"Looking back on it, I could have sat out the whole season until now and started playing now," Howard said after Tuesday's shootaround in advance of the Lakers' game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "But I just felt like we had such a great opportunity, and some of these guys' window for winning is very small.
"I just wanted to get back and try to do whatever I can do to help this team, knowing that I was not in great shape. My body wasn't all the way there yet, but I just wanted to do whatever I can to help this team win."
The closing window applies to most of the Lakers' regular rotation players other than Howard, as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake are all in their 30s.
Howard has been hampered due to his surgically repaired back and a torn labrum in his right shoulder, an injury that has forced him to miss six games. The All-Star center is averaging 16.1 points (his lowest scoring output since his second year in the NBA) and 12.0 rebounds (his lowest since his rookie campaign) this season.
Surprisingly, one of the people behind the scenes who has been encouraging Howard has been former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
Even though Jackson was spurned for the Lakers' coaching job in favor of Mike D'Antoni, Howard said he has had a relationship with the 11-time championship coach since the 2009 NBA Finals.
"I've had people really just help me out," Howard said. "Guys like Phil [Jackson], he texts me and he understands how it is to come off back surgery. He just said it takes a full year to recover, so you can't beat yourself up over the things that have happened this year."
Howard recently admitted that his poor conditioning that stems from his back issues "cost [the Lakers] a lot of games" this season, but said he has come to grips with whatever criticism he's received for his play this season.
"Sometimes I have gotten beat up for it, but that's fine," Howard said. "I'll take all those hits and keep moving. I've been doing whatever I can to get back into the shape that I've always been.
"It takes awhile. People watch games and they see me playing, so they think it's all good. But it's just a time thing. I just got to keep going, keep pushing myself and it will get better."
When the Lakers acquired Howard in a trade in August, the organization was operating under the understanding that Howard might not be available to play until December or January.
Howard took six months completely off from basketball after having surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back last spring. He didn't resume physical activity until right before training camp began in October.
Howard said he's thought about what would have happened if he sat out to start the season "plenty of times," but has pushed those thoughts out of his head as the Lakers find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt, just two games behind the Utah Jazz for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
"I don't want to be thinking so much about what I should have done or what if I would have waited until this time or that time," Howard said. "I just know that the harder I push myself every day to get better every day, to get in better shape, my body will respond. Then, this summer after the season, I'll get an opportunity to really train and get my body right."
Whether Howard's healthy body will still be wearing a Lakers uniform next season is a question that's yet unanswered.
Howard becomes a free agent July 1 and has not publicly said whether he will re-sign in Los Angeles or test the market.