LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- The Kobe Bryant era officially begins Tuesday at the STAPLES Center when the Denver Nuggets pay a visit to Bryant's new-look Los Angeles Lakers in the regular-season opener for both teams. After a tumultuous 2003-04 season ended with a loss in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers underwent a massive overhaul, opening the door for Bryant to take the reigns of a team that may have a fight on its hands just to make the playoffs. Superstar center Shaquille O'Neal was shipped to Miami in exchange for a trio of quality players - Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler - while nine-time champion Phil Jackson stepped down as head coach, making way for Rudy Tomjanovich. Bryant, who still faces legal issues stemming from a rape accusation two summers ago, was chosen as the central figure in Los Angeles' renewal as general manager Mitch Kupchak gave a big contract to the 26-year-old and let go of a pair of stalwarts from the Lakers' three-peat from 2000-02. Ironically, it was in Denver, near where Bryant's court hearings have taken place, that the former first-round pick had some of his finest games against last season. He averaged 31 points and eight assists when visiting the Nuggets. Bryant may be called upon to carry his team out of the gate as Vlade Divac, Devean George and Slava Medvedenko each begin the season on the injured list. But Denver is a rising franchise, and with the addition of Kenyon Martin via free agency, it may be ready to take the next step. The Nuggets have star power in second-year stud Carmelo Anthony and Martin and capable hands in point guard Andre Miller and center Marcus Camby. Denver hopes to carry the momentum from its finest preseason ever. Following a loss in its second exhibition game, the Nuggets won six straight games to finish the schedule at 7-1. They dropped two of three vs. Los Angeles last season.