Those critical about the Los Angeles Lakers "babying" center Dwight Howard in his recovery from injury may want to think twice before making another negative comment.
Speaking about the true severity of his injury for the first time, Howard, who underwent back surgery to fix a herniated disk in April, revealed that his entire left leg went numb while in Orlando, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.
"What a lot of people don't know is when I hurt my back, it affected my nerves to the point where my whole left leg just went dead basically," said Howard. "I couldn't do a calf raise."
While Bresnahan noted that some leg numbness is to be expected when players suffer herniated disks, it also reportedly took Super—er...Iron Man two months to lift his calf after having surgery.
Considering the nature of back injuries and the how it seems that every week more revelations come out about the severity of Howard's condition, the Lakers continue to prove their shrewdness by handling this situation carefully.
Though it's certain that the team wants Howard in the lineup on Oct. 30 when it takes on the Dallas Mavericks, the more pressing desire is to have the center healthy in May and June. This was not a team constructed for lavish ceremony on opening night, but is one that could be an unstoppable cyborg headed straight for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
With Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, the team has two Hall of Fame guards both with an insatiable appetite for a championship (albeit for slightly different reasons). And with Howard and Pau Gasol forming perhaps the most versatile duo of big men in the league, every team in the league will have difficulty finding defensive matchups.
However, the Lakers' acquisition of Howard was a move with implications that stretch far beyond the 2012-13 NBA season. Though this nucleus has just a one- or two-year window, general manager Mitch Kupchak made this move so that D12 could be at the center (pun totally intended) of the next Laker dynasty.
A free agent in the offseason, Howard has been unwavering in his stance that he will test the free-agent market next summer, but it's considered by most an almost inevitability that Howard will return.
The Lakers offer the high-profile franchise, big market and superstar teammates that D12 desired when he was a member of the Orlando Magic, and with the Brooklyn Nets' salary cap completely tied up, there are no reasonable alternatives.
Nonetheless, by handling his injury with the utmost respect and refusing to put any undue pressure on the 26-year-old, the Lakers are doing themselves a ton of favors. Had the team rushed him back and Howard re-aggravated the injury, he could have rightfully been peeved with the organization, played out the season and bolted for a team like the Dallas Mavericks out of spite.
If the Dwightmare with the Orlando Magic last season proved anything, it's that Howard can submarine a team's chemistry when unhappy.
Let's also make one thing clear: This is the preseason. While Howard would like to get out there and get acclimated with teammates in a game situation, these contests are ultimately as meaningless as when you or I fire up the Xbox and play NBA 2K13.
If Howard isn't cleared for game action by opening night and his absence begins stretching into mid-November, then you can start to worry. Until then, the Lakers are right to hold Howard out, in both his and the franchise's best interests.
Call it treating him with kid gloves, or babying or whatever you like. I'll just call it how a superstar ought to be treated.
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