head coach Mike Brown wants him ready to go in a moment's notice should Howard experience any back pain as the season grinds on.
Antawn Jamison will get some extra preseason minutes too given that Hill will spend more time at the center position than he will when Howard's not on the floor. The 36-year-old is obviously far more polished than Hill, but he's new to the Lakers.
He'll also have to adjust to coming off the bench again, a role he thrived in during the 2003-04 season in which he was named Sixth Man of the Year. Since winning the award, Jamison has only come off the bench 22 times in eight seasons combined.
What lineup do you like best when D12 isn't playing?
The preseason will also be an opportunity for Brown to see what he has in that interior rotation, learning what the big men can and can't do and how best to use them this season. Jamison gives the Lakers an opportunity to play some small-ball and spread the floor when the team needs extra offense.
With Gasol at the 5 spot, the Lakers could put a lot of shooters on the floor at the same time, giving a playmaker like Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant plenty of options when making the pass.
All of this would come together sooner or later, but Howard's absence means the Lakers can do some experimenting and take inventory of some key second-unit assets.
Thanks to those assets, Brown can toy with lineups in ways that were unthinkable last season.
A Gasol-Hill pairing in the frontcourt gives the Lakers their best size, at least when Howard isn't around. Both players can guard 4s and 5s, so Brown will have matchup flexibility and good rebounders on the floor.
He could alternatively go with a smaller lineup that pairs either Gasol or Hill with Jamison, or perhaps, even Metta World Peace or Devin Ebanks. World Peace is strong enough to guard some power forwards, and Ebanks has the length.
The smaller lineups will become an even more attractive option when Howard returns to health given the importance of surrounding the big man with shooters (and the luxury of allowing him to handle the lion's share of rebounding and defensive responsibilities).
Though Jamison's addition is easily forgotten amid such an eventful offseason, his ability to reprise the role Ryan Anderson played for Howard in Orlando will be a nice bonus for the Lakers.
Practicing those scenarios with Gasol or Hill in the middle won't quite be the same, but Jamison will take any opportunity he can get to familiarize himself with his new teammates. His chances to play off Howard will come soon enough.
And so will our chances to watch him.
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