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“On its face, it’s the best talent I’ve been around,” Bryant said. “Whether that translates into a winning a championship remains to be seen, but just on paper, you’re talking about defensive player of the years, MVPs, All-Stars _ guys who are at the top of their position and have been at the top for a long time.”

Bryant suited up with all types of teammates during his first 16 years in Los Angeles. His relationship with Shaquille O’Neal yielded three championships and four NBA finals trips under Phil Jackson’s stewardship, yet ultimately ended in 2004 with both players eager to be apart.

“It’s a different dynamic than when I was here with Shaq, because I had to do something that … I naturally don’t do, which is be a quarterback and make plays for other people,” Bryant said. “The responsibility of him getting the ball fell on me, and this is not naturally what I do. I figured it out, but here, that’s Steve (Nash). Steve is the quarterback, and he has a great system and offense to play around with and manipulate, and I just slide to my natural spots.”

Bryant and Howard can’t immediately get to work on their on-court chemistry, of course. Howard still has no timetable for his return to the court from offseason back surgery, discounting rumors he’s targeting the Lakers‘ season opener Oct. 30.

But Howard is feeling better every day while working with the Lakers‘ training staff and his own team. He worked on post moves without contact last week with the Lakers‘ coaching staff _ and the big man is eager to show off everything he’s already learning in L.A.

“I don’t want to have any setbacks,” Howard said. “I don’t want to play a couple of games and then have to sit down. I want to be able to play the whole season. I owe that to the fans and the team. We all have one mission, one goal. I want to be 100 percent before that, so I can give my teammates everything I’ve got.”