L.A. Lakers: Can Gasol, Hill Hold the Lakers Up While Howard Is Down?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IAugust 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Jordan Hill #27 helps up Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter while taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When the euphoria from the Los Angeles Lakers' recent acquisition of center Dwight Howard finally begins to subside, the reality will slowly sink in that there is no real timetable for the center's return from offseason back surgery.

There is a good chance that Howard will not be ready to start the Lakers' regular-season opener, but luckily this is a script the team is familiar with—only the actors have changed.

The short 2011-12 season was the first that former Lakers center Andrew Bynum began a campaign fully healthy in at least two years, but his previous absences were softened by the presence of fellow seven-footer Pau Gasol.

Gasol's ability to play in the middle helped the Lakers weather the storm from Bynum's various leg injuries, but next season there will be no Lamar Odom to step up and man Gasol's place in the paint.

Jordan Hill, get ready to be baptized by fire.

The Lakers recently rewarded Hill for his strong play at the end of last season by giving him a new two-year deal, and it looks like Hill may get every chance to prove he deserves it.

Hill only averaged 4.8 points per game and 6.3 rebounds, but he did end the year with two double-doubles, one of which came in the postseason.

Hill may not be counted on to duplicate that production, but he will need to display the same energy, intensity and rugged strength on the boards that prompted Lakers coach Mike Brown to steadily increase his minutes near the end of the season.

Hill's most important tasks if called upon to start will be to serve as the Lakers' enforcer in the paint and to draw attention away from Gasol in order to allow him more freedom and room to operate in the post.

A few points here and there wouldn't hurt, but Hill's greatest impact will be felt through his hustle and defense, not his offense.

Unlike last season the Lakers have a multitude of scoring options, and if Hill falters it's possible that Brown could turn to one of those more experienced point producers that he's familiar with.

New Laker Antawn Jamison played briefly for Brown in Cleveland, and while he may not have the same strength and size as Hill in the post, he does average nearly eight rebounds per game for his career. His 19.5 points per game suggest he could also provide some of the scoring punch that Hill can't.

If Howard does miss an extended period of regular-season play, the Lakers' goal will be to keep the ship steady and not concede too much ground in the Western Conference race.

Even without Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Gasol should be enough to keep the Lakers in the midst of the postseason picture until Howard returns, but strong play by Hill and Jamison could make the journey a lot easier.

The Lakers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA, but the true measure of their team will not be known until Howard is healthy and on the court and chemistry on the roster has been established.

There will probably be a period of growing pains whether Howard starts the season on the court or not, but with a roster stacked with this much talent it's not how you start. It's where you end.