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Kobe clings to his crown

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012 12:05 am

Kobe Bryant is angry. On the heels of an exciting season where LeBron James established himself as the league’s best player by finally asserting himself to win a NBA title, Bryant wants revenge. Though he’s a year older and a step slower, Bryant wasn’t quite ready to relinquish his spot at the top of the basketball food chain.

Of course, Bryant didn’t give up his crown willfully. The title was forcibly taken after back-to-back seasons that ended in embarrassing second-round playoff exits at the hands of the Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Bryant became the past, James the present and Durant the future. It seemed that the Heat and Thunder had enough stars stacked together on their respective rosters to make last year’s Finals a common matchup over the next few seasons. But lo and behold, Bryant and his Lakers have revamped their own star power in Tinsel town and look poised to make some serious noise in the West.

If you haven’t heard by now, the Lakers signed future hall of famer Steve Nash over the summer. In Nash, the Lakers finally have a top-tier point guard. The team also dealt away enigmatic center Andrew Bynum and got Dwight Howard in return. Add Bryant and Gasol to the mix and you’ve essentially got an all-star starting cast in purple and gold. Even Metta World Peace, the fifth starter, is a former all-star who can still defend at an elite level.

A glance at the Lakers’ starting five reveals virtually no holes. The biggest challenge for the team shouldn’t have anything to do with skill, it’ll be making sure they mesh on the court. If they’re not careful, they could be fighting egos as much as opponents.

Nash should fit in well as a pass-first point guard. Even though he’s up there in years, Nash is one of the most prolific passers in the league. He may be a liability on the defensive end but he’ll give opposing teams nightmares with his ball distribution skills. Howard’s defensive magnificence should make up for Nash’s deficiency but it should be interesting to watch how Diva Dwight meshes with the Black Mamba (Bryant).

It’s no secret that the Orlando Magic trade drama was due to Howard’s attempts to call his own shots. He wanted to go to Brooklyn where he could’ve been “the man” in a high profile market. With the star-studded talent in L.A., he’ll just be one of the guys. It remains to be seen whether the charismatic, bright-eyed slam dunk contest winner will show up in L.A. or the sullen, whiny brat that forced his way out of Orlando.

Bryant gave warning that the he’s still the alpha dog on the Lakers. "I don't want to get into the, 'Well, we share ...' No, it's my team,” Bryant told reporters.

Thus far, Howard has stated he’s OK playing second fiddle, but we’ll see if that holds up the moment he begins to feel he’s not getting enough attention. (Remember, Bryant didn’t get along too well with the last Orlando big man that came to L.A. But even then, they were able to get past the beef to bring home some hardware.)

Pau Gasol is probably just happy he’s still with the team. The talented Spaniard has often ate much of the blame for the team’s recent failures and is seemingly on the trade block every season. But as long as Nash can get him consistent touches, Gasol should thrive playing alongside Howard. He can excel as a help side defender and opponents won’t be have Andrew Bynum to sucker into stupid fouls or ignore as he gazes at the laser show during the middle of a play.

Metta World Peace will be the X-factor, as he’s capable of going crazy at any given time and toppling the whole team with his antics. But even then, the Lakers signed Antawn Jamison as insurance to step in if MWP goes nuclear again.

As a Mavericks and Thunder fan, it pains me to say that the Lakers have re-emerged as the favorite in the West and maybe in the entire league. If the players and their egos can remain injury-free, it’s tough to see them falling to anyone in a four-game series. Of course, talent alone doesn’t guarantee success. Just ask the 2011 Heat or the 2006 Lakers, which featured Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone but lost in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons. If the Lakers can’t learn to play together quickly, the young Thunder will continue their quest to keep Bryant and his buddies’ glory in the past.

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