Wizards head coach Scott Brooks returned from the All-Star break to the team's practice facility on an icy evening in Washington with something he hadn't provided in months: an update on Dwight Howard.
The Wizards center, who has been recovering from back surgery since Nov. 30, is due to arrive in D.C. soon to continue his rehab. Since the procedure, he has been working out in Atlanta, slowly building strength and flexibility.
Howard is now ready to take the next step in that rehab. He is set to begin on-court work and would have done so on Wednesday if it weren't for a flight cancellation due to the weather.
"Hopefully he'll be back tomorrow and get back on the court," Brooks said. "It's exciting to have him back."
Howard, 33, still has a long way to go. As Brooks explained, Howard isn't ready for much more than light shooting work. He hasn't been cleared for contact or even 1-on-1 drills.
Brooks gave no sense of a timeline for Howard to return to game action.
"I don't know how that long is going to be before he can participate in a game, but that is not our concern right now. Our concern is to get him some good work every day and let those days pile up on one another and see where it takes us," Brooks said.
Signed as a free agent by the Wizards last summer, Howard has appeared in only nine games due to the injury. It was first revealed on media day, the day before Wizards training camp began. He missed their entire preseason before making his debut on Nov. 2. He last played on Nov. 18 in a loss to the Blazers.
News that Howard would need back surgery came two weeks later. The procedure was to relieve a herniated disc.
He was given a timeline of two-to-three months before he would be re-evaluated. Jan. 30 marked two months since the surgery and soon after that milestone, the Wizards sent a trainer to Atlanta to check on him.
The Wizards have 24 games remaining on their schedule. If Howard can play any number of those, it should help the team. His biggest strength is rebounding and the Wizards have been among the worst teams in the league on the glass this season.
There are also salary implications to a Howard return. He has a player option for next season worth $5.6 million. If he can come back and play well, the odds of him opting out to test free agency would seemingly go up. Such a move would give the Wizards more financial flexibility this off-season.
As Brooks said, we could be a long way away from Howard's return. But Wednesday was a good sign that he's getting closer, even if he wasn't physically with the team yet.
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