Steve Nash has a long history of making players better.
In fact, I've said in the past that he should receive a stipend from Amar'e Stoudemire, whose max-contract is almost entirely a result of Nash feeding him such easy shots around the hoop in Phoenix.
How much more can he do with Dwight Howard?
Amar'e was very good in his short-lived prime, but Howard is even better. Howard's ability to rebound the ball and finish strong around the hole is even more impressive than a prime Stoudemire.
Nash and Howard pick and rolls will be nearly impossible to stop.
Nash feels confident about the team's chemistry and is assured that the team can come together to form a strong, contending squad.
"We're covering a lot of ground in training camp with the new offense and all the new guys. We're getting into a competitive space, though," Nash said to Greg Beacham of the Associated Press regarding the maturation of his Lakers' squad. "You can see how these guys are coming together. We know we've got a chance to be a really good team."
So good, in fact, that this Lakers squad stands a strong chance of defeating a Miami Heat team that many pegged as unbeatable when the Big Three coalesced in the summer of 2010.
LeBron James' famous "Not five, not six, but seven" statements have seemed less assuring in light of the way the Lakers have come together to form something bigger than a Big Three; a "Big Four."
Nash, Howard, Kobe Bryant and Spanish big man Pau Gasol are all locks for the Hall of Fame.
Not since 2004, when the Lakers paired up Karl Malone and Gary Payton with Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal, have the Lakers amassed such a squad of proven Hall of Fame talent. And yet, for as good as that team was on paper, they failed to win a championship.
Stephen Babb of Bleacher Report cites Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard still being in their primes as a reason why this squad will not suffer the same fate as that Lakers' squad. He also feels a stronger bench will help this team thrive, with Antawn Jamison coming off the bench to provide a sixth man to strengthen the second unit.
In addition to Jamison, the Lakers also have a young Jordan Hill backing up Howard, Steve Blake backing up Nash and talented shooters like Devin Ebanks and Jodie Meeks to nail down open jumpers on the wing. Open jumpers should run a plenty with four Lakers capable of drawing double teams to open things up.
Still, Kobe knows the Lakers' work is cut out for them.
"We're going to be a really good team, but we've got a lot of work in front of us right now. We're not close to being a finished product. We've got to keep improving every day, every week, and learning how to play together."
Nash will be the key that drives this powerful engine.
Even at age 38, Nash is still a good ball distributor who can provide his usual ten assists per game, particularly with this talented cast.
Nash's speed will continue to decline as he approaches 40, but his guile will enable him to remain effective until the day he retires.
Since he signed a two-year contract, he need only remain on top for a couple more seasons before hanging it up as one of the greatest point guards ever to lace it up.
Moreover, any questions regarding Nash's ability to defend will be deflected by Howard's dominance.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has covered the blunders of numerous poor defenders in the past in Orlando, and if opposing point guards blow by Nash, Howard will be there to change the shot and keep the defense impregnable.
Teams have trouble finishing with Howard there.
But more than the defensive worries, more than the chemistry issues, there is the raw fact that Nash knows how to run a team. His ability to control the tempo of games will prove crucial against teams that try to push the pace against this Lakers squad.
Nash can slow it down or speed it up, depending on matchups thrown at the Lakers by opposing squads. And this Lakers team has enough talent to thrive both in the open court and in half-court sets.
If Nash is able to involve his teammates as he has in the past, all issues of ego clashing should dissipate as the Lakers rack up the wins. Even if they struggle initially, the veteran composure of Nash and Bryant should keep the younger Lakers, including D12, focused on what matters—June.
It's a bit early to start planning championship parades, but the Lakers know that.
Dwight Howard says he is just "grateful to be a part of it," and to "see all of those great retired jerseys."
With Nash's brilliance, No. 12 may be joining those rafters eventually, while No. 24 is a clinch, of course.
Nash's ability to improve his teammates is what is going to make this all happen. Howard's dreams of greatness and Kobe's aspirations to obtain his sixth ring should all be furthered by the two-time MVP's play making.
Will Howard further follow in the steps of Shaq and the other Lakers' greats? Will Kobe tie Jordan in rings?
With Nash, they should.
Quote Source: Greg Beacham, Associated Press, Star Tribune