By Mitch Chortkoff
Sports Editor 

How Far Can Howard Carry the Lakers?


October 24, 2012

The Lakers didn’t draft Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain.

All three came to the Lakers after they hsd established themselves with other teams. Combined, they won nine NBA championships with the Lakers.

Today, Dwight Howard is the Lakers’ center and he similarly has arrived from elsewhere.

Following a soap opera stretch in which Howard demanded a trade from the Orlando Magic, changed his mind and opted to stay there another year, then agreed to a trade with the Lakers, he’s the hope for not only this season but the future. At 26, he’s regarded as the best center in the NBA.

“I’m teaching him things about being the main guy because that’s what he’s going to be when I’m not here anymore,” said Kobe Bryant, who has two years remaining on his contract.

There’s only one problem with that. Howard chose not to sign a long-term Laker contact and will become a free agent after this season. Get ready for another soap opera unless he changes his mind.

All of these thoughts were in my head when I arrived at Staples Center Sunday night. The Lakers had lost their first five exhibition games while holding the regulars back and often going with unknown players brought in for training camp, players who would soon be placed on waivers.

But there was an air of anticipation among the sellout crowd.

No big deal, right? The Lakers were playing the lowly Sacramento Kings and the result wouldn’t count in the standings. But word had spread during the day that Howard, who had been recovering from April back surgery, would make his Laker debut.

He played well, the game was close all the way and even though the Lakers lost, 99-92, it was a night for Laker fans to be encouraged.

Howard scored 19 points, blocked four shots and triggered several fast breaks. He was far from perfect, making just three of eight free throws and commiting five turnovers.

But he played 33 minutes, came to his feet quickly after being knocked down and, best of all, sounded like a mature man after the game.

This was in contrast to the Laker center he replaced, Andrew Bynum, who seemed immature so often it became obvious the Lakers couldn’t count on him to be the main man once Bryant retired.

“I had tears in my eyes when the lineup was introduced,” said Howard. “I couldn’t play for six months but now the doctors have cleared me.

“It was great to be out there and I think we’re going to have a good team.”

How did the Lakers lose to the Kings?

“It was the first time our starting unit was on the court together,” said Howard. ‘We’ll smooth out some things and get better.”

Coach Mike Brown said there are no limitations on Howard’s minutes. So the Lakers, who begin the regular season on Tuesday, are ready to compete.

Some fans are getting nervous about the Lakers’ 0-6 start in exhibition games. Actually, the first five games involved players who were just helping out in training camp. If the Lakers keep losing during the regular season that will be cause for worry. Not now.


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