It appears that reports of the Los Angeles Lakers demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
With the acquisition of two-time league MVP Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal with the Phoenix Suns yesterday, Los Angeles went from a team stuck in conference semifinals limbo to one of the teams favored to come out of the West next season basically over night.
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With the move, Nash will be able to remain on the West Coast close to his family, but also be able to compete for a championship -- something that has eluded him his entire career. He's made it to the Western Conference Finals four times (2003, 2005, 2006, and 2010), but has never been to the Finals despite excellent postseason showings on his part.
That makes his addition to the Lakers all the more valuable.
With Nash comes both a great level of energy and sense of urgency. Unlike Kobe and company, Nash has the hunger and desperation for a title that his new teammates seem to lack in comparison -- mainly because they've already been there and done that. Nash's approach to the game should rub off on his new squad, especially on someone like Andrew Bynum, who has yet to fully develop into the type of player Lakers fans dream of.
Also, the upgrade from Ramon Sessions to Nash at the point could prove to be enough for Los Angeles to at least match, if not surpass, the caliber of their biggest competition in the West -- the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After all, even without Nash last year, the Lakers proved to be a strong threat to the Thunder in the conference semifinals. Granted, OKC won the series 4-1, but the the second and fourth games came down to the final seconds, and Los Angeles probably should have won both of them.
Of course, the pressure facing the Lakers will be immense, as is always the case when great talent comes together on one team. However, the pressure will be completely different than what the Miami Heat faced over the last few seasons.
While Nash is still producing great numbers (over 12 points and 10 assists per game last year), there's no denying the fact that he's now past his prime, meaning -- not as much will be expected of him as was Miami's "Big Three" as players in their prime.
People won't expect Nash to dominate games as he once did, partially because of his age, and partially because he won't have to with all the talent around him. The lighter pressure in LA compared to what Miami had to deal with could prove to be an advantage for the Lakers as the season progresses.
The bottom line is -- Los Angeles is a much better team now than they were just 24 short hours ago. And in the ever-changing world of the National Basketball Association, what more can you ask for?
Be afraid Western Conference. Be very afraid.