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Could Magic Johnson Be Key to Making Dwight Howard Next Lakers Great?

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to his foul during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on February 28, 2013 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2013

Kobe Bryant may very well work his magic to create a few final playoff runs in his NBA career, but the Los Angeles Lakers are in need of identifying the next face of the franchise.

And one Lakers legend is doing everything he can to make sure that player is Dwight Howard:

I had an outstanding lunch with Dwight Howard yesterday!

— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 20, 2013

Howard had been tabbed as Bryant's heir apparent when the Lakers acquired him from the Orlando Magic in a four-team blockbuster trade in the summer of 2012. Howard clearly looked the part, as his luggage was lined with six All-Star selections and three Defensive Player of the Year awards.

But the L.A. Howard has looked drastically different from the Orlando version. Limited by the aftereffects of his April 2012 back surgery and a nagging shoulder issue, he's been good but not great—16.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

The aging Lakers core has been a far cry from the potent perimeter players Howard shared the floor with during his Orlando days—yes, the same teammates Howard claimed "nobody wanted" in the days leading up to his highly anticipated return to the Amway Center (via CBSSports.com's Matt Moore).

Considering that Howard is only one of two players in the Lakers' top-eight rotation under the age of 32, it's hard to tell what he'll be surrounded with if he chooses to re-sign over the summer.

But Johnson sees the vast potential of the Lakers' new "Superman" and understands he could be talented enough to keep LA relevant through the upcoming transitional period. You can't teach Howard's size (6'11", 265 lbs) or athleticism, but you can certainly help him raise the level of play to maximize his natural ability.

Johnson is just the second Lakers legend to reach out to Howard this season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league's all-time leading scorer, met with Howard shortly after he was traded to the Lakers (via ESPN.com).

The Lakers don't have a lot to offer Howard on the court.

Bryant and Steve Nash are playing out their twilight years. Pau Gasol has labored through the worst season of his 12-year career (13.4 points and eight rebounds per game). And coach Mike D'Antoni has never looked capable of maximizing Howard's production.

But the team does have history on its side. The Lakers have the second-most championships in league history with 16 and no shortage of legendary talents to share their wisdom with Howard.

Most importantly, though, the Lakers have the option to sell the possibility of him becoming the hero in the next chapter of their storied saga.

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