The Los Angeles Lakers and superstar Kobe Bryant are chasing twin milestone titles as the 67th NBA season begins on Tuesday, counting on two key additions to help them regain Western Conference supremacy.
With one more title, the Lakers can match the Boston Celtics’ record of 17 NBA crowns, while Bryant could match Michael Jordan’s six career championships.
At 34, Bryant has been to the NBA finals seven times. With more than a thousand regular-season games under his belt – and with the Lakers still feeling the sting of their five-game second-round playoff ouster by the young Oklahoma City Thunder last season – the club have spared no expense in bringing in big man Dwight Howard and veteran point guard Steve Nash.
The Lakers will pay their players $100 million this season, plus tens of millions more in luxury tax for the privilege.
“It’s a big investment made in the team,” said Spain’s Pau Gasol.
“Everybody has a lot of expectations about the team. We ourselves have a great desire of accomplishing all those expectations.”
However, the build-up to Tuesday’s season-opener at home to Dallas has been anything but smooth.
The Lakers went 0-8 in the pre-season, and Bryant is questionable for Tuesday’s game with a strained right foot suffered in one of those defeats.
Whether the infusion of more star talent pays off with a title depends on how well those talents mesh and whether they all stay healthy.
Howard is one of the top defenders in the league, but he arrived from Orlando still seeking full fitness in the wake of back surgery that forced him out of the London Olympics.
Nash, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, has never won an NBA title, and in fact never played in the finals.
The 38-year-old Canadian, who has spent much of his league career trying in vain to get the Phoenix Suns past the Lakers, says he’s looking forward to life on the other side.
“It is one of the marquee franchises in our league and has a great franchise history,” Nash said of the club.
“Those are characteristics you can’t say about every club. That’s something that I feel proud to be part of and excited to hopefully continue the legacy.”
Bryant insists that chemistry won’t be an issue.
“All the pieces fit,” he said. “We all do different things. We all fit together naturally. We just have to keep doing the things we have been doing our entire careers.”
The superstar starters rarely played together in the pre-season, and coach Mike Brown acknowledged that the team would have a few things to work out early in the regular season.
The wealth of talent assembled, however, meant the Lakers could put up wins even before they hit their peak, Brown said.
By the time the second half of the season and the playoffs roll around, everything should be in place for a serious title challenge.
“I think it’s going to take time, but in the same breath, while it’s taking time I think we’re going to be competitive,” Brown said.
“And when it counts, I think we’re going to have a really good chance at it. I’m excited about it.”