Disappointing playoff outcomes led the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks to retool their rosters in hopes of again rising to the top of the Western Conference.
Each team, though, surrounded its long-standing – yet ailing – superstar in different manners.
Kobe Bryant’s status is up in the air and Dirk Nowitzki won’t play as these new-look squads open their seasons Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
The Lakers were bounced in five games in the second round of last season’s playoffs by Oklahoma City, the eventual West champion that swept Dallas out of the postseason the previous round.
Bryant averaged 27.9 points in the regular season for the Lakers (41-25) – finishing one-tenth of a point behind scoring leader Kevin Durant – but he was critical of teammate Pau Gasol in the postseason and seemed to have the desire for more help.
General manager Mitch Kupchak made a pair of big offseason acquisitions, getting two-time MVP Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix before parting with Andrew Bynum – among others – in a blockbuster four-team trade to land Dwight Howard.
With Bryant, Gasol, Nash, Howard and Metta World Peace, the Lakers seemingly have one of the most formidable starting lineups in the NBA supported by a bench that includes acquisitions Chris Duhon and Antawn Jamison.
“Everybody on the starting five has led their own team and been the go-to guy, the best player on a team,” World Peace said. “We’ve all been the man somewhere else, and now we’re together. It’s unbelievable. They’re all rock stars, but everybody has a great attitude. It’s a great time, great time for us.”
Howard is recovering from offseason back surgery but is expected to play Tuesday, while Bryant’s status is unclear after missing the final preseason game with a bruised and strained right foot.
“I know he’s hurt and I don’t know what exactly that means,” coach Mike Brown said. “He’s a tough guy and one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around.”
Bryant also is aware Los Angeles must develop some chemistry before being labeled as a serious contender, evidenced by the club’s 0-8 preseason record. No team has ever reached the NBA finals after a winless preseason.
“We’re going to be a really good team, but we’ve got a lot of work in front of us right now,” Bryant said. “We’re not close to a finished product, and the teams that we want to compete with have all had their main groups together longer.
“We’ve got to keep improving every day, every week, and learning how to play together.”
Dallas may have a more difficult time adjusting with its eight newcomers, especially with Nowitzki missing at least the first 10 games after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
The Mavericks (36-30) courted Dallas native Deron Williams in the offseason and may also have inquired about Howard, who reportedly listed the Mavericks as one of his preferred destinations during his saga with Orlando.
Dallas, though, struck out on each and opted to acquire a multitude of players, including Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and Eddy Curry.
“We had some big fish available and we didn’t get them. So you can do either of two things – blow the whole thing up and start over, or keep signing guys to short contracts to stay a player in the free agent market the following year,” Nowitzki said. “For basically saying we still want to be a player next summer, we still put a decent product out there. We’re going to compete and see what happens.”
The start of the new season likely won’t be easy, though, as Dallas also will have to contend with injuries other than Nowitzki’s. Kaman is nursing a strained right calf and probably won’t play in at least the opener, likely forcing Curry – who has played 24 games over the last four years – into a starting role.
The Mavericks waived point guard Delonte West on Monday after he was suspended twice in less than two weeks for conduct detrimental to the team, and Jason Terry also bolted for Boston in free agency.
“This is what we got. That’s the way it is,” forward Shawn Marion said. “We can’t harp on it all day. We’ll do what we gotta do.”
The Lakers won all four meetings with the Mavericks last season.