PHOENIX — The Washington Wizards have not officially ruled out Dwight Howard for the rest of the season but Coach Scott Brooks acknowledged on Wednesday that his return to the court appears unlikely.
“It’s pretty safe to say,” Brooks said when asked whether Howard was done for the year.
Howard, 33, signed a two-year deal with the Wizards and has a $5.6 million option to return next season. If he does choose to come back to Washington, Howard will join Ian Mahinmi as the team’s two big men under contract.
As of Wednesday night, the two players have combined to appear in 41 games but have taken up close to $22 million in salary cap space. At 31-45, the Wizards are on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time in three years but on Wednesday snapped a five-game losing streak and averted elimination by beating the Phoenix Suns, 124-121.
Although Suns guard Devin Booker scored 50 points, the Wizards delivered a mightier blow with the two-man game of Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant. In the final seconds of a tie game, Beal, who scored 28 points, probed the defense, drew extra attention and lobbed a pass to Bryant at the rim. Bryant finished the layup through a foul and converted the three-point play to win the game. Bryant finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds.
Howard, who has played in eight all-star games, has averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in his brief time in a Wizards uniform. He joined the team on its four-game trip west, but has been unable to participate in limited on-court drills. On Feb. 21 Howard returned to Washington to work with the team’s player development staff after spending the first three months of his recovery in his hometown of Atlanta. Less than a month later, Howard tweaked his hamstring during one of the drills and has not returned to the court since.
Howard’s failure to launch this season began even before the Wizards opened training camp in September. At that time, Brooks announced Howard would miss the start of camp in an effort by the team to manage the center’s back pain.
“His back is sore the last couple of days,” Brooks said then. “Nothing appeared to be serious. I guess that we’ll be very careful, first day of training camp . . . We’re in no rush.”
Over time, however, Howard’s injury evolved from simple back soreness from a long plane ride to China to a pain stemming from a gluteal muscle. Ultimately, the diagnosis was a herniated disk and required a L4-L5 lumbar microdiscectomy, performed by Robert Watkins in Marina Del Ray, Calif. Watkins had previously performed surgery on Howard for a similar injury in 2012.
Howard is the second of the Wizards’ preseason projected starting five to have his season ended by surgery. In January, John Wall had surgery to remove bone spurs in his left heel and later ruptured the Achilles’ tendon in his left foot. Wall, who is not traveling with the team, is expected to miss at least 12 months from the time of the Achilles’ injury.
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