Los Angeles Lakers: Why Title Hopes Still Rest on Kobe Bryant's Shoulders
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With their recent acquisition of Steve Nash, few teams have been in the news more this offseason than the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nash figures to be a massive upgrade at point guard over last year's rotation of Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. Teaming up with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt, and a couple All-Star caliber post players in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers hope the addition of Nash is enough to put them over the top in the Western Conference.
However, even after adding a two-time MVP at point guard, the Lakers' title hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of five-time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant. Nash will give the Lakers a new look next season, but don't get it twisted—this is Kobe's team and the team will go as far as he takes them.
Let's take a look at three reasons the Lakers' title hopes rest on Kobe's shoulders.
1. Kobe Will Remain the Focus on Offense
As long as he's still playing, Kobe is LA's go-to guy.
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In recent years, Kobe has been given the green light to do as he pleases offensively, and that may change slightly with Steve Nash in the fold. Nash has made his living, and won two MVP awards, by being an unselfish player and facilitating for his teammates.
Because Nash is now in the fold, Bryant's isolation opportunities may decrease to a certain degree; however, No. 24 will remain the team's clear go-to player on offense.
Although Kobe has done much of his damage in one-on-one situations, Nash's presence will result in open shots for Bryant, as well as the rest of the team's supporting cast. The 16-year veteran point guard is perhaps the most crafty player in basketball, and he'll set up Gasol and Bynum with easy scoring opportunities under the basket, and he'll certainly know where Bryant is at all times.
Nash is at his very best running the fast break, and although Bryant isn't the athlete he once was, he can still move up and down the court, and he still possesses the ability to score near the basket as well as from the perimeter.
Bryant loves the spotlight, and one thing that will not change as a result of Nash's presence, is Bryant's willingness to take the last shot with the game on the line.
No player in the NBA has taken more shots in the clutch—the last five minutes in a five-point game—than Bryant since 2000. In fact, as of February 29th, Kobe had taken 362 more than Paul Pierce, the second player on the list. Although Kobe isn't nearly as automatic in the clutch as some make him out to be, shooting just 39 percent in those situations, no player feeds off the pressure as much as Bryant does.
Whether you surround him with "a bunch of guys" or you add a two-time MVP, as long as Kobe is still playing basketball, he'll be the focus of the offense and he'll take the last shot.
2. Nash Will Be Nash; It's Up to Kobe to Respond
Will Kobe defer to Nash to get the offense going?
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When you acquire Steve Nash to be your team's starting point guard, it's under the assumption that he'll be in charge of the offense and everything will fall into place around him. In his last eight seasons in the NBA, Nash has averaged 10.9 assists per game.
With the Lakers, things won't be any different for Nash—he is what he is, an elite facilitator. He won't be asked to change his tendencies with his new team.
But Kobe, with an unselfish, playmaking point guard on his side, faces the task of slightly adjusting his game to fit Nash's strengths. Last year's combination of Ramon Sessions and Steve Nash were nothing more than stop-gap option at the position, but Nash, even at age 38, is an All-Star player who will control the flow of the offense and demand control of the ball.
As a result, Bryant will need to defer to Nash in certain situations and trust that the ball will come back to him if he's open within the flow of the offense.
The top point guards in today's NBA, for the most part, are a different breed than in years past. Players like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are score-first point guards, who will set up their teammates if they're unable to find their own shot. Nash, however, is the exact opposite.
Nash is like an artist on the basketball court. Armed with several capable scorers around him, his creativity paints a beautiful picture within his team's offense, all while filling the box score. If his teammates are willing to buy in to Nash's tendencies, the Lakers could improve astronomically.
Kobe can still rely on his strengths as one of the best scorers in the league, but instead of relying on isolations and taking on the defense one-on-five, he must trust that Nash will find him open looks.
If the Lakers are going to win a Championship in 2012, it won't be up to Nash to alter his game. It will be up to Kobe.
3. With Five Rings, Kobe Is Clearly the Team Leader
Kobe has 5 Championships, his teammates respond to his lead.
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Within the game of basketball, teams play a game of "follow the leader." Everywhere from high school to the NBA, teams go as far as their leaders take them.
Whether you're a fan of LeBron James or you're a member of the "Miami Hate," this year's NBA Champions were able to overcome a postseason filled with adversity because they followed the lead of James, their team leader and league MVP.
Although Nash will direct the Lakers' offensive attack this year, Kobe remains the clear team leader, and it'll be up to him to put the team on his back in times of trouble.
Nash is an eight-time All-Star and a two-time MVP, but Kobe is an MVP, a 14-time All-Star and a five-time NBA Champion. If there's any question as to who the team's leader will be, there really shouldn't be. Kobe has played his entire 16-year career with the Lakers, and his competitiveness is certainly well-respected among his teammates.
Both Nash and Kobe are known for their fierce competitiveness, but in regards to the Lakers, Kobe's five rings far outweigh Nash's accomplishments.
Kobe's the guy who doesn't want to lose a game "Horse" in practice. He wouldn't forgive his best friend for beating him in Tetris.
This borderline overly-competitive nature has been the subject of criticism over the years, but within the locker room, it demands the respect of his teammates.
The Lakers already had a solid supporting cast, and Nash is an incredible addition. But Kobe is the team's clear leader, and the Lakers will go as far as he takes them.