With the official announcement that Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard has a torn labrum in his right shoulder, an injury more common to baseball pitchers than 7-foot basketball players, fans and reporters alike are understandably scrambling to answer one question: "How long until Dwight is back?"
At the moment, the current timetable for Howard's return is no more than a week, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger, but he notes that further examination from the organization could push back that date. Labrum tears aren't particularly common among NBA players, so there's not exactly a long track record for how quickly players recover from them.
While a torn labrum is often the kiss of death for any big league pitcher, three basketball-related examples of the injury reflect the wide range of possibilities for Howard's recovery. The Lakers big man says that he doesn't need surgery, which is undoubtedly good news as you'll see below, but that doesn't mean he'll be back any time soon.
Here are three other notable basketball-related labrum injuries from recent memory:
- In February of 2009, Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery. Expected to miss the remainder of the season, Nelson sat out for three-and-a-half months before returning for Orlando's NBA Finals match-up against the Lakers. He struggled badly, shooting just 35 percent from the field while averaging 18 minutes per contest.
- Last month, New Orleans Hornets center Jason Smith suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but that injury didn't require surgery. Smith rehabbed with team doctors before returning two weeks later on Dec. 28.
- In a non-NBA example, Northwestern Wildcats star guard Drew Crawford suffered a torn labrum last month that, like Nelson's injury, required surgery. He's expected to miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season while recovering.
From those three examples, coming from different dates, levels of competition and even player types, one can see pretty quickly that a torn labrum isn't an injury to be downplayed or ignored. Howard's tear doesn't appear to be as serious as those of Nelson and Crawford, but that doesn't completely remove the general concern for his health.
Ideally, Howard's recovery will follow the path of Smith's, avoiding any major setbacks en route to a return before the end of the month. The acknowledgement that he doesn't need surgery is one key step towards that conclusion, though it's admittedly an underwhelming victory for a team that desperately needs its star center to be healthy and contributing.