All-Star weekend is just around the corner for the NBA. A weekend built for larger than life personalities to indulge both on and off the court. February 15th through 17th is a time for festivities, prop filled dunk contests, and Kevin Hart cameos. Most importantly, it's a pause for teams-- and players-- to take a break from the 82 game grind that is the NBA season. With the Lakers looking like they went twelve rounds with Ivan Drago, and Dwight Howard being sure to recite the importance of his health long-term into every microphone in front of his face, it's time for the man who once dominated the weekend as Superman to do himself the biggest favor possible at this point in his career as a Laker.
Dwight Howard needs to shut it down through All-Star weekend.
There's nothing to gain during All-Star weekend for Dwight. A game that has no bearing on the Lakers season, and Howard's season, needs to be off the slate. No if's, and's, but's, or otherwise. With the torn labrum in his shoulder keeping him on a "day-to-day" basis, Howard entertaining the idea of playing in the All-Star game would be entirely unacceptable. A player that says his back is only 75% of what it needs to be needs to 100% reject playing a single minute. If he honestly, and truly, is concerned with his health as he claims he is (there's no reason to believe otherwise), then it's clear.
Just say no.
"This is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can't leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. So, if people are pissed off that I don't play or if I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody's life is going to go on. I don't want to have another summer where I'm rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That's what I want to do." -Dave McMenamin, ESPN
Even after taking three games off (while also receiving a platelet rich plasma procedure to help with the pain and expedite the regenerative process in his shoulder) it was clear Howard wasn't anywhere near being prepared to play in a professional game of basketball. It's far more than just the shoulder for Dwight, as he dragged his feet up and down the court in Boston. Missed rotations, slow transitions, not doing simple tasks such as boxing out, and looking miserable on the court, Dwight Howard was a soulless mass against the Celtics. Mike Prada took the time to break down just how miserable the game was in Boston, and it makes it painfully obvious that whatever capacity it is that Dwight came back as isn't enough for a Lakers team that has taken a bludgeoning this season.
While one game is the epitome of "small sample size", this has been Howard we have come to know while he wears purple and gold over his body with the Lakers logo plastered across his chest like a tattoo. His first season as a Laker has been a giant disappointment resting across his broad shoulders, maintaining pressure on that flimsy torn labrum.
After the game Dwight deflected questions regarding playing in Charlotte in the second half of the Lakers back to back, once again citing it would depend entirely on how his shoulder felt. Meanwhile, Mike D'Antoni clarified something we already knew: Dwight has been medically cleared to play for days. The choice has been his whether to play through the injury, and Howard has elected not to while the Lakers desperately need to gain ground in their chase of the playoffs. Dwight must do the sensible thing and be adamant in his refusal to play in Houston, David Stern's parade weekend be damned. Whatever repercussions Stern may have in regards to Howard refusing to play need to be swallowed.
If he does play?
First and foremost, it would be shocking if he laced them up for a meaningless game. Even if he made it clear he intended to play, it would be stunning if the Lakers training staff didn't suggest he take the time away to recuperate and prepare for the final push of the season. It wouldn't only be a failure on behalf of Howard's decision making abilities (which aren't held in very high esteem to begin with), it would be a failure from an organizational perspective. All-Star weekend provides a five day frame where Howard can take all the time off he wants and needs. When the Lakers get back to business? The Celtics are in town in the first post All-Star break action, and after the embarrassment the Lakers just put on in Boston, Los Angeles needs to return the favor on their home court.
Most importantly, though, the backlash from the fan's he must answer to would be severe. Make no mistake; Dwight Howard is beginning to test the patience of a fan base that loves winning, and there hasn't been enough of that tied to the "future" of the franchise. There's a page turning for Dwight's time with the Lakers, and the fondness that was once found while he rushed to the hardwood months ahead of schedule is being replaced with disdain as he takes games off because of his torn labrum. Perception is reality, and right now the perception is Dwight isn't suffocating basketball games with his will to win like a certain other franchise cornerstone that he plays with. Right now, it certainly seems fitting that 12 is only half of 24.
There's still time for that to change for Dwight Howard, and it begins with making the right decisions. He can't control whether his shoulder is too painful to play through. He can't control his legs going numb when he sits on the bench. He can't control his hampered back recovery. But he can control his decisions, and that alone would be a giant step.
Your move, Dwight.
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