Is Dwight Howard's Legacy Better Tied to Kobe Bryant or James Harden?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJune 14, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets shoots over Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 99-95 in overtime.   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

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard will make a decision in the near future that will shape the rest of his legacy. Unfortunately, the fact that Howard even feels like a choice is necessary should be telling.

The Lakers are willing to hand over the reins of what is arguably the NBA's most glamorous and successful franchise to Howard, but according to sources, Howard is seriously considering offers from other teams, with Houston being the most prominent.

Apparently the opportunity to play with Rockets guard James Harden is an intriguing option for Howard—especially when compared to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant's legacy has already been crafted, sealed with purple and gold blood and stamped with five NBA championships.

If Howard stays with the Lakers, he can help add to Bryant's legacy, but he can't make it worse.

In Houston, Howard could team with Harden and possibly win one or even two titles, but when it comes to legacies, that decision misses the point.

Maybe Howard and Harden contend for the first rings of their careers, but where would that place him in a legacy comparison with the best player to ever man his position in Houston?

Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the most graceful and skilled centers in NBA history, and the two championships he helped bring to Houston in 1994-95 will be remembered forever.

But where does Olajuwon and his "dream shake" rank when it comes to the best centers of all time?

Curiously, Olajuwon is rarely mentioned when it comes to the greatest post players of all time, and there are few people who would rate him above any legendary center who has played in Los Angeles as a Laker.

Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal are widely considered as three of the top 15 players in NBA history, and Chamberlain and Kareem are in most people's top five.

Olajuwon's talent and two rings may not afford him that same type of respect, and Howard will never be the player that Olajuwon was. But that argument also misses the point.

This isn't about Howard's legacy playing beside Kobe Bryant or James Harden.

This is about being a star center for the Lakers or the Rockets.

Howard may experience more temporary success as a Rocket with James Harden, but donning the purple and gold lasts a lifetime.

Howard will never be more than the second best center in Rockets' history, but when Kobe finally does decide to retire, Howard could become the next great center for a franchise that has defined the position.

And as Kevin Costner was famously told in Field of Dreams, "If you build it, he will come."

It's no coincidence that the Lakers will only have Steve Nash under contract after next season if Howard chooses not to re-sign, and it's also no secret that the Lakers have never had problems attracting high profile free agents.

You may call it arrogance, but in reality, would you really be surprised if LeBron James chose to take his talents to L.A. in 2014? 

Lakers fans may be the most arrogant in the NBA, but that reputation has been earned and certified by history.

Howard certainly has the arrogance needed to be a great Laker, but the respect can only be earned through performance on the hardwood—when it really matters the most.

If Howard chooses to spurn Los Angeles for Houston, it would be definitive proof that he's not ready to lead the franchise into the future, and when it comes to the legacies of Bryant and Harden, whose is easier to qualify?

Harden has the skill and ability to be a great NBA player and just maybe a champion. Kobe has already conquered that path.

Howard and Harden could bring Houston back to its glory days of the mid-90s. But even if they manage to win a ring or two, would any real Houston fan have the guts to say that Howard was better than Olajuwon?

However, if Howard wins a ring or two as a Laker, he is already cast into the conversation as one of the league's greatest all-time centers because that's what being a Laker is.

Winning a championship as a Laker will always be more important than winning a championship as a Rocket, and that theory is true if you play beside Kobe Bryant or James Harden.

No disrespect to Houston fans, but Harden's legacy is just as empty as Howard's, and there's no guarantee that a pairing will result in rings.

And regardless of what happens in a Harden-Howard reality, there is nothing that "H-squared" could ever do that would measure up to Bryant's time with the Lakers.