The Lakers are well short of where they would have wanted to be at this point in the season, and while Kobe Bryant is doing everything in his power to right the ship, Dwight Howard’s shoulder injury is preventing the team from playing up to its full potential.
Howard has been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury for much of the season, and according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, he returned to Los Angeles to undergo treatment last week. McMenamin quoted Howard on the status of his shoulder after treatment:
“It's extremely sore all over. [Saturday] after the procedure it was real stiff, but there's nothing I can do about it right now.”
Howard has been ineffective as a result of his labrum injury, but resting the sore shoulder may be his best chance of returning to full strength. As indicated by Ryan Knaus of NBC Sports, surgery doesn’t seem to be a possibility at the moment:
Los Angeles can’t afford to lose Howard for an extended period of time. As shaky as his play has been at times, having Howard on the floor is the only way the Lakers will be able to develop chemistry.
After adding Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, the Lakers were expected to roll through the Western Conference en route to another title shot. But after an early-season coaching change, the turmoil began to build, culminating in a sub-.500 record and innumerable trade rumors at this point in the season.
Mike D’Antoni has done everything he can to shake up the lineup in an attempt to maximize production this year. He even went as far as relegating Pau Gasol to a bench role, citing an inability for Gasol and Howard to play effectively when on the court together.
Whether or not that is true is irrelevant. There is no way to know what Los Angeles’ squad is capable of if major pieces like Howard can’t stay healthy.
The Lakers have panicked too often this year, overreacting to every bad performance and stretch of losses. They have tried everything to shake up the lineup and move players around, but the one thing they have not attempted—or been able to attempt because of Howard’s injury—is letting the team develop natural chemistry by playing as a cohesive unit.
The only way Los Angeles is going to avoid a catastrophic season is by having its players healthy and available to play together for an extended period of time. Lineup changes and trades are not the answer, and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak seems to understand that, as quoted by Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:
We will not make a trade. We will not trade Dwight Howard. We have no intention of making a trade. It's unlikely that we'll make any trade with any of our principal players. To make another change at this time of the year behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would make it more difficult. The talent is there. We have to find our way.
Kupchak’s sentiment is on point. Roster moves and further lineup changes would only serve as another setback for a team with a massive amount of talent.
Howard has to get healthy (and stay healthy) for the Lakers to make a second-half push for the playoffs. Bryant and Nash have picked up the slack in his absence, seemingly reversing roles while Bryant racks up assists and runs the Lakers offense, but it hasn’t been enough to sustain momentum and a quality winning streak.
If Howard is able to fully recover from his nagging shoulder injury and return for an extended period of time, the Lakers have the potential to begin developing chemistry. Until that time, Los Angeles will be missing a vital player who can help them win in the short term and alleviate the pressure that inconsistency is causing within the organization.