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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Steve Nash pairing up with Kobe Bryant makes for a speedy, low-cost reboot for the Lakers.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Dramatic-yet-thrifty deal for Nash revives Lakers out West


Posted Jul 5 2012 8:39AM

Well. Wasn't that just so ... so ... Lakers-like.

They acquire Steve Nash in a thunderclap of a sign-and-trade agreement with the Suns, which will be finalized after the league-wide moratorium on signing contracts is lifted July 11. The same Steve Nash who said he couldn't envision joining the Lakers. The same Suns who had seemed set against making it easier for a division rival.

In a direct response to losing ground in the Western Conference -- both overall and to their city rivals, the Clippers -- the Lakers pulled off a thrilling move that is bound to make them better next season.

By today, as the shock that the Lakers landed a star point guard without giving up a single player (and, at 38, Nash is still a star) wears off, the team seems poised to win in a new way. That's saying something after all the winning through the years. That's especially saying something after all the losing the last two seasons.

The Lakers have one victory in their last nine West semifinal games. Yet here they are in the early days of free agency, returning to the list of legitimate threats in the Western Conference after stealing free-agent Nash from the hopeful Raptors and Knicks. The cost? Their first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 and second-rounders in 2013 and '14. L.A. went into the offseason needing the most help at point guard and small forward and eliminated one of those problems without spending its biggest trade chip, Pau Gasol.

In the next nine to 11 months, we will see if the Lakers can be reincarnated before our very eyes ... again.

The Kobe Bryant Lakers have won championships with a dominating center, Shaquille O'Neal, sharing equal billing. That crushing inside-outside game ruined other teams for years, with the Trail Blazers and Kings going off a cliff in the conference finals, so far never to recover.

The Lakers won championships with a power forward, Gasol, as the second-best player. He was a great emotional fit in every way that O'Neal was not, more than happy to defer to Bryant's thirst for hero ball. He was the perfect Kobe complement on the court, too.

But this is the first time the Bryant Lakers will have a great point guard, the first time for the entire organization since Magic Johnson in the days before his HIV announcement in November 1991. (Johnson's comeback in the 1995-96 season saw him play more at power forward than as the Lakers' primary ball handler.) Bryant has played alongside a trusted quarterback before. Few in his life, and not just the professional life, were held in as high regard as Derek Fisher.

Nash isn't Fisher, though.

Never has this generation of Lakers played with a great passer who also is one of the best shooters in NBA history. Nash will reduce the workload on Bryant. Nash will hit 3-pointers for a team that finished 26th in the league in 3-point shooting, softening the defense for Andrew Bynum inside.

Nash isn't just a new important player. He represents the potential of an entirely different look.

Last season, Fisher was dealt to Houston at the trade deadline and the Lakers upgraded to Ramon Sessions in another trade. Fisher eventually signed with the Thunder, the team that beat L.A. 4-1 in the West semis. Sessions, though, struggled so badly in the playoffs, particularly in the second-round loss to Oklahoma City, that it was fair to wonder whether the Lakers should even want him back as a free agent.

Sessions, in his first postseason, wasn't aggressive, didn't seem confident and, general manager Mitch Kupchak said in the aftermath, "I think he would later admit it was a little overwhelming at first." Certainly not the mindset of someone who would fit on a team that faces great expectations every spring.

This is no time, with Bryant in the late stages of his career and Bynum trying to find his focus, for the Lakers to be hoping that their starting point guard can handle the playoffs. There will be no such concerns about Nash. Instead, the Lakers have found an expert passer, a superb shooter with range, a calm hand under pressure and the latest incarnation of a roster. How very Lakers-like of them.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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