Much of the basketball world will have its eyes on the Los Angeles Lakers in the coming months.
The Lakers are preparing for their regular season opener on Tuesday, 30 October, against Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks. At the centre of Los Angeles’ title aspirations is Kobe Bryant and new recruit Dwight Howard.
Howard, 26, states that game will be the start of a great on-court relationship with Bryant.
“Me and Kobe have talked many times about it and I think it’ll be great,” Howard said. “Learning from Kobe, I think, is something that I need for myself, so I can grow as a player and as a person.
“He’s been through almost every situation possible, on the court and off the court.”
Even while both men say the situation is ideal, stars like LeBron James and the Miami Heat are eager to see how the partnership will work. The 34-year-old Bryant is a ferocious perfectionist with famously little patience for team-mates who aren’t serious about winning — including Andrew Bynum, the sometimes-immature All-Star centre dispatched in the deal for Howard.
Howard raised league-wide doubts about his maturity during his strange, protracted departure from the Orlando Magic over the past two years and Howard has just one season left on his contract.
Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace join Howard and Bryant on the Lakers’ star-studded line-up. Nash states everyone is thrilled to be part of a superstar-driven production.
“I’m sure we’ll draw a little bit of attention from time to time this year,” said Nash, who will chase his first ring after the Lakers acquired him from the Phoenix Suns. “I think probably from the outside, it appears this is going to be a cinch.
“We’ve got a bunch of great players, we’ll come together and win 60-something games and go into the playoffs as a contender, but it’s going to be a big challenge for us. With so many personalities and dominant players, to try to find a cohesion and understanding is going to be a big challenge.”
After carrying the entire Magic franchise on his broad shoulders for most of the past eight years, Howard has more help than he ever imagined on the West Coast. The Lakers also appear remarkably balanced, from Nash’s peerless playmaking and World Peace’s defensive prowess to the selfless supporting play of Gasol. Bryant is thrilled with his supporting cast.
“On its face, it’s the best talent I’ve been around,” Bryant said. “Whether that translates into a winning a championship remains to be seen, but just on paper, you’re talking about defensive player of the years, MVPs, All-Stars — guys who are at the top of their position and have been at the top for a long time.”
Bryant suited up with all types of team-mates during his first 16 years in Los Angeles. His relationship with Shaquille O’Neal yielded three championships and four NBA finals trips under Phil Jackson’s stewardship, yet ultimately ended in 2004 with both players eager to be apart. Bryant maintains this time will be different.
“It’s a different dynamic than when I was here with Shaq, because I had to do something that I naturally don’t do, which is be a quarterback and make plays for other people. The responsibility of him getting the ball fell on me and this is not naturally what I do. I figured it out, but here, that’s Steve Nash.
“Steve is the quarterback and he has a great system and offence to play around with and manipulate and I just slide to my natural spots.”
Bryant and Howard can’t immediately get to work on their on-court chemistry, of course. Howard still has no timetable for his return to the court from offseason back surgery.
Yet, Howard is feeling better every day while working with the Lakers’ training staff. He worked on post moves and the big man is eager to contribute.
“I don’t want to have any setbacks. I don’t want to play a couple of games and then have to sit down. I want to be able to play the whole season. I owe that to the fans and the team.
“We all have one mission, one goal. I want to be 100 per cent before that, so I can give my team-mates everything I’ve got.”