After the Lakers have followed Kobe Bryant's leadership for close to two decades, the Lakers will now be led by two-time MVP Steve Nash for the foreseeable future.
And for good reason.
Transitions such as this one have happened in the past; David Robinson turning over the San Antonio Spurs to Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce allowing the Boston Celtics to become Kevin Garnett's team and most recently Dwyane Wade stepping aside to let LeBron James lead the Miami Heat.
All of these transitions resulted in a championship within two season for each respective franchise.
Nash, similar to what Bryant has done with the Lakers, has both led rosters littered with talent (Dallas Mavericks) and teams lacking star power (Phoenix Suns) into the playoffs. With both Kobe and Nash sharing the Lakers backcourt, someone will have to relinquish a little bit of responsibility. And for the Lakers to reach their ultimate goal, it may just have to be Bryant.
In the following slides, we will examine five key reasons why the Lakers may need to become Steve Nash's team this season for them to maximize the substantial talent on their roster.
Nash is widely regarded as one of the smartest players in the NBA. A point guard has to have a superior basketball IQ to be able to dish out double-digit assists for as many seasons as Nash has (seven times).
Nash's ability to read defenses and improvise make him deadly on the court, able to exploit weaknesses at the right moment and set up scoring opportunities for either a teammate or himself. Bryant is an intelligent player in his own right, but Nash's point guard instincts give him the edge in this area.
Steve Nash is somewhat of a coach on the court due to his understanding of the game. Nash's ability to read a defense and then make the correct play is rivaled by only a few players in the league.
In the past, Nash has been allowed to call his own plays on the court, which is a testament to his high hoops IQ.
While Kobe may be an above-average passer when he trusts his teammates, Nash is the far superior and more-willing passer, a luxury Bryant had not enjoyed playing with up until this year.
Here's a list of starting PGs Kobe has played with over the years: Nick Van Exel, Derek Fisher, Gary Payton, Chucky Atkins, Smush Parker and Ramon Sessions. Of that list only two have averaged more than five assists per game, Van Exel (6.9 in 1997-98) Payton (5.5 in 2003-04). That had left Bryant not only with the responsibility of scoring, but with playmaking and distributing duties, as well.
With Nash, Bryant can focus on doing what he does best: score. Nash will be responsible for facilitating the Lakers offense and creating for everyone on the floor. Nash also boasts a career 2.99-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, far superior than Bryant's career 1.58-to-1.
Although the Lakers will be utilizing the Princeton offensive sets at times this season, their bread and butter will more than likely be Nash running pick-and-roll action with either Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol or Bryant.
Since Nash is a master at the pick-and-roll (as the video demonstrates), he will have the basketball in his hands and will initiate the play the majority of the time for the Lakers. Nash controlling the pick-and-roll action allows him to probe the opposing defense and look for the best possible scoring option.
In Phoenix, Nash was able keep the Suns offense running like a well-oiled machine with less-talented players. Now grouped with All-Star players at three positions, Nash will have a field day controlling the basketball and orchestrating the Lakers offense.
As the NBA has become more and more of a pick-and-roll league, Nash makes the Lakers' half-court offense more dangerous than ever.
Nash has played with superstars in the past—from Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley in Dallas to Amar'e Stoudemire and Vince Carter in Phoenix. There have never been any complaints about Nash being anything less than a model teammate in both destinations.
Bryant on the other hand has been said to be an abrasive teammate at times, mainly due to his hypercompetitive personality. Kobe's competitiveness is what has made him so great over the years, but it's Nash's willingness to gel with his superstar teammates that has made him a great leader for so long.
Nash is a fierce competitor in his own right and always gives 100 percent on the court. The contrast in Nash and Bryant's approach to motivating teammates is what makes Nash more suited to lead a team with this much talent. Nash will be able to communicate with the other Laker stars in a calm manner, which can form a buffer against Bryant's demanding tendencies.
The point guard position is arguably the most important position in the NBA, besides center. Rarely does a team win without having either an All-Star caliber at one of these positions.
The Lakers not only have that, but they also have All-Stars at shooting guard and power forward as well.
Nash will be faced with the tough task of keeping all the stars happy by ensuring their involvement in the Laker offense, but history shows that Nash should have no problem distributing the basketball evenly among his teammates.
Bryant's efficiency will benefit from playing alongside a playmaker of Nash's caliber, and the other players will be involved in enough pick-and-roll or fast-break opportunities to keep team morale high.
This is all contingent on Nash having the basketball.
Even at 38, Nash is still one of the premier point guards in the league. He has had the basketball in his hands with the ability to improvise as he sees fit for the majority of his career, and the same should be allowed with the Lakers. The more freedom and control Nash has, the better. Nash has the instincts, leadership qualities and temperament to lead this Lakers team to great heights.
And after Bryant has shouldered the burden of leading the Lakers for so long, having Nash—whom Kobe has a high level of respect for after their many battles over the years—taking over the reins may be a welcomed and much-needed change for the transitioning Lakers.