It turns out that Kobe Bryant, not Howard, could be the one who starts out the season sidelined.
Bryant sat out Sunday's practice, using the time to receive treatment on the strained right foot he hurt a full week ago during the team's exhibition game against the Sacramento Kings.
With the Lakers' season opener just two days away against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center, Bryant remains out indefinitely, according to the team, and his availability for Tuesday has started to be called into question by his teammates.
"I don't know, I have my doubts," said Pau Gasol, Bryant's longest-tenured teammate on the roster. "I hope we (have him in the lineup). ... He hasn't been able to practice for six days. He's been off that foot for six days, and it's no joke. I don't remember the last time that he took that many days off exercising. He might do stuff in the weight room and might do stuff without putting weight on the foot, but it's a little bit concerning."
Bryant did not speak to reporters Sunday, but Howard said the lingering injury had Bryant in a bad mood.
"He hasn't really talked about it," Howard said. "I know he's a little down right now. He seems down because he can't get out there and practice with us. He's trying to nurse his foot."
As planned, Bryant was re-evaluated by team trainer Gary Vitti and the rest of the medical staff over the weekend, including undergoing an MRI, according to Lakers coach Mike Brown. The MRI merely confirmed a strain and contusion of Bryant's foot, Lakers spokesman John Black said.
"We'll see how he is (Monday) and what he cannot do or can do out on the floor and then kind of go from there," Brown said.
Bryant missed several practices earlier in training camp because of discomfort in the same right foot.
However, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that this injury is in a different place on his right foot and is considerably more painful.
While Bryant has earned a reputation as a warrior who will play through anything, including a torn ligament in his left wrist to begin last season, it would not be unprecedented if his rehabilitation caused him to miss the season opener. Bryant missed the Lakers' first two games in 2006-07 while recovering from knee surgery.
"It's a medical issue," Brown said. "If Gary says he can't play for medical reasons, he won't play. ... He can't play if the doctors won't release him. I don't know anybody in any professional sport that would play if the doctors don't release you. So, that has to happen from our medical staff, and obviously he has to feel that he can go too, and I have to feel that way too. But, the reality of it is, when the doctors clear him and he feels like he can go then I'm good with it."
The decision to play Bryant or not is still a long ways away, considering Bryant's dedication to rehab, and Brown said that his star player is improving.
"He's definitely making progress," Brown said. "He's not going backwards at all, and it's not like he's staying the same. He's making progress."
While the uncertainty regarding Bryant's status is palpable, there were still believers that he'll suit up come Tuesday.
"I would see Kobe playing," Metta World Peace said. "Every time he's hurt, he always plays. He always comes through. We know him for that. The fans know him for that. So, I can see him definitely playing."
Added Steve Nash: "I definitely wouldn't be surprised if he played."