There's more than one storyline that the Los Angeles Lakers would like to erase from the 2012-13 season.
At the forefront of those is the injury bug and how it's affected the ability of this team to get any kind of consistency on offense. It isn't the only reason the Lakers have struggled to score as a Mike D'Antoni offense should, but it certainly isn't helping matters.
With Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill on the shelf with different injuries, it appears the Lakers are going to be big-man thin for the next few weeks. Of the three, Los Angeles needs to make sure Howard is ready to return without any hint of injury.
According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, the team is optimistic that Howard's injury isn't as serious as once thought.
Two sources tell ESPNLA that Lakers are cautiously optimistic about Howard's injury. Sitting him is more "precautionary."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 8, 2013
For the Lakers' sake, let's hope that's the case. And even if it isn't, the Lakers must be absolutely sure he's capable of returning before rushing him back into action.
Sure, the team is sitting in position to make the playoffs as a lower seed, and there's no doubt it could right the ship at any point, especially given the talent on the roster.
But reality has to set in soon, and when it does, the reality of Howard being a free agent this summer is one that needs to be discussed. For multiple reasons, making sure he's fully healthy is important to the future of this franchise.
For starters, Howard is the kind of player that needs to feel that he's wanted. The trade saga in 2012 proved that, and with Kobe Bryant having the biggest ego in Los Angeles, you can't help but get the feeling that Howard will need some coercing to stick around.
You know, more coercing than $15 million a year, or so.
Will Dwight Howard be a Laker next season?
For his health's sake, the Lakers must also start worrying about his long-term productivity. Do they want to pay top dollar for a center that's had some serious injuries in the past two seasons? Is Howard becoming injury prone?
These are questions the team will have to answer over the course of the next few months. For now, they must worry about getting better under D'Antoni and figuring out how to survive for the next couple of weeks.
Going forward, don't be surprised if the team is optimistically cautious when it comes to Howard's injuries, at least publicly. Privately, the Lakers need to be digging into his status as a franchise player more than any other team in basketball.
For the sake of him sticking around, that's a good thing.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.