July 2 (UPI) — Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard wants to play in the NBA season restart this month in Orlando, Fla., and the team said it won’t replace the 16-year veteran despite some concern that he would opt out.
Howard in May called basketball and entertainment “distractions” amid the Black Lives Matter social justice movement. He also cares for his 6-year-old son, David, whose mother died in March.
“We’ve been in communication with Dwight the whole way with supportive phone calls and text messages,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told reporters. “We don’t know what the level of participation is going to be yet. He wants to play. We’re hopeful that he’s able to join us.”
The NBA season has been suspended since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic but is scheduled to resume July 30 at Disney‘s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Some Lakers players reported to a pre-training camp Wednesday in El Segundo, Calif., but Howard did not. The team plans to fly to central Florida next week.
Howard is in Georgia as he satisfies the NBA’s home quarantine and testing protocols for players who will participate in the season restart.
Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka said the team is working with Howard’s agent, the league and the NBA Players Association to find a way for Howard to report to the team. The 22 teams that plan to participate in the restart had to submit rosters — with a maximum of 17 players — to the league by Wednesday.
“He has an extenuating circumstance that he’s working with the league on in terms of what that is ultimately going to look like,” Vogel said. “But we’re hopeful and optimistic that he’ll be able to join us in Orlando.”
Howard, 34, began his NBA career in Orlando after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Magic in 2004 and played for the franchise for eight seasons. He later played in Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington before signing with the Lakers last year. This season, he has been a significant role player for the team.
The 6-foot-10, 265-pound three-time Defensive Player of the Year averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and just over 19 minutes per game in 62 appearances before the season was suspended. The eight-time All-Star worked in a rotation with Lakers big men Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Markieff Morris.
LeBron James, Alex Caruso and Davis were among the players who worked out Wednesday in El Segundo.
The Lakers’ first game of the restart is scheduled against the crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers at 9 p.m. EDT on July 30.