MANILA, Philippines – A remarkable off-season shuffle by Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jim Buss has put the Lakers in prime position to contend for their 17th NBA championship.
For two consecutive seasons, the Lakers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
But this off-season, they acquired two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash from Phoenix and traded for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
Nash, who received a three-year deal worth an estimated $27-million, admitted that he found it difficult to play for the Lakers, who are the Suns' chief rivals in the Pacific Division for the past few years.
"At first it was difficult, but then, when I started to think about it, hmm, you know, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard... I mean, southern California. It kind of ticks all the boxes so it's not an awful situation," he said.
Howard, meanwhile, came to the Lakers in a mid-August blockbuster trade that featured four teams. He is still recovering from an injury, however, and has no timetable for his return to the court from off-season back surgery.
"I just want to be 100% for the season," Howard said. "I don't want to have any setbacks. I don’t want to play a couple of games and have to sit down. I want to be able to play the whole season."
"I owe that to myself, I owe that to all the fans here and my team. You know we all have one mission, one goal, and I want to be 100% for that so I can give my teammates everything I got," he added.
While the Lakers are among the pre-season favorites to win the NBA title, Nash pointed out that it will be challenging for all the players to mesh their games together, especially at the start of the season.
"It's going to be a big challenge for the players, accepting roles, sacrificing," Nash said. "It's going to be a challenge for the coaches to find the best way for us to play."
"And it's going to be a challenge for me. I mean, I think having played one way more or less for eight years, then to come in and play a different way with different players, it's going to be a big challenge," he added.
But Nash said he was looking forward to meeting those challenges head on.
"It's one that I'm thrilled to be a part of and I'm open-minded as I go to this," he said.
Nash and Howard will team up with Bryant and Gasol in leading the Lakers. They open the pre-season on October 7 against the Golden State Warriors. -- Report from ANC