When Dwight Howard walked out for his post-practice media availability and sat down in front of an open computer to answer questions via Zoom on Thursday, the first query he got was a simple one: How is he doing?
“I’m alive, so that means I’m amazing,” Howard said.
Being alive is, indeed, amazing. And in the times we’re living in, it’s no small blessing. But the rest of Howard’s chat with the media did leave just how “amazing” he’s feeling about his current position on the Lakers in a small bit of doubt.
For a little more than six minutes of questions about his role in the rotation, his communication with the coaching staff about his up-and-down minutes, and how he felt about the Lakers’ recent stylistic shift to more small-ball, Howard tried to say all the right things. He clearly doesn’t want to go out of his way to stir the pot.
But after being yo-yo’d around in the rotation and only playing in four of the team’s last eight games, he’s clearly feeling a bit of the strain from an up-and-down role, even if he says he won’t be taking former Laker and Spectrum SportsNet analyst Robert Horry’s suggestion to demand more playing time from head coach Frank Vogel as he walks by him on his way back to the bench.
“Nah, nah, nah. I don’t want to do anything to agitate or make him feel like I’m trying to get attention. But when I do get my number called in-game, I do want to let it be known that I’m still on the team and I can provide a level of energy and sustain it for however long it’s needed,” Howard said.
Howard is going to need that mindset, too, because not only would demanding more playing time likely have the opposite of its intended effect, but Vogel has said that the team shouldn’t expect a consistent rotation as they continue to evaluate new additions, and integrate players returning from injuries.
For his part — and like he did the first time he went from getting told he wouldn’t play getting to back into the lineup unexpectedly — Howard claimed there was no prior warning that he would be out of the rotation when the team started to go smaller, or that he was going back in, and that he’s just trying to stay ready for anything.
“It wasn’t really a conversation. It was just coming into the game and seeing that LeBron was going to start (at center),” Howard said. “You’ve got to stay strong mentally, because things can change from night in and night out. You can’t complain, especially out loud. If you feel a certain way, (you) just do it away from everyone and always keep a smile on your face. And whenever you get that opportunity, just play as hard as you can.”
Howard has certainly done that last part, most recently by coming off of two strain DNP-CD’s to drop a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds off the bench as the Lakers beat the Kings earlier this week. But he says it hasn’t always been easy.
“That can be tough for anyone. I know DJ (DeAndre Jordan), for me and him, it’s been kind of like a rollercoaster all season. So we just try to provide some type of energy and synergy,” Howard said. “Making sure our level of energy is pretty high whether we’re on the floor, on the bench, or in the locker room. Just trying to maintain a level of focus, because it can be tough. And it is tough at times.”
But Howard isn’t blind. He’s seen the improved spacing the Lakers have created for LeBron James and Russell Westbrook by going smaller. He sees the success the team has had recently, despite missing his rebounding at times, even (again) joking that he’s going to work on shooting more threes so the coaches will play him as a stretch 5.
“We’ve had some success with playing small ball. I think it works at times,” Howard said. “The biggest thing for me is just making sure I stay ready. And it has been tough. There’s been days where I have to remember why I’m here, and what the ultimate goal is.”
That ultimate goal? Winning a championship. And getting the parade Howard came back to Los Angeles for. So, while reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that the future Hall-of-Famer isn’t exactly thrilled with where he stands in the rotation right now, but he’s also trying to say and do the right things.
“I want a parade. So if I have to play 10 minutes, three minutes, however long I play, it’s just going out there and playing as hard as I can for those minutes and making an impact in any way I can,” Howard said.
So even if his role on the Lakers isn’t quite what he’d want, Howard sees the bigger picture.
After all, he’s alive. And so, he’s amazing.