HOUSTON – He is just 29.
In some ways, that’s young. If you’re a stockbroker, a sports writer -- maybe even for someone working at Starbucks.
For a basketball player who entered the NBA at 19 years of age, 29 is old.
Well, maybe just seasoned.
“Ya’ll acting like I’m about to retire,” Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets center said after Wednesday’s practice when asked does he feel like he’s played 11 seasons. “I mean, I feel good. I’m 29 years old regardless of me being in the league for 12 years, I’m fairly young. I got about a good 10 years left in me. I’m going to give everything I got for these 10, 11 years I got left.”
All this talk about Howard’s health came up after two days of practices in which coach Kevin McHale talked about monitoring Howard’s time on the floor during training camp and using him sparingly during the preseason.
“We got to make sure with Dwight that we’re giving him enough rest and that we’re bringing him along slowly,” McHale said. “Having big bodies around him will help. It takes the load off. I think Dwight is going to play sparingly in preseason games, probably a couple games where we try to play him longer minutes and play him some and try to amp him up and make sure that his knee feels really good. We do not want to not have him for 41 games again.”
Last season, Howard played in a career-low 41 games after battling various injuries. He suffered swelling in his right knee, causing him to miss portions of three months of the regular season. Then in the Western Conference Finals, he sprained his left knee, though he didn’t miss any postseason games and displayed toughness that isn’t talked about much.
“The most important thing is that I stay in great shape and give 100 percent almost every single possession, not for myself, but for my teammates,” Howard said. “By doing that, it’s going to put me in great shape but also give my team confidence in me, especially at the start [of the season] with my health.”
Howard has played in 809 career games and is second to Jason Terry on the Rockets in terms of NBA experience. The three oldest players in Houston are Terry, 38, Trevor Ariza, 30, and Howard, 29. To combat the ages and amount of time on the floor, the team will monitor runs up and down the floor, heart rates, blood pressure, everything.
The Rockets need their players fresh for the 82-game season, and Howard is a major part of this. It’s why the team is excited about the future of second-year player Clint Capela, a 6-foot-10, 240-pounder who is a dependable backup. Capela earned McHale’s trust in last year’s playoffs as a rookie, when he was built like a string bean. Now that he’s bulked up, his minutes will increase. Whenever Donatas Motiejunas returns from his rehab from back surgery, he can also do something at center in certain situations, though not full-time. The Rockets love Motiejunas' ability to pass from the paint and his shooting touch from outside.
In camp, the Rockets have 350-pound Joshua Smith to take the slack off Howard in preseason games and practices.
When the season starts, Howard won’t be the focal point of the offense; it’s James Harden who runs the show. Yet when teams begin to take him out of plays, Howard will be left in the paint waiting.
“They want to run around all day, and I let them run and when it’s time to get in the paint, that’s when I do my damage,” Howard said. “Let those guys run around the perimeter.
"Do what I got to do to dominate, that’s the only thing that matters. My job is to make everybody else better and go as hard as I can.”