When Will Dwight Howard Return (Healthy)?
The Lakers will be playing with Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol in their front-court to begin the season, which will almost certainly be more than capable of holding down the fort. Pick-and-roll with Gasol and Steve Nash will be a thing of foreign beauty that Laker fans have not seen since the Showtime Era.
Howard's healthy presence, however, is essential for the Lakers to succeed. And by succeed, I mean championship or bust. Dwight's defensive prowess is what the Lakers were hoping to gain by acquiring the disgruntled center as Andrew Bynum lacked effort and energy on the court every other night. A consistent defensive presence in the paint as well as an athletic, lob-catching, fierce dunker is exactly what will separate the Lakers from the rest of the league.
With a healthy Howard, the Lakers will have the most feared front court in basketball. They will arguably have the most talented back court in the league with Nash and Kobe Bryant. The bench has also improved with the additions of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Earl Clark.
The Western Conference is stacked with talent and the Lakers will have their hands full at the top of the conference (Thunder, Spurs, Grizzlies) even within their own building (Clippers). Dwight will most likely make his first appearance sometime toward the end of December at the rate he is recovering in rehab, however, if he returns at full strength, the Lakers will undoubtedly need to overcome some initial unfamiliar territory.
Without the benefit of practice time with the team, adjusting the the tendencies of Kobe and Nash with Gasol joining him on the block will take time. The Lakers hope that with the 82-game season, there will be just enough time to convince Howard that this is his preferred long term destination as well. Rust will be evident in Howard's game when he eventually returns because he is known as a fitness freak, but the intensive rehabilitation program is most likely not cutting it.
Whenever he returns, Howard will need to adjust quickly and on the fly in order for the Lakers to have a shot at the title this season.