Kobe Bryant has never been one to shy away from controversial statements. That's why it came as no surprise when he declared the 2012-13 edition of the Lakers as the best team (on paper) that he's been a part of.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bryant was forthright in his praise for his team that has added several big names this offseason:
"On its face, it's the best talent I've been around," said Bryant, entering his 17th NBA season. "Whether that translates into winning a championship, that remains to be seen. But just on paper, you're obviously talking about defensive players of the years, MVPs, All-Stars. You're talking about a myriad of things where guys are on top of their position and have been at the top of their position."
Kobe is absolutely right that the 2012-13 Lakers are the most talented team he's been a part of, but if they can't bring home a championship, it simply won't matter how good they look on paper.
With that said, it would feel unfair to rank this year's Lakers among historical teams with established pedigrees. Thus, they will be omitted from the list.
As the season approaches, we take a look back at the Kobe Bryant's five greatest Laker teams.
Kobe Bryant's fifth title was arguably his sweetest. Defeating the Boston Celtics in seven grueling games, the Lakers avenged their NBA Finals loss from the 2007-08 season.
Against their most bitter rival, Kobe and company were able to fend off the Celtics, thanks to a clutch Game 7 performance from none other than Ron Artest.
Despite going 6-of-24 from the field in the series' decisive game, Kobe was stellar for the series, posting more than 21 points in all seven games.
Another pleasant surprise on that 2000-10 squad was point guard Derek Fisher, who was steady throughout the playoffs.
Averaging just over 10 points per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range, Fisher was an invaluable veteran leader alongside Kobe who helped propel the Lakers to title No. 16.
The 1999-2000 Lakers embarked on a quest that ended with them being labeled NBA champions. With Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal leading the charge, the Lakers captured the first title of the Bryant era, defeating the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in the NBA Finals.
With a supporting cast that many have since forgotten, the Lakers' third-leading scorer during that championship season was Glen Rice, with Ron Harper and Rick Fox rounding out the top five.
According to Basketball Reference, the Lakers were first in defensive rating (98.2) during the 1999-2000 campaign, finishing with a record of 67-15 under head coach Phil Jackson.
Although they may not have had a star-studded roster like many of the recent Laker teams, Kobe's first championship was one that was earned on defense as much as it was on offense.
The 2008-2009 Los Angeles Lakers were nearly unbeatable. Finishing 65-17, the Lakers captured the league's second-best record behind the Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16), and ultimately defeated the Orlando Magic 4-1 in the NBA Finals.
With a supporting cast that boasted Pau Gasol, a young Andrew Bynum and the versatile Lamar Odom, the Lakers proved to be too much for an over-matched Orlando team that relied too heavily on the production of Dwight Howard.
Outside of the Lakers' core four contributors, there was solid talent and depth that helped hold the team's second unit together. The primary reserves on the 2008-09 championship team were Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown
All of the role players listed above had their moments, but Ariza was easily the most valuable. Ariza was productive in the postseason, averaging 11.3 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting from the field.
The 2001-2002 NBA season represented the apex of the Kobe-Shaq era in Los Angeles.
From 2000 to 2002, no team was as dominant as the Los Angeles Lakers. Behind Kobe Bryant and Shaq, the boys from Tinseltown boasted the most potent inside-outside duo in the game.
Led by the league's two biggest superstars, the Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets in four games, with Shaq bringing home Finals MVP honors. Throughout the entirety of the 2001-02 playoffs, Shaq posted a PER of 28.3, with an effective field-goal percentage of just under 53 percent.
The emergence of marksman Robert Horry was huge, providing the Lakers with another offensive wrinkle that made them nearly impossible to defend. After all, who could possibly forget his game-winning three in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals?
Other contributors such as Rick Fox, Devean George and Samaki Walker played reserve roles, but they were necessary components of the championship formula.
If there's one player who exemplifies a Philadelphia attitude on the basketball court, it's Kobe Bryant. Playing with grit and determination that are unmatched in today's game, Kobe works tirelessly, just like the people of the city he called home as a youth.
However, after rifts with the city and their fans, Kobe proclaimed that he would silence the Sixers faithful and "cut their hearts out" (via ESPN.com) during the 2000-2001 NBA Finals. Things haven't quite been the same since.
The 2000-01 playoffs were Kobe and Shaq's coming out party. Shaq averaged more than 30 points and nine rebounds per game throughout the postseason, while Kobe posted 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Simply stunning.
In addition to some staggering statistical output, the Lakers were nearly unbeatable in the 2001 postseason. The Lakers went on to sweep the Portland Trailblazers (3-0), Sacramento Kings (4-0) and San Antonio Spurs (4-0) in the team's first three playoff series. Their only loss would come in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Sixers.