If Shaq nags Dwight Howard, it’s only for the Laker’s own good

Lakers center Dwight Howard drives to the basket on Celtics' Kevin Garnett.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Shaquille O’Neal has always prodded Dwight Howard, if not overtly criticized him.

Why? The Big Aristotle provided a Big Reveal before returning to Los Angeles to have his Lakers jersey retired Tuesday at halftime against Dallas.

“I love Dwight and I see his potential. Hopefully when I say these things he gets mad,” O’Neal said in an interview. “Just think about it. At the dunk contest, he dunked on that thing when it was 15 feet. Remember that? OK, so why can’t you back people down [in the post]? Because if you think I didn’t play against great centers, he’s not playing against nobody, you know what I mean?

“So he should be able to back people down and jump-hook them to death. That’s why I envision in him as a player.”

Howard actually jammed on a 12-foot hoop while wearing a Superman cape in the 2009 dunk contest, but why stop O’Neal? He was on a roll.

“Same thing Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] did to me, the same thing Wilt [Chamberlain] did to me,” O’Neal said. “I can remember one time reading an article and I’m averaging 37 [points] in the playoffs and we lose and somebody asks Kareem, ‘Hey, what do you think about Shaq? He’s a great player.’ And Kareem says, ‘Yeah, he’s OK, but he hasn’t won any championships.’ I didn’t respond, I didn’t cry, I just stepped up and got to the next level. So I’m always going to stay on [Howard] because I actually see him being one of the best Lakers ever if he steps up.”

Howard has listened to O’Neal’s critiques over the years — and has his own rebuttal.

“I understand he thinks making me mad in that kind of way is going to push me, but I just feel like if he wants to do that the best way to go about it is to come talk to me personally,” Howard said. “Because when it gets out to the public, they just view it that we just have this big feud going on and that’s not fair to me or him. I just think that he should come to me man to man and say, ‘Hey, this is how I feel.’”

If Howard wants O’Neal to stop pestering him, there are some things he can do. They’re outlined by O’Neal, of course.

“Right now he’s averaging 16 points. From one big man to another, that’s not enough,” O’Neal said. “He should average 28. He should probably get like three shots a quarter. He should get four points a quarter, there goes 16 points right there. Now you need to get me four offensive rebounds and put them back, there goes another eight points. And when he gets to the free-throw line 10 times, I need you to make five. That’s [29] points right there. That’s how my system works. My system was seven points a quarter. If I didn’t give people 28 and 10, I felt like a failure. I was getting doubled, fronted and backed and all that. He’s not getting any of that. So he needs to step up and really, really dominate.”

Howard would like to remind O’Neal, however, that this is 2013.

“The rules are different,” Howard said. “When Shaq played, you could be more of a bulldozer down in the paint. Nowadays, you see it, if I hit somebody just a little bit, they call offensive foul. Plus, I’m 6 [feet] 9, 6-10. If I could play the way he played, it would be a lot of fun.”

Unlike O’Neal, Howard doesn’t always see the ball in crunch time. In six Lakers losses last month, he had a total of five shots in the fourth quarter.

Maybe Howard’s stats will improve when Kobe Bryant retires. Bryant is under contract for one more season. Howard could re-sign with the Lakers this summer for five more seasons.

“You can’t do it by yourself,” O’Neal said. “You need that 1-2 punch or that 1-2-3 punch a la Miami and a la what Boston did. He’ll get his points, but it isn’t about points. It’s about seeing how many rings you can get.”

Nash update

Steve Nash is doubtful for Tuesday’s game, Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said Monday. Nash has left the Lakers’ last two games because of hamstring and hip injuries.