Sports Out West

Dwight Howard injury: Lakers’ C hesitant to jeopardize career

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Los Angeles Lakers big man Dwight Howard is not rushing himself back from injury, and the reason may be because he’s thinking more about the future than the Lakers’ short-term welfare this season.

According to USA Today, Howard is greatly concerned about his ability to maintain a high level of play for the duration of what he hopes will be a long career. A torn labrum in his troubled right shoulder has made the Los Angeles experiment go terribly wrong for the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and he was measured, yet honest in his reasoning why.

When asked about whether or not he could play through such an injury, during Tuesday’s shootaround prior to the 92-83 win vs. the Brooklyn Nets, Howard said simply, “This is my career.”

Those words can be interpreted a number of ways. It could mean that Howard is being cautious for the good of the team, and unwilling to risk a setback due to the fact that his team needs him as they climb back into the playoff race. But for onlookers who remember the Dwightmare saga and exactly what Howard is capable of in terms of his personality, there are tempered expectations.

Are the Lakers headed down the same dreadful path as the Orlando Magic? Are Howard’s damaged goods going to tie the Lakers’ hands even more when it comes to their flexibility to make a move to improve the team?

These are all valid questions, especially with Howard free to walk at the end of the 2012-13 season without the Lakers receiving any compensation whatsoever. It’s a risk that the front office was willing to take and knew about when they signed him, but no one could have envisioned things going this poorly. The Lakers are 23-26 and out of the playoffs through more than half the season, and they have to play a large stretch of their remaining games on the road, where they have struggled mightily, going just 8-16.

Howard isn’t just the Lakers’ present featured attraction, he’s their future as well, and the heir apparent to Kobe Bryant. If he doesn’t stay, then the Lakers are going to have to wait until 2014 to rebuild the roster from the ground up due to expiring contracts.

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His work is also regularly featured on Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation. You can catch up with him on Twitter: @MikeJonesTweets.