Can the L.A. Lakers Prosper With Dwight Howard Hurt?

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIISeptember 27, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) walks with General Manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers being introduced as the newest member of the Lakers at a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers aquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers will be down a man to start the season as Dwight Howard continues to rehab from back surgery. D12 will miss training camp, preseason and according to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, he may miss the season opener on Oct. 30.

So just how long can the Lakers stay afloat without Howard available? Well, given their roster loaded with talent, keeping their heads above water shouldn’t be an arduous task.

In Howard’s early absence, Pau Gasol will be able to play center and return to the post where he’s most effective. Even though Howard will be sidelined, this bodes well for Gasol in the early going.

While Gasol is expected to slide to the center position, Howard’s likely replacement in the starting lineup, Jordan Hill, should be able to keep the engine running.

Although Hill suffers from the dreaded small sample size, he was very effective for the Lakers a season ago. In the second-to-last game of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hill played 35 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and added three blocked shots. Not a bad day’s work for a reserve.

In addition to Hill’s solid performance against OKC, the former University of Arizona Wildcat notched two double-doubles in the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets. He’s no Dwight Howard, but as a substitute fill-in option, the Lakers could do much worse (see: Slava Medvedenko or Samaki Walker).

The Lakers’ frontcourt depth will be hindered with Howard sidelined, but considering their frontcourt depth last season included workloads from Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, a trio of Gasol, Hill and Antawn Jamison is nothing to sneeze at.

The Lakers’ frontcourt will have no problem staying competitive while Howard recuperates, but where the Lakers are truly formidable is the backcourt.

Even though Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are a combined 72 years old, both are proven leaders that have carried sub-par teams in the past; so leading a squad that includes Gasol, Jamison, Hill and even Metta World Peace should prove to be a walk in the park.

Last season, Nash led a vastly mediocre Phoenix Suns team to a .500 record (nearly to a miraculous playoff berth). Of all the Suns’ players a season ago, only Marcin Gortat averaged more than 15 points per game at 15.4. The next highest scoring Sun was Jared Dudley with 12.7 points per game.

If Howard spends a week or even a month on the shelf, the teammate tandem of Bryant/Gasol is far better than Dudley/Gortat. With a two-time MVP award winner at the helm, the Lakers have no need to panic about Howard’s surgically repaired back.

As if Nash’s resume with shoddy teams wasn’t enough, Bryant’s is even more impressive.

During the 2006-07 season, Bryant led a roster that highlighted Luke Walton, Smush Parker and Kwame Brown to a 42-40 record, making the playoffs. Even as a Suns fan, I admit that Bryant should have won the MVP race that year by a landslide. If Bryant and his 31.6 point-per-game average from that year was replaced with any other NBA player not named LeBron James, that team wouldn’t have even sniffed the playoffs.

If Howard manages to re-injure his back in the coming weeks, the Lakers will have something to worry about. However, even if he misses the first one-to-two months of the regular season as a worst case scenario, the Lakers will survive.

The ultimate goal is winning the Larry O’Brien trophy, so waiting until Howard is 100 percent healthy has to be the game plan. The Lakers may not reach Metta World Peace’s lofty expectations of a 73-9 record, but they’ll be in the playoff picture.

As long as Howard has had a chance to gel with his teammates by that time, the Lakers have solid odds of winning it all once again.