Dwight Howard Must Follow in Shaq's Post-LA Lakers Footsteps to Save Legacy

Richard Le@rle1993Contributor IIIJuly 6, 2013

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 15:  Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Western Conference goes up against Dwight Howard #12 of the Eastern Conference during the 58th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Although the dislike between Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard continues to be fueled by Shaq's recent comments, via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, Howard should take some pointers out of O'Neal's book in order to save his very damaged legacy.

Howard and O'Neal have a lot more in common than O'Neal would like to admit.

Both starting their careers with the Orlando Magic, the two Supermen led their young squads to the finals as the most dominant interior forces in the league during their respective tenures. 

While Shaquille O'Neal was a far superior offense force even in his Magic days, he was not the defensive force that Dwight Howard was during his years with the Magic.

Both players had their strengths and weaknesses. Both players fled the smaller Orlando market for the bright lights of Los Angeles.

However, while O'Neal flourished and carved out his legacy as one of the greatest big men in the history of the NBA, Howard continued to find scorn and scrutiny for what is being perceived as the inability to perform under pressure.

Consider their post-L.A. circumstances.

An aging Shaquille O'Neal joined the Miami Heat to win one title without Kobe Bryant and validate his status as a winner. While he was not the O'Neal of old, he was still capable of rebounding the basketball and scoring 20 points a game. 

Averaging 20 points and nine rebounds per game during the regular season and 18 points and 10 rebounds per game during the playoffs en route to a championship in 2006, O'Neal cemented his legacy as a winner no matter who his teammates are.

While he was playing second fiddle to Dwyane Wade by his second season with the Heat, it did nothing to mitigate the validation he received as a champion.

Although Howard isn't a champion like O'Neal was following his tenure with the Lakers, he is joining a young team that resembles the Heat squad O'Neal became a part of.

In Houston, Howard will create a tandem with James Harden, the high-volume shooting guard who has become the superstar and franchise player with the Houston Rockets the same way Dwyane Wade ascended in his early days with the Heat.

If Howard can put the Rockets over the top and win a title with them the way O'Neal did with the Heat, he will validate his choice to move on from the Lakers.

While he may still be considered unable to win on his own, getting the championship monkey off of his back may lead to bigger and better things (see LeBron James circa 2012). 

With the Heat, Shaquille O'Neal was an interior force that commanded double-teams and used that attention to help create lanes for his teammates. 

Although he had regressed on both ends of the court, he used his size and strength to be a force in the paint on both ends of the court.

While it is unfair to compare Dwight Howard to Shaquille O'Neal in his prime, it is more than fair to compare Howard to the Miami incarnation of the original son of Jor-El. 

Howard's presence and force rivaled the declining O'Neal in terms of sheer physicality. Whereas O'Neal was dominant using his unparalleled size and strength, Howard used to dominate with his athleticism and leaping ability pre-back injury. 

If Howard can come close to matching O'Neal's production offensively, he can make an even bigger impact in Houston than O'Neal did in Miami. Howard is a superior defensive player than O'Neal was even in his prime. 

With shooters surrounding Howard in Houston, they could run a system similar to how Orlando used to play with Howard as its centerpiece. 

Howard saw the most success on the court when he was surrounded by shooters and able to use his physical prowess to gather offensive rebounds and create second-chance opportunities. 

The difference between Howard's supporting cast in Orlando and his supporting cast in Houston is that he has more youthful athleticism this time around.

Surrounded by shooters and athletes such as Harden and Chandler Parsons, Howard will have creators and three-point shooters to potentially stretch the floor better than Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson post-2009. 

The key is for Howard to eventually win a title with Houston. Following in O'Neal's footsteps and winning a title after his tenure with the Lakers is the only way to begin to repair his legacy.