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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