While recognising the historic nature of the upcoming months in their quest for their 17th NBA crown, the Lakers exhibit the casual confidence.
Lakers stare at league history
LOS ANGELES // While the entire basketball world has focused squarely on Miami for the past three months, the Los Angeles Lakers waited quietly across the continent, polishing their rings and enjoying the show.
"I was thinking, 'Wow, how did Pat Riley pull that off?'" Kobe Bryant said.
Bryant's laugh betrays no hint of anxiety. For a team with two consecutive titles, the league's largest payroll and the most successful coach in NBA history beginning possibly his final season, the Lakers appear looser than Ron Artest on a weekend Twitter barrage.
While recognising the historic nature of the upcoming months in their quest for their 17th NBA crown, the Lakers exhibit the casual confidence of a team that has largely stayed intact through three consecutive trips to the NBA finals, only adding veteran pieces to a core with the league's most impressive pedigree.
The Miami Heat are drawing all the attention early on, and that is just fine with the champions. The Lakers know who they are.
"We're confident in ourselves," Bryant said. "I'm not a guy, and we're not a team, that worries about what other people are doing."
The Lakers also begin the regular season tomorrow night against Houston with their pieces still a bit askew, and not just because of a pre-season trip to Europe interrupting their training camp.
After grinding out their second title with a Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics in mid-June, Los Angeles regulars mostly took the summer off for repairs and revitalisation.
Pau Gasol had his first real summer vacation since 2005, skipping summer duties with the Spanish national team, while Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the centre, had surgery.
Phil Jackson, their coach, retreated to his Montana ranch, where he quickly decided he could not pass up the chance to go for a third straight title for an unprecedented fourth time in his career.
"When there's history on the table, it's hard to resist that," Jackson said. "I think we have the players to do that, and I think we got better in the off-season with our acquisitions and our recovery. There's still a very long way to go, but this journey could be unique."
None of the Lakers' regulars could resist that journey - not even Shannon Brown, the backup guard who might have blossomed outside of Bryant's shadow, but wasn't willing to sacrifice a championship run to find out. Derek Fisher also turned down an offer from Miami, rejoining Bryant to chase their sixth rings together.
"This team is still a juggernaut," said Lamar Odom, who will start for the Lakers until Bynum returns. "We have so many people that can do it inside and out. No matter who's the first, second or third option, we're still one of the best offensive teams in the league."