Dwight Howard: Lakers Should Avoid Rushing D12 Back Despite Contact Clearance

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2012

FRESNO, CA - OCTOBER 07:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers jokes with teammates on the bench in the game with the Golden State Warriors at Save Mart Center At Fresno State on October 7, 2012 in Fresno, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Those petrified that Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard's back injury could linger into the 2012-13 NBA season got some refreshing news on Tuesday.

The All-Star center, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Orlando Magic, has been cleared for practice, according to ESPN.

While the clearance is obviously good news, there is still no set date for Howard's debut with the Lakers, nor should there be.  


Howard hasn't projected a date for his Lakers' debut, but is hopeful he can participate in a preseason game. After Wednesday's visit from the Trail Blazers, the Lakers will have six more exhibitions before their season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas.

In an era in which teams are increasingly wary of rushing players back from injury, the Lakers are making a brilliant move by not rushing the 26-year-old back into action.

Had the Lakers forced Howard onto the court early, it would have been hard to blame them. Though no one denied the logic behind essentially swapping Howard for fellow All-Star center Andrew Bynum, the move was also a massive risk.

At just 24 years old, Bynum is both younger than D12 and coming off his career-best season. Bynum, who was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, leading many to wonder whether he was on the verge of becoming the league's best center. 

When you factor in Howard's still-murky contract situation, it's easy to see why the Lakers would be eager to prove they made the right choice.

Nonetheless, taking every precautionary measure possible is advisable not only in the short term but throughout the season as well. 

By their nature, back injuries are exceedingly difficult to judge and recover from. Almost every movement in the human body requires some exerted effort from your back, and anyone who has had even the slightest back injury can attest to how easy it is to re-injure yourself.

Especially considering the fact that Howard's recovery has gone slower than expected, it's completely inadvisable for the team to put any undue pressure on a return.

General manager Mitch Kupchak made this move not for a meaningless preseason game or even for the regular-season opener on Oct. 30. He acquired Howard to provide a stalwart defensive presence and matchup nightmares for teams in April, May and June, when the Lakers will vie for the franchise's 17th NBA championship.

That's not to say that the Lakers should baby Howard's injury and treat him with kid gloves all season. Whenever he's 100 percent ready to step on the floor (both mentally and physically), then coach Mike Brown should feel free to deploy Superman—or Iron Man—readily. 

However, until Howard makes it clear he's ready for game action, the team should hold off regardless of whether the center is cleared for contact. 

With only a one-year window guaranteed, how the Lakers handle this situation could be the difference between a blip on the NBA's radar and the rebirth of a dynasty.