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
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.