NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, November 2nd (All times eastern)
Denver Nuggets (0-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-0), 10:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - The Kobe Bryant show is ready to get underway, as the Los Angeles Lakers welcome the Denver Nuggets to the Staples Center tonight for the season-opener for both teams.
With All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal and former head coach Phil Jackson gone, the Lakers are officially Bryant's team. After falling in five games to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, the Lakers and Jackson mutually agreed to part ways and O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a first- round draft pick. The team also signed Bryant, who had the sexual assault charges against him in Eagle, Colorado dismissed on September 1, reportedly to a seven-year contract worth at least $130 million.
The Lakers also traded guard Gary Payton, forward Rick Fox, who has retired, a future first-round draft pick, and cash to the Boston Celtics for guards Chucky Atkins and Marcus Banks, forward/center Chris Mihm and a future second- round pick to LA. The deal was ammended later after Payton originally refused to report to the Celtics for a physical. The Lakers received forward Jumaine Jones instead of Banks, while Boston did not have to relinquish its second- round draft pick.
Thirty-six-year-old Vlade Divac, who was an unrestricted free agent, returned to the Lakers after signing a two-year contract with the club. Divac, who played the past six years in Sacramento, began his career with the Lakers after being chosen with the 26th overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. After seven years in LA, Divac was traded to the Charlotte Hornets in July 1996 for the draft rights to Bryant. The 7-1 Divac spent two years in Charlotte before joining the Kings as a free agent in January 1999. Divac, a 2001 All-Star, averaged 9.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 81 regular-season games last season for Sacramento
Rudy Tomjanovich, who won two championships as the head coach in Houston, was hired to replace Jackson. Tomjanovich is a player's coach and he will design his offense to get Bryant the ball.
The 26-year-old Bryant is the No. 1 option on offense with O'Neal gone. The six-time All-Star missed 17 games because of various injuries and legal obligations in Denver in 2003-04, but he still led LA in scoring at 24.0 points per game and also pulled down 5.5 boards and dished out 5.1 assists.
Butler, Odom and Grant will not be able to replace O'Neal, who missed 15 games because of injuries but still managed to average 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.48 blocks for the Lakers. However, the trio from Miami adds depth to the new-look front court.
There are a lot of new faces on the Lakers' roster. General manager Mitch Kupchak is trying to put together a squad that will mesh well with the talents of Bryant. The franchise is going in a new direction and owner Jerry Buss believes that Bryant will be able to lead the way.
On the injury front for the Lakers, Divac is suffering from a herniated disc in his lower back and is out indefinitely.
The Lakers were 34-7 as the host in 2003-04. LA has won two of its last three home-openers.
Denver, which won just 17 games in 2002-03, finished 43-39 last season and earned its first postseason berth since 1995. The Nuggets were eliminated in five games by the top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round.
The Nuggets, who were the most-improved team in the NBA last season, made one addition to their roster in the offseason and it was a big one. Denver got its man in a sign-and-trade deal when they sent three future first-round draft picks to the New Jersey Nets for All-Star forward Kenyon Martin. Originally selected out of Cincinnati by the Nets in the first round (first pick overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft, Martin signed a reported seven-year contract worth more than $90 million before being traded to the Nuggets.
The 26-year-old Martin averaged 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in 65 games for New Jersey during the 2003-04 regular season. In the playoffs, the four-year veteran posted 19.1 points and 11 boards per game in 11 contests for the Nets, who were eliminated in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Detroit Pistons, who went on to win the NBA title.
Martin, who has averaged 15.1 points and 7.6 boards in 283 career regular season contests, will add toughness to Denver's frontcourt, which already consists of Carmelo Anthony, Nene and center Marcus Camby, who was a free agent but chose to re-sign with the Nuggets. Martin brings a tough defensive presence along with the ability to run the court and play in a fast- paced offense.
The Nuggets also have an excellent point guard in 28-year-old Andre Miller. The Utah product started all 82 games last season for Denver, his first with the Nuggets, and finished with averages of 14.8 points, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals.
With the addition of Martin, Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe has put together a young, athletic team that will not be satisfied with just making the playoffs. This could be a franchise that is ready to take another step towards competing with the elite in the Western Conference.
Denver was just 14-27 on the road last season. The Nuggets have won two of their last three season-openers.
Last season, the Lakers defeated the Nuggets in three of the four meetings between the two clubs. LA beat Denver twice in front of its home crowd, while the teams split a pair of games at the Pepsi Center.
The Lakers have won two straight and seven of their last eight meetings with the Nuggets, who have lost four straight and 14 of their last 15 as the visitior against the Lakers.
11/02 10:06:46 ET