Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register wrote:
Dwight Howard is about to play his first Lakers game, perhaps Sunday night at Staples Center.
Yes, he has been taking it slow — and part of that might be that Coach Mike Brown told Howard that he could wait 'til January. Seriously, Brown did.
But let's make clear just how excited Howard is to play for the Lakers (and presumably to re-sign with them at season's end).
Howard said some nice, relatively cliché things after the trade two months ago. He has had time and space to settle in since. And the words he spoke Friday night in a quiet moment in the locker room before he sat out the Lakers' 103-98 loss to Sacramento weren't just nice.
They were impassioned.
"People don't understand," he said. "I didn't choose to come here; I got traded here. I lost my rights to walk to any team, so a team had to decide where they were going to send me.
"I thank God every day that they sent me to L.A. This is the best situation that I've been in. I'm so thankful and so happy. And now I get an opportunity to do something great. I'm just happy about it."
The Lakers thought all along that Howard would grow to understand and appreciate the way their history of success creates immediate heightened standards in the present.
The reality is it already has happened.
Lakers fans have Bill Bertka, the one coaching constant in the organization through the past four decades, to thank for speeding the process along. In mid-September, after Howard had begun transitioning from workouts with his personal trainer to working with Lakers staffers, Bertka approached Howard in the Lakers offices.
He had a video compilation of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal highlights and urged Howard to study them.
"He said he's seen all of 'em play," Howard said — and that's sure true enough.
That wasn't all. Bertka, 85, also knew enough about the latest gizmos in this generation to suggest Howard could find many more Chamberlain videos, as far back as Chamberlain's high school playing days, available on YouTube.
"I actually went home one day and looked at it all night until 2 or 3 in the morning," Howard said. "I was just so geeked up; I wanted to go play right away. 'I want to go play! I just can't wait to get this started.' It really just inspired me to do whatever I could to get back on the court as soon as possible."
Howard is back on the court, though only dominating practices. Yet he's doing so to the point that Kobe Bryant is telling everyone that Howard is playing like Bill Russell out there. Russell is no Laker, but Bryant will surely take it.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak noted that Bertka, now Kupchak's special assistant in title, used to be the Lakers' big-man coach back in the day and knows his stuff there.
Now is the time in the preseason when the players are transitioning into competitive mode. The regular season is 11 days away, and the juices were certainly flowing for Bryant on Friday night.
Playing on his dad's 58th birthday — and in front of his mom, sisters and nieces — Bryant for the first time this exhibition season flashed his fire to win. Bryant glared at Pau Gasol for passing up one open shot off a Bryant pass; Gasol nodded in agreement. Gasol also was into it, continuing his rivalry with Sacramento power forward DeMarcus Cousins, whose uninhibited aggression annoys Gasol to no end.
The Lakers dropped to 0-5 in the exhibition season anyway, though it was the last time Brown won't play his starters down the stretch. It was also impossible not to notice how many times fill-in rookie Robert Sacre — who shot 1 for 4 with three turnovers — couldn't finish off plays that Howard would have taken to the bank.
Brown wasn't sure if Howard would be cleared by the Lakers' medical staff yet to play for the first time since his April 20 spinal surgery. Howard is pain free and already potent again, but the Lakers are preaching patience.
"I told him that I want him to take his time," Brown said. "I don't want him to get out there too early to where this is going to be a recurring thing. I told the big fella, 'Hey, if you've got to wait 'til January, wait 'til January.' "
As excited as Howard truly is now to play for the Lakers, there's no chance of that happening.