Dwight Howard Cannot Allow Outside Influences to Affect Shoulder Injury Recovery

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2013

Feb 7, 2013; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard is right. Kobe Bryant's opinion should have no bearing on his recovery from a partially torn labrum. In fact, if there's a way to have less than no bearing, Bryant's thoughts should have that.

Nor should anyone involved with the organization other than Howard himself or the team doctors. Those are the people most qualified to know whether Howard is medically able to play and what his pain threshold is.  

Based on what Bryant told ESPN's Jackie MacMullan on Wednesday, Bryant would beg to differ. 

"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal," Bryant said. "We need some urgency."

Though Bryant later denied he was pushing Howard to play with an injury, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan and T.J. Simers, the message was already sent: Dwight needs to suck it up.

And he did on Thursday night. Howard played despite injury and the results were unnerving. He put up just nine points (4-of-8 shooting), nine rebounds and turned the ball over four times as the red-hot Celtics wiped the floor with the Lakers.

Howard didn't look half this beaten or injured while playing through a herniated disc with the Orlando Magic last season. Most could tell he wasn't the same player—I referred to Howard's stats as "empty numbers" on more than one occasion—but he was still dominant.

On Thursday, he looked like a player simply going through the motions. Howard was the defeated husband who decides to sit through the latest Nicholas Sparks movie just so he doesn't have to hear his wife complain that they never do anything she wants to do. 

Those who have followed the Lakers and Bryant's career know where the legendary guard's position is coming from. He's played with countless debilitating ailments over his career, done so without complaining and never missed a beat.

Whenever someone marvels at Bryant's ability to play with latest condition X, the Lakers fan in the room—and there's always a Lakers fan in every room—will always be quick to point out "that's just Kobe." That always has been Kobe. He's a legendary competitor, arguably the best since Michael Jordan, and would pull a Ronnie Lott on his finger if it meant winning his sixth championship. 

So it's understandable why Bryant would so desperately want Howard on the floor. Expected to be an NBA-championship contender, the Lakers' season has been an utter nightmare. They are 23-27 on the season, 3.5 games out of eighth place in the Western Conference and will be without Pau Gasol for the next six-to-eight weeks due to a torn plantar fascia (per ESPN). 

This is the time where the Lakers need Howard to step up and be Superman. More specifically, the 34-year-old Bryant needs a copilot on this quickly descending aircraft. 

For evidence, here is a look at Bryant's field-goal percentage on each area of the floor, split into when Howard is on the floor and when he's off (per NBA.com):

  Restricted Area In Paint (Non-RA) Mid-Range Corner 3 Above the Break 3
Howard On Floor 67% 45% 48% 41% 37%
Howard Off Floor 60% 37% 38% 28% 27%

As you can plainly see, Bryant benefits greatly from Howard's presence. In every single area of the floor, Bryant improves by at least seven percent with his mammoth center on the court. That's because, no matter how injured he is, teams have to respect Howard's physicality and athleticism, leading to easier shots for the Lakers' star.

What's interesting is that Bryant is a bit of an outlier in that respect. Here is that same chart, only put into a team-wide context (per NBA.com):

  Restricted Area In Paint (Non-RA) Mid-Range Corner 3 Above the Break 3
Howard On Floor 62% 38% 42% 35% 35%
Howard Off Floor 58% 35% 42% 41% 34%

While the Lakers are still understandably a better shooting team with Howard on the court, it's interesting how much Bryant benefits compared to his teammates. The face of the franchise is certainly more interested in winning games, but don't think for a second Bryant doesn't how much easier his shots are with D12 roaming the paint. 

So, yes, there's likely some selfish motivation there. Just like there is selfish motivation from Howard to not play until he's fully healthy. He's a man who will probably sign a $100 million contract during the offseason. It's impossible for anyone to avoid selfish tendencies under those circumstances. 

That's especially the case considering the disconnect between how the Lakers view themselves as an organization and the way Howard likely views the situation. The Lakers have become accustomed to no one ever wanting to leave Los Angeles. Once you get there, see the palm trees and how a first-class organization does business, how could you leave?

Well, Howard has spent exactly 182 days as a member of the Lakers as of Friday. 

There is no logical reason for Howard to have any loyalty to this organization whatsoever. He's an employee, and one that has been treated not so kindly by his most notable coworker, Bryant, who is essentially the de facto assistant to the regional manager in Los Angeles.

Much like another famous assistant to the regional manager, Bryant wields no actual power with the Lakers. But he does have the capability to make Howard's life a living, umm, place where they have a never-ending supply of pitchforks. 

And Bryant has done just that. He's reportedly confronted Howard on more than one occasion this season behind the scenes and essentially called him out before Thursday night's game. 

Here is what the Lakers and Bryant don't seem to get: They need Dwight. Desperately. Howard holds the key to the franchise for not only the 2012-13 season, but for the next half-decade. Without D12, the Lakers will become an also-ran in the Western Conference. 

Howard doesn't need Los Angeles or the Lakers' star. If they don't want to give him a $100 million contract or treat him like a star, teams and potential costars across the league will line up this summer to do so. 

His championship window is not necessarily closing. With a bunch of 30-plus-year-old players and a coach who would rather play his system than work with the talent around him, the Lakers' window is. 

Regardless of health, Bryant or anything else, that's what Howard needs to realize. He wields all the power in this situation. And if he doesn't feel healthy enough to set foot on the Staples Center floor, then there's really nothing the Lakers or Kobe Bryant can do about it.