LOS ANGELES - Newcomers Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined the Los Angeles Lakers for Monday’s first day of training camp as Kobe Bryant looks for a sixth career NBA title and Pau Gasol bids for his third.
The Lakers signed Canadian Nash, a veteran point guard still seeking his first NBA crown, in the off-season and added center Howard from Orlando in a four-team deal last August to become a favorite in the NBA championship quest.
“All the pieces fit,” Bryant said. “We all do different things. We all fit together naturally. We just have to keep doing the things we have been doing our entire careers.”
Howard is one of the top defensive stars in the NBA, his shot-blocking skills and ability to shut down opposing big men matched by his domination as a rebounder and top inside playmaker.
“Dwight’s defensive presence is probably the greatest I’ve seen in the history of the sport,” Bryant said.
Howard replaces Andrew Bynum, who was traded to Philadelphia in the four-team swap, and will allow Spain’s Gasol to focus on power forward duties on the Laker front-line, opening more chances for him to make shots.
Howard said on Monday that he expects to be recovered from a back injury that kept him out of the Olympics in time to play for the Lakers when they open the season on October 30 at home against Dallas.
“Hopefully he will be ready to go and come back and that injury will stay away,” Bryant said.
Nash will take over the Lakers’ point guard duties, directing the offense and setting up shots for Bryant, Gasol and Howard as well as making his own opportunities if teams are too respectful of his passing skills.
“Steve’s a great playmaker,” Bryant said. “He has had the ball in his hands too much. In our offense he has more mobility. He can do a myriad of things. We all can. that’s going to keep defenses on their toes.”
“Steve’s IQ and ability to quarterback, it’s not something I can naturally do,” Bryant said. “I’m more of a scorer. I have to move off the ball and he can do what he does and I can do what I do.”
Bryant, 34, said he expects at most to play another three NBA seasons. That would see him say goodbye at age 37 after 19 seasons.
“The closer it gets to the end to more rejuvenated I feel and the more motivated I feel to closing it out the right way,” Bryant said.
To most observers, that means by matching or surpassing the six NBA crowns won by Michael Jordan in his career. The Lakers won the most recent of their 16 NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 with Bryant also taking titles from 2000-2002.
“Let’s start with winning the first game,” Bryant said.