In case you were feeling sorry for the Lakers, take solace in the news that summer prize Dwight Howard "was a full participant in Saturday's practice" (via ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne).
Of course, we all know this organization never had much cause for buyer's remorse after trading away the 24-year-old Andrew Bynum for a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Whatever your stance on Shaquille O'Neal's claim that Howard trails Bynum and Brook Lopez as the league's best center, it's hard to argue that the Lakers are better off for now.
And all the more so with Howard's rapid recovery from April back surgery.
He hasn't just gotten back on the court in short order; he's looked good in the process (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):
A source who witnessed Howard at the portion of practice that was closed to the media described Howard's level of play to ESPNLosAngeles.com as "unbelievable."
"He was dunking everything in sight," the source said. "He looks like he can play in an NBA game today."
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are still waiting on Andrew Bynum to start practicing after he received precautionary treatment for his knees this summer. The temporary setback should affect his season, but it puts Howard's impressive recovery in perspective.
We were prepared to wait longer for Howard.
For a guy with the potential to make a very good team into a great one, that kind of wait is perfectly acceptable—and, as it turns out, unnecessary.
There was never a serious risk that Dwight Howard would miss significant time this season, but until you see a guy display the kind of explosive form for which he's known, it's hard to be especially confident about the season lying ahead. More importantly, Howard's quick return should actually yield some results.
After all, he's got some adjusting to do before these games start counting for something.
Though we should still be cautiously optimistic about how much he'll contribute early on, it goes without saying those early-season transitions will be a bit easier on account the extra practice. Before we know it, Howard could be playing an integral role for the Lakers on both ends of the floor.
Even for the Lakers, every little bit helps.
A healthy and effective D12 means Mike Brown just might be able to get away with giving elder statesmen like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant more rest than he otherwise might. Howard won't take to scoring like Shaq-in-his-prime right away, but—along with the roster's improved all-around depth—he could certainly take some pressure off of Bryant, who averaged 38.5 minutes and 23 field-goal attempts in 2011-12.
Perhaps the most encouraging take-away from the last month or two is just how hard Howard's worked to get back on the floor.
If this is any indication of how seriously he's taking the next chapter of his career, then Kobe was right to dismiss those claims that his new teammate isn't the most focused of competitors. Howard's proven otherwise with a diligent rehabilitation routine—a routine that isn't entirely foreign to a guy who's been no stranger to the gym throughout his career.
Of course, Bynum could still make the Lakers regret their decision in time, perhaps proving Shaq right in the process.
That will depend in large part on what Howard and Bynum accomplish from here on out. It might depend even more on what Howard eventually accomplishes without Kobe around.
For now, though, it's the Lakers enjoying a sneak peak at the dominance that awaits their painted area—and the 76ers still waiting to get a look at theirs.
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