Their continuing correspondence is frank, and Van Gundy has been open about his assessment of the center. Speaking in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Van Gundy was equally blunt, saying Howard's April back surgery is a definite factor in the center's performance curve with his new team.
"I don't think he looks quite as explosive or as quick as he has in the past," Van Gundy told the newspaper. "Now, he's still above almost everyone in the league at that size athletically, but he has not totally looked like himself to me."
The Lakers acquired Howard in a trade with Orlando in August, three months after the Magic fired Van Gundy not long after reports surfaced that Howard had orchestrated the coach's ouster.
Howard and Van Gundy repaired their relationship, however, and keep in touch as Van Gundy works for NBC Sports as a college basketball analyst.
The Lakers improved to 15-15 with a win Friday, their sixth in seventh games, with Kobe Bryant again leading the offense with 27 points.
Howard, though, had 21 points and 14 rebounds and is averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 boards.
"It's a big adjustment for him going from being the guy to not only being the No. 2 guy but really a No. 2 guy that really doesn't get the ball very much at all," Van Gundy said. "It's a different deal and an adjustment he has to make. Those kind of things take time."
Howard was fined $35,000 last week by the NBA for a flagrant foul 2 against Denver's Kenneth Faried and has vowed to "do a better job of keeping my composure and not getting frustrated and also remember that I'm playing for my teammates at all times and stay on the right path." Howard was ejected when he jammed his hand in Faried's face as the Denver forward drove the lane during the Lakers' loss Wednesday.
"I think Dwight is going to be more than willing to make the adjustment," Van Gundy told the Times of his playing more of a supporting role. "But it's still an adjustment and it takes time mentally too because your ego -- and ego is not a bad thing, it's a good thing, you need it to be great in this league -- tells you that you're supposed to be the man and having to adjust to playing off somebody else is not an easy thing."
Howard has offered up to Van Gundy his own reasons for the Lakers' struggles this season.
"The only thing he's really gotten into was, he wants their defense to be better," Van Gundy said.