Like the rest of the NBA, Kobe Bryant didn't see the Los Angeles Lakers' trade for Steve Nash coming. But when the idea was presented to him earlier this week as he held his camp in Santa Barbara, Calif., it didn't take long for him to warm to the idea.
Yes, Nash has been one of his fiercest rivals in the NBA.
And yes, Nash did beat him out for the MVP award in 2005-06 when Bryant posted the best individual statistics of his career.
But there's also a matter of winning that sixth championship in a league that's getting tougher and more athletic by the year.
"He gives us a much, much better chance," Bryant said after the first day of USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas. "He's a terrific shooter. And shooting is something that was lacking for us. His ability to playmaker for others out of the pick and roll is one of the best we've ever seen. He has a high basketball IQ, in terms of being a coach out on the floor.
"We've obviously had our moments and had our battles, but at the core of it was two guys who came in the league the same year (1996). Myself, him, Ray Allen, we're pretty much the last ones left. And there's kind of a bond that comes with that. It's a little bigger than some of the rivalries that we've had."
Nash initiated the conversation "through back channels," Bryant said, and really just wanted to know if Bryant would be OK teaming up with a player he'd had so many battles with over the years.
"It was more like he wanted to know if I'd be OK with it because he knows how competitive I am and obviously the history we've had," Bryant said. "But I said, 'Our bond coming in the league together in '96, especially he and I, because we weren't necessarily highly-regarded coming into that draft. That bond is much bigger than the rivalry we had with Phoenix.'"
Bryant has never really played with an elite guard in his 16 NBA seasons. Nash may not be what he used to be, but he still led the league in total assists each of the last three seasons.
Asked whether he can adapt his game to play alongside a future Hall of Fame point guard, Bryant laughed and said, "It puts me in my natural position, which is that of a shooting guard and that of a finisher. Michael (Jordan) had Scottie (Pippen), who was a great facilitator for him and enabled Michael to do what he does best, which is score the ball."
Bryant will be 34 before the start of next season. Nash will be 38. Bryant has won five NBA titles, while Nash is still chasing his first. That's all that matters now.
"I'm not planning on going anywhere at all," Bryant said. "Steve has that same mentality. We're going to have to be dealt with next year."
The addition of Nash had Bryant striking a confident tone even though his team has lost in the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons.
But Bryant noted that he has publicly and loudly supported Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak even before he made the trade for Nash.
"I believed it because we've done it," Bryant said. "We've done it over and over and over. You think about the three-peat run we've had with myself and Shaq. How quickly we rebuilt that. It took a couple years, but all of a sudden we're back in the NBA Finals. It takes a lot of patience and smart decision making on management's part.
"There's certain franchises that always seem to figure things out and we're one of them."
Asked if Nash was enough to put the Lakers over the top again, or if the Lakers needed to add another piece, Bryant shrugged and said: "I don't know if they're done. I don't think they're done.
"They've obviously had a track record of things that have proven to be beyond what other teams in the league can do. The moves that they make, they just seem to come out of nowhere. Steve Nash, that just kind of came out of nowhere. Pau Gasol, that just came out of nowhere. That's just kind of been our M.O."
The Lakers have long been talked about as a landing spot for embittered Orlando center Dwight Howard. Bryant wouldn't comment directly on whether Howard would ever join the Lakers, saying instead, "I just wish the best for him and hope he ends up where he's happy."
He also had some well wishes for LeBron James, who won his first NBA title with the Miami Heat last month.
"I'm extremely happy for LeBron," Bryant said. "He worked extremely hard and it's well deserved. Extremely well deserved."
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