L.A. Lakers: Can Dwight Howard Handle Walking in Shaquille O'Neal's Footsteps?

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L.A. Lakers: Can Dwight Howard Handle Walking in Shaquille O'Neal's Footsteps?
Elsa/Getty Images

Shaquille O'Neal has never been one to mince words when it comes to his opinion of Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, and the newest superstar member of the Lakers should be prepared for a season full of skepticism from his now-fraternal brother.

Shaq has made it no secret that he thinks Howard's career has been a fraud, ripped directly from Shaq's own NBA path, which does hold some merit when you consider Howard's career timeline.

Howard began his career in the same city that O'Neal once dominated, adopted or stole Shaq's Superman moniker and is now set to thrill the masses in the same city where O'Neal built his legacy.

As you could imagine, Shaq is not too thrilled with Howard's latest venture, and he cast yet another barb in Howard's direction during a recent interview reported by the LA Times.

"I have three sons and I always tell them that if you want to call yourself big, then you have big shoes to fill. Anybody who calls himself big has big shoes to fill. Right now, he's off pace. He has to get himself on pace if he wants to call himself big."

Shaq's reference to Howard can hardly be described as a vote of confidence for the approaching season, and one of the least-probed aspects surrounding the new-look Lakers is Howard's ability to deal with what could be a constant barrage of criticism from O'Neal.

Especially when you consider Shaq's long reach as a TNT analyst.

Every misstep or failure by Howard will be overly scrutinized from a national platform by O'Neal, and the only way that Howard can potentially turn him off will be to realize his promise as a Laker.

One of the reasons O'Neal has been so critical of Howard is that he is the only player who has recently had the same type of impact at his position.

The mirror-like career paths have not helped matters, but Shaq's disdain for Howard is probably greater now because Howard has an opportunity to possibly equal or surpass Shaq's legacy with the Lakers.

Or, at the very least, Howard has the chance to insert his name into the annals of great Lakers centers.

And Howard has the chance to do it by playing alongside Kobe Bryant, no less.

Bryant and O'Neal's feuds were legendary, but Shaq's constant glare and the memory of old wounds could draw Howard and Bryant closer as teammates, as the Times article suggests.

Bryant has greatly matured since the Lakers' broken dynasty of the early 2000s, and while he may still believe he is the Lakers' present, he acknowledges that Howard represents the team's future.

Kobe also knows from his days with Shaq that titles come a lot easier when you have the benefit of the game's most dominant interior player, and his pursuit of greater glory will prevent the same types of clashes with Howard.

Howard's approach is still key because he can either use O'Neal's scrutiny as motivation to construct his own legacy in Los Angeles, or let what is sure to be a wave of criticism force him to leave during free agency.

The choice is up to Howard.

Shaq is just as good at talking and pontificating as he was on the basketball court, and the only way for Howard to shut him up for good may be to start his own championship legacy in Los Angeles.

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