But now that Superman has flown his talents to the Houston Rockets, there's not a panicked Lakers fan in sight. Nor should there be.
The proud purple-and-gold nation knows that there may well be a letdown in the short-term now that their disastrous one-year experiment with Howard is officially over. It also knows that better days still lie ahead in a not-so distant future.
With a $70-million-plus payroll on the books for the 2013-14 season, the Lakers can't afford a quick-fix option. If Kobe Bryant enjoys a full recovery from his torn Achilles and Steve Nash and Pau Gasol carry clean bills of health into next season, L.A. might not need any help.
While Howard's frenzied free-agent chase was covered as a make-or-break situation for the Lakers, Bryant told Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times the real-life effects won't be nearly as dire:
I know this organization is going to figure out the best thing going forward. One way or the other, it just seems like this is one of the franchises that always lands on its feet. So whatever happens, is what was supposed to happen.
Bryant's a savvy businessman, but his comments here were more than just public relations damage control. With five championships since 2000 and 16 titles in the franchise's rich history, Bryant is simply repeating the same story that history has already shared with us.
And reminiscing isn't the only way that he's held on to hope for his team. A little forward thinking highlights the fact that the Lakers could be less than 12 months away from making their own splash in the free-agent pool.
Assuming the team keeps the rest of its offseason activity restricted to one-year moves, L.A.'s only financial commitment toward the 2014-15 salary cap is Nash's $9.7 million contract. The Lakers might not convince one of the prized 2014 free agents (Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James) to come to L.A., but their cupboard doesn't have to be completely barren when they go star searching.
A reasonable contract extension with Bryant could go a long way toward putting the Lakers in prime economic position, but a completely healthy Mamba could mean even more. Howard proved that not every superstar is built to compete alongside Bryant, but the Lakers legend shares a rich championship history with some of the best bigs of the 2000s.
L.A.'s transaction history is perhaps even greater.
The Lakers turned Don Ford and a first-round pick in 1980 into Hall of Famer James Worthy. Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrell Imhoff were once swapped out for Wilt Chamberlain. The Lakers nabbed transcendent star Magic Johnson with a compensatory draft pick. Bryant himself landed in L.A. courtesy of a draft-day exchange with the then-Charlotte Hornets.
It's easy to remember the Lakers' highly decorated group of former players, but sometimes the hoops world forgets just how many of them arrived in L.A. by way of some masterful front office maneuvers.
With no young help coming through the pipeline, the Lakers' brass is in dire need of another larcenous transaction.
Even with the changing faces at the head of the organization, it's hard to imagine the decision makers needing too much time to restore the Lakers' luster.
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