Dwight Howard

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For now, Wizards anticipate leaning on Dwight Howard's experience more than his body

For now, Wizards anticipate leaning on Dwight Howard's experience more than his body

WASHINGTON -- Dwight Howard’s official return to the Wizards practice facility came with a new job description: Mentor.

“Since he can’t be on the practice court or the game floor, he’s going to have to share his wisdom,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the 14-year veteran.

Howard stepped onto Washington’s practice court Thursday for the first time since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30. The veteran center began his rehab work in his native Atlanta before rejoining the team.

“He feels great. Said he has no pain,” Brooks said of Howard. “That’s good. That’s part of the process.”

For now Howard remains limited to non-contact work and is perhaps weeks away from game action.

Brooks intends on putting him to work regardless by having Howard impart his NBA insight onto Washington’s young big men, Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis.

“The guy has a lot of experience. A lot of years under his belt,” Brooks said of Howard, an eight-time All-Star. “Now he has the ability to be around our guys every day. [Bryant and Portis] have to be a sponge. They have to pick everything up.”

Bryant, 21, replaced the injured Howard as Washington’s starting center. The Wizards acquired Portis, 24, on Feb. 6 in a multi-player trade that sent Otto Porter to the Chicago Bulls. Bryant and Portis, both restricted free agents this summer, represent Washington’s best interior options now and perhaps key building blocks going forward.

“You get better in this league by being around good veteran players that want to share their knowledge,” Brooks said, “and Dwight is going to be a guy that’s going to be able to do that for the next how many weeks until he gets on the court.”

Basic movements – sitting, for example – were issues for Howard pre-surgery. Brooks said he was not sure how much running Howard would do this week. He will start on the court solo. Eventually, a coach or three will work with Howard for 5-on-0 drills. Full contact practice with teammates comes later.

Howard was seen shooting free throws after practice concluded. Injured players are not required to speak with the media until participating during an official practice.

For now, the coach took pleasure in welcoming the projected opening game starter back to town.

“It was good to see him, good to have him back,” Brooks said. “He did some treatments and then did some work on the court, light shooting. That’s about it. It’s good to have him back. He has a good way about him. He’s always positive, always has a good spirit about him.”

Integrating the low-post presence into the small-ball approach Brooks leaned with Howard sidelined becomes a curious topic. That’s for later, perhaps weeks away, as the coach suggested. The playoff-pushing Wizards must forge on without Howard, who has played in only nine games this season.

Washington (24-34), 11th in the Eastern Conference and three games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot, has 24 games remaining in the regular season.

Howard will stay behind when the team opens the post-All-Star-break phase Friday at Charlotte, but likely travels with the team going forward, Brooks said.

“He’s happy to be back,” Brooks said of Howard. “Now it’s just a phase of getting him on the court. I don’t know how long that’s going to be.”

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1 huge reason the Wizards need Dwight Howard healthy, beyond a playoff push

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1 huge reason the Wizards need Dwight Howard healthy, beyond a playoff push

The Washington Wizards need Dwight Howard back.

Not for this current season as the team pushes for the playoffs, though bolstering the frontcourt wouldn’t hurt.

His return would genuinely help the cause for the 2019-20 campaign — that is, assuming his twice surgically repaired back holds up enough for Howard to decline his $5.6 million player option.

Washington’s short-term focus involves Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. The luxury tax-paying team unlikely takes on additional salary despite the owner’s pledge to remain in the playoff chase. Therefore, the Wizards’ best hope for assistance comes within — specifically with Markieff Morris (who is out with a neck injury) and Howard (back surgery).

While Morris is tracking for an appearance sometime after the Feb. 14-21 NBA All-Star break, Howard’s timeline from December’s surgery remains unclear. The worst case of the original forecast meant a late February/early March return. Even that outlook appears murky now.

“He’s getting better day by day,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Howard on Jan. 30. “We don’t really know when he’ll be available to be on the court, but he’s moving in the right direction.”

Brooks’ comments are based on text messages with Howard and daily reports sent to the organization. Howard continues his rehab work away from the team.

Conceptually, Howard addresses Washington’s rebounding and rim protection concern. Integrating his low-post game into the current ball movement approach becomes challenging so close to the finish line. His arrival also mucks up plans with the current starter, Thomas Bryant.

The big picture perspective with Howard involves the roster and salary cap considerations. In both cases, the future Hall of Famer may become more hindrance than a help.

Washington’s salaries of $111 million for the 2019-20 season exceed the projected salary cap of $109. That number covers only five players -- John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Ian Mahinmi and Troy Brown Jr. -- leaving 10 open spots. The $132 million luxury tax line looms.

Should Howard opt into his 2019-20 contract, another $5.6 million goes away.

There’s an argument that a player with his résumé is something of a bargain at that price, considering Howard earned far more this season. After a buyout from the Nets for $19 million of his $24 million salary, Howard signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Washington in July.

Now let’s ponder why Howard should opt in.

Last season with Charlotte, he averaged 16.6 points, 15.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Those raw numbers help paper over concerns about his locker room presence, which factored into Howard playing with four teams in four seasons.

Projections show half the league’s teams with at least $15 million salary cap space next season. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris headline the 2019 free agent class.

If Howard, an eight-time All-Star, believes money is out there for a deal more significant than the $5.6 million, he opts out.

The more uncertainty with his back, the less likely such options exist and odds increase of Howard returning next season. That’s especially true if he does not play in the current season.

In Howard’s absence, Bryant emerged as Washington’s best option in the middle. The 6-foot-11 center lacks experience but offers rim-running energy and athleticism.

Restricted free agents Bryant ($1.8 million salary this season) and point guard Tomas Satoransky ($3.1) are poised for ample raises this summer. League sources project the low end of Satoransky’s next deal at $6.5 million.

Washington could match any offer Bryant or Satoransky receives. Howard opting in limits Washington’s chances of retaining either or both.

Should the Wizards’ keep all three, half the roster sits open with clear needs at power forward and along the perimeter. Retaining unrestricted free agents Trevor Ariza, Morris and Jeff Green or finding viable replacements becomes daunting with limited financial flexibility.  

Washington must also allocate cap space for its 2019 first round selection. It’s possible the Wizards acquire additional picks or future salary this week with a nuanced deadline maneuver.

Using the stretch provision on Mahinmi, who enters the final season his four-year, $64 million contract, would open salary cap space at the cost of spreading his remaining salary over several seasons. Howard declining his final years comes with no financial penalty.

There’s a timeline where a healthy Howard stays, and his inside game meshes as desired with the team’s perimeter talents. That’s the long shot vision. The darker scenario involves an injured Howard opting into the contract because that’s his best personal decision facing a down market.

The safest path – at least for Washington - is Howard declines the final year on his current contract and enters free agency, where he could sign with any team – including the Wizards.

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Dwight Howard shares his first health update since back surgery

Dwight Howard shares his first health update since back surgery

Three weeks removed from back surgery to take care of his nagging gluteal injury, Dwight Howard rejoined the Washington Wizards for their Tuesday night contest with the Atlanta Hawks inside State Farm Arena. 

"Physically, I'm a lot better than I was before the surgery," Howard told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. "The nine games I played, I basically played on one leg. So, you know, I'm just happy that that's out the way and I can rehab and get ready for the second half of the season."

During those nine games, the 33-year-old averaged 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, while shooting over 62% from the floor. 

Howard is no stranger to back surgery. In 2012, the then Orlando Magic center underwent a procedure to repair a herniated disk which ended his season and took him out of Summer Olympics (London) participation. 

The veteran now deals with a slow recovery process before returning to basketball activities. 

Right now, the only I can do for rehab is just walk. Anybody who has had back surgery, they understand that. You know, for the first month and a half, you can't lift weights. You can't run. You can't do anything but basically walk. 

Howard plans to remain in Atlanta for rehab. Three weeks ago, Washington said it would re-evaluate Howard after two or three months. 

"Every day I try to sit down, and you know, spend at least an hour visualizing, you know, getting healthy, but also returning to the court."

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