For the second straight season, the Wizards will be without one of their starters for months at a time. Last year it was John Wall, and this time it is Dwight Howard, who had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back on Friday and will be out for months.
The team announced they will re-evaluate Howard in two-to-three months, meaning he is likely to be absent until at least the All-Star break. The worst-case scenario has him returning late in the year, not long before the playoffs begin.
There are many layers to this development and many after-effects for the team's short- and long-term future. Howard was signed this offseason to be their starting center. He was supposed to solidify their defense and anchor their pick-and-roll. They will now have to make do without him.
As we have seen already this season, the Wizards are better in key areas of the game when he is in the lineup. They allow nearly 10 fewer points per game and about eight fewer rebounds for their opponents. Defense and rebounding have been among the Wizards' biggest issues this season.
The Wizards have some decent options with Howard out. They have second-year center Thomas Bryant, who has shown promise starting in his place. Both Markieff Morris and Jeff Green have proven competent at the five-spot and they still have Ian Mahinmi, who could play a factor again at some point.
But the overall results for the Wizards without Howard paint a bleak picture. They are 4-8 without him this season and 4-5 when he's in the lineup.
Defense has been a major issue overall for the Wizards. The Wizards are allowing a league-high 118.2 points per game this season, most for any team since 1990-91.
Howard's timeline will give the Wizards a conundrum as it pertains to the Feb. 8 trade deadline. They have time to evaluate their roster without Howard, meaning if Bryant doesn't work out or the rebounding issues in small-ball sets persist, they have months to weigh their options.
But they won't be able to assess Howard after his return and before the deadline. If something goes wrong in his recovery, or he doesn't return the same player, they could pay for waiting.
Where the Wizards may really be hurt by this is in the long-term. Howard has a player option for next season worth $5.6 million. Entering this year, it seemed unlikely that would convey, given Howard is used to making about four times that much money and only signed with the Wizards on a bargain deal because he was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets.
But now, as Howard's season has been derailed by injuries, the chances of him exercising that option would seem much higher. In hindsight, it was a clever move by Howard and his agent to get the second year. Regardless of how he returns this season, he is going to have missed a lot of games.
Also worth noting is the nature of Howard's injury. He had a similar procedure, a lumbar discectomy, in 2012.
When Howard last had this type of operation, he was 26-years-old. This time he is 32 and just over a week away from his 33rd birthday.
The good news, if there is any, is that the injury was located and is expected to be fixed. The piriformis muscle strain, his original diagnosis, had proven stubborn. Howard suffered multiple setbacks and even when he played, was not 100 percent. At least the mystery has been solved.
Now the Wizards can only hope Howard will make a full recovery, not only to help them this season but potentially next year as well.
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