“It hurts (emotionally),” Howard told ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard. “That’s the first thing — it hurts. And then with people saying and thinking I’m quitting on my team. This is a real issue. I tried to play through it and it just made my back worse.”
Howard has been complaining of back problems since early March, but it wasn’t until Los Angeles-based spine surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins examined him last week that the herniated disk was discovered.
Howard received an epidural to alleviate the pain at that time, and the plan was that he’d rest and rehabilitate his back for 10-14 days before deciding if he could return to play or if further treatment might be necessary. But his back has worsened and both Watkins and the Magic’s medical staff determined surgery is necessary.
Howard told Broussard he is not worried about any long-term ramifications from the surgery.
“The doctor said it’s a one-inch incision,” Howard told Broussard. “He said I can start rehab right away and be back to full contact in four months. So I’m not really concerned. If anything, I’ll come back stronger.”
Dan Fegan, Howard’s agent, said he hopes this development debunks any thoughts that Howard’s back problem was not serious and that he was utilizing it as an excuse not to play.
Howard vehemently disputed a report that he called Magic owner Rich DeVos and said he would not play for coach Stan Van Gundy again. A report by WKMG in Orlando said Howard called DeVos during last Friday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“I was getting an epidural during the game,” he said. “I had no idea what was going on with the game until the third quarter. That’s when I woke up. I couldn’t have talked to him, because I was out of it.”
Howard also confirmed that a major reason he opted into the final year of his contract is because the Magic said they’d trade him if he didn’t, and he wasn’t prepared to give up on winning a title with the Magic this year. In fact, he still believes the Magic are capable of a title run without him.
“If the guys come together, we still have a chance,” he said. “I know what we have in that locker room. I’ve seen it in spurts this season. I’ve told them, ‘We don’t have to be the biggest or the strongest, we just have to believe.'”
Howard said he has been told following the surgery he can begin full contact in three to four months and that he should not have any lingering issues.
“That’s why I’m doing the surgery now, so I won’t have any problems with my back again,” Howard said.
The back issues have forced Howard to miss eight games this season, one more than he missed in his first seven seasons combined. His total of 621 games and 22,471 minutes is the most by a center in his first eight seasons in the modern-NBA era.
Dikembe Mutombo is next with 603 games and 22,138 minutes. For comparison, Shaquille O’Neal played 534 games and 20,148 minutes in his first eight seasons.
“Dwight has never laid down once in his entire career,” Fegan said. “It’s absurd that some publicly, and others privately, speculated that Dwight was laying down or quitting. In fact, he was working his hardest to play through an injury which now requires surgery.”
The Magic also have been playing without Hedo Turkoglu (facial fracture) since April 5. He’s averaging 10.7 points and is shooting 34.9 percent on 3-pointers.
With Howard and Turkoglu sidelined, Van Gundy has started Glen Davis at center with Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson at forward. J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson start in the backcourt.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Thursday night he hadn’t been told of Howard’s plans, and it was too early to speculate on the Olympic team.
The final roster of 12 players and six alternates is due June 18, and the U.S. may have to consider increasing its pool of possible candidates with Howard out and fellow big man LaMarcus Aldridge iffy after right hip surgery.
“I understand exactly who’s involved,” Colangelo said. “The only thing I don’t know is the extent of Dwight Howard’s situation, and I really want to find out more about that. But we may have to consider, you know, invitations to a couple (other) players. That’s a possibility. We’ll talk about it.”