The Summer of 2012 will forever be remembered as the time in which the Los Angeles Lakers returned to upper echelon of the NBA's elite. With trades for two-time MVP Steve Nash and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, Showtime has finally been restored and dreams of a title have found validity.
The road to redemption begins when the Lakers host their state rival Golden State Warriors on Sunday, October 7th in a preseason game.
The NBA will be watching closely as the star-studded Lakers battle the upstart Warriors for the year's first source of momentum. One of the notable absences from the upcoming battle, however, may place an asterisk next to the confidence built by either side.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard will be sidelined for at least the first preseason game of the year. Howard is currently recovering from back surgery, thus impeding his participation in full contact drills.
As for when he's due to return, don't expect the big man to rush back. Regardless of how much temptation there may be, D-12 will not participate in game activities until he feels he has reached 100 percent.
"I'm still trying to regain strength," [Dwight] Howard told the Lakers' team website. "I'm not playing until I'm 100 percent. Just because I'm doing drills with the team or running up and down, it doesn't mean I'm ready to play in a game. There's a difference between running up and down and being actually out there battling. When I'm 100 percent and able to go, then I'll go."
More times than not, players will attempt to return from injury as soon as possible. Rather than acknowledging the process, athletes will attempt to take the short road to recovery. As Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls will tell you, that approach will do nothing but re-aggravate injuries and force one to be sidelined for longer than expected.
Fortunately, it is not the coach who must battle the player in this instance. Instead, Dwight Howard is taking the necessary precautions to recover to full strength before even considering a return to an NBA court.
Should Dwight Howard play at all during the preseason?
Head coach Mike Brown appears to be on the same page in this process of patience.
"Just waiting for the doctors, the trainers and Dwight to clear him, and when that happens, he'll go full tilt," [head coach Mike] Brown said. "But he looks good out there, he does."
Consider the controversy nullified.
With that being said, there is fair reason to believe that Dwight Howard should return sooner rather than later. The Los Angeles Lakers' roster is as revamped as any in the NBA and there will be growing pains as the unit attempts to build chemistry.
Keep in mind that the changes made range well-beyond the addition of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Antawn Jamison has been signed to become the team's Sixth Man, while Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon will also compete for quality minutes.
Furthermore, the Lakers are playing in a conference where early season struggles actually have meaning. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are experienced groups that are almost certain to come out the gates with guns blazing.
They're also just as likely as the Lakers to string together unbelievable winning streaks. Keep in mind that the San Antonio Spurs closed out the 2012 regular season by going 48-7 after a 12-9 start.
A streak which included at least 10 consecutive wins on three separate occasions.
Such recent history offers concern for the Lakers potentially falling behind in the first quarter of the season. The task of earning the top seed out West would become all the more daunting with the Spurs and Thunder established, as well as a plethora of franchises on the rise.
For that reason, it is justified to believe that this team would benefit from preseason experience together.
The fact of the matter is, the Los Angeles Lakers are not a team that should be concerned with a home court advantage. While it certainly benefits any team in the Western Conference when they don't have to travel to Oklahoma City four times, the Lakers are not made up of young stars.
Unlike the Miami Heat in 2011, this is not a team of overwhelming inexperience or ineptitude. The Lakers are made up of veterans. This list of players includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, who are all world champions.
Dwight Howard, meanwhile, carried the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and Steve Nash has four Western Conference Finals appearances to his name. Postseason success is not an issue. Winning a title, however, is the focus.
In turn, a rushed return is nothing short of nonsensical. Dwight Howard is the most powerful defensive force the NBA has seen since Ben Wallace lifted the Detroit Pistons to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005.
Don't forget that when the talent built around Wallace after the 2003 season, the team struck gold in 2004.
The similarity here is that Dwight Howard is surrounded by elite talent for the first time in his career. In fact, this is the first time that D-12 has had a postseason caliber team around him.
The difference, however, is that Howard is a far more imposing athlete. With his rebounding prowess, elite athletic ability and overwhelming power, it may be safe to say that the NBA has never seen a player of D-12's makeup.
That is exactly the reason behind the Lakers' decision to swap their franchise center, Andrew Bynum, for Dwight Howard.
D-12 wasn't brought in to play second-fiddle or worry about labels. He was brought in to provide the Lakers with an elite defensive presence that can help the team overcome the dominant slashers that have become ubiquitous throughout the league.
As Howard has shown in the past, slashers don't fare too well when they're tasked with overcoming the new generation's Superman.
The fact of the matter is, if Howard were not present to contribute during the postseason because he aggravated an injury earlier in the year, this experiment would be considered a failure. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison only have so many more years left in them while D-12 himself will become a free agent.
Until further notice, it's now or never for the Los Angeles Lakers' current core. Whether it takes days or months, that's exactly why they must show patience with Dwight Howard's injuries.