WASHINGTON -- The latest injury update for Dwight Howard reads similar to previous versions with one exception: Time is running out.
That is essentially what Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said before Monday’s home game against the Utah Jazz when asked by a reporter whether the team planned on shutting down Howard.
“Not officially,” Brooks said.
The eight-time All-Star last played on Nov. 18 and underwent back surgery on Nov. 30. After returning to Washington for additional rehab work, Howard suffered a hamstring injury in early March.
If he’s going to tack on to the nine regular season games played this season for the Wizards (30-41), Howard’s final chance comes Apr. 9 against Boston.
“He’s still getting is work in,” Brooks said of Howard, who has participated in non-contract drills. “The hamstring problem hasn’t yet turned the corner for him. We still have three weeks or so. The season, as I said a couple of days ago, is winding down. It’s going to be tough, but you never know. You never know.”
Based on these updates, it would be surprising if Howard returned this season, which increases the odds he chooses to remain with the team going forward.
Howard signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Wizards in July, which included a player option for the 2019-20 season. The odds of Howard, 32, opting into the second season seemingly increase with each passing day he remains sidelined.
Washington created some salary cap space last month by trading Otto Porter to Chicago before the Feb. 7 league trade deadline. Howard’s $5.5 million salary would eat into that room and potentially alter the team’s thinking entering the off-season.
The Wizards have center Ian Mahinmi on the books for the final year of his 4-year, $64 million contract. Center Thomas Bryant and forward Bobby Portis, who Brooks has primarily used at the 5, are restricted free agents.
Howard returning to action would give everyone in the league a chance to gauge his physical status. That includes Howard. Maybe just a handful of games convinces him the progress made with his back is sincere and he opts out either for a potentially larger payday or to sign with a team considered a title contender next season.
The Wizards’ forecast is complicated by John Wall’s torn Achilles that likely keeps the point guard out for the majority of the 2019-20 season. The longer Howard remains sideline seemingly increases the chances he’s at least on the books in Washington next season.
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