Lakers Without Dominant Big Man Face Crossroads With Franchise

Greg StarddardContributor IIIJuly 10, 2013

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 21:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers during Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 21, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I keep hearing the Los Angeles Lakers will be fine now that embattled center Dwight Howard has fled to the Houston Rockets. Howard may or may not get what he wants in the Lone Star State, but in the meantime the Lakers have some gaping holes to fill for the immediate future. The future looms with first ballot Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant facing retirement within three years. Are the Lakers going to be fine without Howard?

Howard needed work to get to the point of leading teams to NBA championships. He wasn't there yet and the jury is still out on whether he'll ever get there. But now that he's off getting fit for new cowboy boots, Los Angeles needs to get busy.

Chris Kaman will fill the role for a year. He's a seven-footer, and as everyone knows you can't teach height. He'll take up a lot of room in the paint and can get aggressive at times. Maybe the Lakers need that in the middle. What they won't have in Kaman is 20 points a night. He's not a consistent offensive threat, and he got a one-year deal. Is that the end of discussion here?

For the first time in many, many years, the Lakers will not have a dominant center. They've always managed to sign the premier guy in the middle over the years, but not this time. How could one say no to a historic franchise with the reputation of the Lakers? Playing center in Los Angeles used to be a privilege that was earned. These days we have a guy turning it down! Unthinkable.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar will probably be remembered as the greatest center in L.A. Shaquille O'Neal wasn't too shabby either. For the old timers, Wilt Chamberlain was unstoppable. For the NBA purists, center George Mikan got the ball rolling before the Lakers left Minneapolis. Heck, Mikan won five championships for the purple and gold back in the day.

It seems almost inconceivable Howard didn't want to become a part of this group. They've all won championships. They've all gone to the Hall of Fame. They've all done it the right way and more importantly did it with flair and success.

Los Angeles and its revamped front office needs to figure it out. I remember when players would do anything possible to play for the Lakers. It was an attraction. It was a goal. The Lakers can't afford to let the shine disappear. Jim Buss and company must once again make the team a destination. As I said, they've got work to do.

I don't want to hear this discussion of sliding Pau Gasol over to the center spot at times and he'll be okay. Really? Gasol can play center, but can he play the position effectively? Does he have the intensity to bump and grind with the Roy Hibberts and Tyson Chandlers of the league? More importantly, can he regain the form of an NBA All-Star power forward? What happened to Pau? Can someone please tell me? I miss the 2009-10 Pau.

Not having a quality center in L.A. is like having cereal without milk in the morning. It's tough to swallow.

Watching the team put up billboards to convince someone to stay with the Lakers was an interesting move. It seemed weird the team had to go to such great lengths to convince someone to stay in Southern California. It was also strange seeing someone unsure if he wanted to be the starting center for a franchise with 16 championships, How can anyone walk away from this job?

Playing center for the Lakers is a dream job, isn't it? I know there are big shoes to fill, but certainly Howard had the potential. He had the size. He had a Hall of Famer in Kobe. Isn't this one of the jobs kids are hoping to get one day if they make it to the NBA? Did Howard turn down the chance of a lifetime?

Every Laker championship team had the big guy in the middle. Chamberlain's massive wing span and far-reaching sweeping flip shot over the rim are legendary and worth finding on YouTube if you haven't seen it. He was just too tall, and defenders were always mismatched. Wilt's arms were very long and intimidating and everyone knew it was just a matter of time before he and Jerry West won the title and they did.

Kareem played 20 years in the NBA. He won five rings while playing with the Lakers. His sky hook was history in the making. No one had ever done it or seen it. It was almost impossible to stop. Your only defense against the sky hook was hoping he'd miss the shot. That's how effective it was and he kept the legacy going at the position with the Lakers.

Shaq was the best player at his position in the league during the early and middle part of his career. He had a great run commanding the paint while wearing purple and gold. He was so big and powerful they invented "hack-a-shaq" to stop him. The conventional wisdom: foul him and send him to the free-throw line and hope he misses because he's too big to stop any other way.

Shaq knew the history of the position with L.A. and he took the ball and ran with it. The plan was for Howard to be the next great big man for the Lakers, but it was not to be. So what's next for a team that traditionally had the best big man in the game? Is it rebuilding time or can we scrape some cash together and sign another scorer?

The Lakers have a lot of money tied up in two players, Kobe's $30 million and Gasol's $19 million. There isn't a lot of flexibility there this season. Next season? It's a different story, and they have a ton of money to spend on someone. And I won't waste my time on the LeBron speculation in this space.

Buss, sister Jeanie, and general manager Mitch Kupchak should be in the office as I type this. I hope they have a plan. Is the 2013-14 season irrelevant? is the team looking ahead to 2014-15 when they'll have the cash to go after a superstar or two?

Who is Kobe gonna pass the torch to in two to three years? The great Lakers have always passed the torch to someone, right?  There was always someone waiting in the wings to grab the baton and lead the purple and gold to more championships. Where is that person and who is he?

I never had doubts about the late Dr. Jerry Buss when the Lakers were facing lean years. Dr. Buss always had a way of swinging the big deal. He was a master at his craft and the banners hanging at Staple's Center are proof of that.

The Los Angeles Lakers are at a crossroads. Which way will they go?