Mitch Kupchak and company created a star-studded rotation by acquiring two-time MVP Steve Nash and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
Unfortunately, the excitement surrounding Howard's arrival was temporarily placed on hold.
Howard has only recently resumed basketball activities after receiving surgery to repair a herniated disk in his spine (via ESPN.com). Fortunately for the Lakers, the big man appears to be ahead of schedule in his recovery.
According to Steven Cuce of SportsRadioInterviews.com, Howard was interviewed Thursday by Max Kellerman, Steve Mason and Mark Willard on their 710 ESPN Los Angeles radio show.
As a topic that cannot be overlooked, the hosts quickly asked Howard about his recovery from back surgery. The self-titled Iron Man was quick to respond:
I’m feeling just fine. I had a good workout before the [preseason] game and been working extremely hard, so I can get my lungs and everything back. It’s been cool man. I’ve been trying to get into great shape, so I can get out there and play. ...
I am pain free. The pain is in my lungs [laughs] in terms of conditioning.
The Lakers cannot help but feel inspired by Howard's approach to a clean bill of health. The fact that he is pain-free suggests that practice and training camp can go as planned, thus enabling the team to build chemistry.
In turn, the pain-free Howard offers the Lakers a major boost to their title hopes.
Building Team Chemistry
As previously alluded to, having Howard without pain means that there should be nothing holding him back in practice and training camp. As a result, the team will be able to learn the plays that they plan on utilizing during the regular season.
That's something Howard admits the team must do:
I think it’s coming along well. The chemistry? It gets better every day and these guys on the offense try to just play to play, but once we get everything down pat in terms of moving the ball and getting into the spots we need to get into, it’s going to be a hard team to guard.
Had D-12 suffered from pain in his back, his ability to post up defenders and set screens would certainly be damaged. Howard's leaping and lateral movement would also be hurt, which suggests that the Lakers could not develop the type of offensive and defensive chemistry that they had hoped for.
Fortunately, Howard is now healthy.
Prepare for a True Point Guard
Steve Nash is one of the greatest facilitators in the history of the NBA. He ranks fifth all-time in terms of career assists, having averaged at least 10 per game in seven separate seasons.
A key to this success has been Nash's ability to deceive opposing defenses with his ball and head fakes. It has also been a shared burden that players do not quite understand until they become his teammate.
Howard breaks down why:
Nash is one of the best passers that I’ve ever seen. We’ve been at practice and he’s hitting me with passes. I’ve dropped a lot of passes because I didn’t know he was going to pass the ball. That’s one thing we all have to get used to, a guy like Steve Nash breaking the defense down, and one day it was five on eight, no defense. I set a screen for him down the lane. He looked at me and looked away and looked at me again. He looked away and threw the ball to me. I wasn’t even ready. The ball went out of bounds and everybody just laughed.
While it's laughable at this point, such mistakes would not garner such a comical reaction should they transpire during the regular or postseason. If that were to happen, the Lakers would be certain to face the wrath of their loyal fanbase and the millions of detractors worldwide.
With Howard healthy, however, the team can get it right while no one is watching.
Learning the Princeton Offense
Howard is well aware of the fact that he and Steve Nash are the new guys on campus. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace have spent virtually half a decade together, which suggests that their chemistry is intact.
Howard and Nash, meanwhile, must start from scratch and hope to learn their teammates' tendencies on the fly.
Fortunately, Howard is healthy and ready to do so:
I think the way we set up everything we all have to lead each other. We have been doing a pretty good job at practice of playing off each other, but it’s going to be an adjustment period because Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant, they played on the same team for a while and then Steve Nash and I are the new guys, so we just have to get accustomed to it and stay within our game and just play. ... It’s up to me and Pau Gasol, since we are the bigs, we are the guys who control the offense.
If the offense ends up running through the bigs as the Princeton style of offense would suggest, it becomes even more important for Howard to learn his teammates' ways. With his back intact and the pain gone, he can now do so to the fullest of his abilities.
All he has to take care of now are those ever-important conditioning issues.