Bryant and Steve Nash have respected each other and agreed to disagree on a basketball court for their entire careers, both of which span 16 seasons. But, now, in a strange twist of basketball fate, Nash is joining the very team he said he could never see himself playing for—and holds the possibility of winning his first championship in Lakers purple and gold.
Strange as it seems, Steve Nash will now share back court space with Bryant in what promises to be a very entertaining and serious-contending Lakers team come fall. Having one of the game's all-time leading point guards will not only reinvigorate Bryant's game, but it may, in fact, help extend his career beyond the two seasons Mamba has left on his contract.
For 16 years, Kobe Bryant has played without a top-five point guard and, yet, he has won five championships. No disrespect to Derek Fisher, but Bryant has not seen the calibre of a Steve Nash playing next to him his entire career.
By virtue of his being one of basketball's top floor leaders, Nash will free up Bryant and take a lot of the burden off the game's best closer. The two spoke by phone before the deal was consummated, and both agreed that, together, Kobe could legitimately gun for No. 6 and Nash could point towards getting his first championship ring.
This is basketball's latest take on The Odd Couple. It will take getting used to.
Kobe will have to get used to playing without the ball more often. There's no point in having Nash around if he's not going to run the offense. Then again, for most of Bryant's career he's never had (A) a point guard of Nash's caliber or (B) a need for one while playing in Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
The last time the Lakers had a true point guard running the show was Norm Nixon back in the late 1970s, early '80s when he helped them win two championships (1980 and '82). And now that PGs are back in vogue, and the triangle has gone the way of the cassette tape, Bryant and the Lakers have been searching for that one player who can take over the quarterbacking duties.
In his prime, Steve Nash is superior to the Clippers Chris Paul, an elite, All-Star point guard who almost became a Laker last December. And today at 38, Nash is still in the top 5-10 conversation and will give Los Angeles an element on offense it has not seen in decades.
In a Thursday morning radio interview with Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley on 710 ESPN Los Angeles, Nash spoke of how he can help Bryant, even though Kobe is used to having the ball in his hands much of the game:
Kobe is still one of the all-time great players in this game himself,” Nash told Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wily. “I hope he does have the ball in his hands a lot. At the same time, I think it takes pressure off him if someone else can handle the ball and get him the ball in spots, maybe get him a few more easy baskets and at the same time maybe create offense for other guys so he’s not stuck so often having to take on one or two defenders.
Perhaps we can all make each other better because of our different skills. Maybe I can space the floor for those big guys, maybe that will create opportunities for me on pick-and-rolls because of their length and ability to finish at the rim. That combination will hopefully make it a little easier for Kobe as well.
The last two years have taken a toll on Bryant. The Lakers exited the playoffs in the second round each time and won a total of just one game. Though he averaged 27.9 points per game in the regular season, Kobe shot just 43 percent and found himself trying to will his team to win with too much ball handling and poor shot selection.
L.A. still needs shooters if Nash is going to be a big success, and that means players like Bryant and Metta World Peace will need to hit more of their attempts from the perimeter. Securing another shooter or two (Grant Hill, are you listening?) will also help. And someone (Darius Morris, Steve Blake) is going to need to back up Nash who realistically will see about 30 minutes of action per night.
But the thought is that Nash, who is very comfortable orchestrating plays and shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc for his career, will provide L.A. with excellent shooting, creative playmaking and a steadying influence. Nash is an exuberant coach on the floor—Mr. Optimism who will make those around him better.
All of which adds up to a revitalized, rejuvenated and refreshed No. 24. They may appear to be an "Odd Couple," but Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have enough in common to make it work.