Thanks to an active free-agency season courtesy of GM Mitch Kupchak, the Los Angeles Lakers are now in a position where star shooting guard Kobe Bryant could very well match Michael Jordan in winning his sixth championship ring.
With a real point guard in Steve Nash controlling the offense and one of the game's most dominant centers in Dwight Howard manning the middle, the Lakers are now the team to beat in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Combine the new talent's skills with the clutch scoring of Bryant, and the possibilities are truly endless. Needless to say, the fans are excited.
Yet, merely having players like Nash, Howard and even Antawn Jamison on the roster doesn't guarantee the Lakers a title. Rather, each of the team's new stars, along with the team as a whole, will help bring Kobe championship ring No. 6 in their own special way.
For the first time in what seems like decades, the Lakers won't just be the Kobe Bryant Show with special guest star Pau Gasol. This is the true definition of a team and knowing Bryant, he'll stop at nothing to finish the season on top.
The fact of the matter is that the Lakers are in a prime position to win a sixth championship ring with Bryant on the roster. Since their approach is completely unpredictable given the variety of players in the starting lineup, there are a number of ways through which they can go all the way.
The Lakers' experience advantage this year comes in two forms, the first one being the championship history that already exists on the team.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (pictured) have already won two titles together and have proven that, despite occasional arguments, they can play together fairly well. No matter how much of a new look a team has, having guys who have been there for a while and succeeded together is never a bad thing.
However, the real experience advantage comes with the addition of Nash, the Lakers' first true point guard since Nick Van Exel.
A 16-year veteran, the two-time MVP has rocked the hardwood as a phenomenal point guard since the 2000-2001 season, when he was with the Dallas Mavericks. He holds career marks of 14.5 points and 8.6 assists per game, and at the ripe age of 38 he is still one of the most accurate shooters in the NBA, having shot 49 percent from the field for his career and 43 percent from long range.
Simply put, Nash's experience in diversifying an offense is only going to help the Lakers. He's the player who for too long as come so close to winning a title, only to come up short in the end—and this time around, it's safe to say that he could very well not leave the season empty-handed.
Though Andrew Bynum occasionally showed flashes of potential outside of his career season last year, the Lakers haven't really had a top-notch center on defense since the days of Shaquille O'Neal, who helped the team win three consecutive championships from 2000-2002.
That said, the team's acquisition of six-time All-Star center Dwight Howard is all the more exciting.
Howard may not have the size, girth and overall dominance that Shaq brought to the table, but he is still such a force under the basket because he's so long and a phenomenal athlete. At 6'11", 265 pounds, he has averaged 18.4 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for his career. For three consecutive seasons from 2009-2011, he was crowned NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Thus, just how big a role Howard will have in the Lakers' offense remains to be seen. However, it's a certainty that he will run the table on defense as he finally gives Los Angeles the superior big man that they deserve, one that could very well eclipse Shaq in terms of legacy.
Now, it's no secret that Kobe Bryant is the unquestioned leader of the Lakers. Yet, over the past couple of years, his voice just hasn't been enough as the Lakers have started to look old and over the hill.
Gone is the one-two punch of his and O'Neal's voice, not to mention that of Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, and another leader who can fire the team up is needed.
Fortunately, Bryant now has the privilege of playing with Nash for the next three years and as we all know, the Canadian veteran is one of the greatest leaders in the game. He already has a plan for his approach with the Lakers' offense, and given the great deal of talent he has at his fingertips, both in the starting lineup and on the bench, a championship is for him and Bryant to lose this season.
For the past two seasons, the Lakers' greatest weakness has been their predictability.
In any game, the offensive strategy has always been to get the ball to Bryant and let him take over. If he's double-teamed, then get the ball to Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.
However, this season is different in that the Lakers are a better-rounded team and more importantly, Bynum is now on the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to the Dwight Howard trade.
Simply put, head coach Mike Brown no longer needs to lean on Bryant and Gasol for a majority of the team's offense. Nash and Howard can potentially turn the Lakers into an offensive and defensive powerhouse that makes younger and equally deep teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder look like amateur hour.
More importantly, many people have forgotten that the Lakers also have veteran scorer Antawn Jamison as their sixth man.
Combine each of the aforementioned players' talents with those of the incumbent stars, Bryant and Gasol, and the Lakers instantly become one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA for one reason: There may not be any perfect way to defend them anymore.
While the bevy of All-Star talent is all well and good, their work this season will mean nothing without the support of the Lakers' humongous fanbase. These people stick with the team through thick and thin and this season, they'll surely put their rooting into overdrive.
I mean, come on. If your team had Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant in the same lineup, wouldn't you be bouncing off the walls with excitement?
That said, with the fans already excited about the season, the Lakers have won half the battle already. Say what you may about home-court advantage. The fact of the matter is that having the fans at your back and pushing you forward makes quite the difference.
With Jack Nicholson (pictured, center) leading the fans, per usual, this season is bound to be a special one for the Lakers.