Dwight Howard speaks to reporters during the Lakers' media day. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Christmas arrived in October, or so it seemed in a corner of the Lakers' practice facility where Dwight Howard sang "Silent Night" in a falsetto voice.
Sure, why not?
The Lakers reconvened Monday for their annual media day, during which they looked into TV cameras of high-paying sponsors and said how much they enjoyed being part of a historic franchise before being asked to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and other holiday felicitations for use in coming months.
PHOTOS: Newest Lakers are introduced during Media Day
The more gritty stuff begins Tuesday with the first day of training camp, followed by the season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas and then possibly an eight-month trip to the NBA Finals.
Regardless of where they end, the players arrived from entirely different directions.
Howard showed up after a busy weekend, checking out of the luxury hotel he called home for several weeks and moving into an upscale rental in the hills north of UCLA.
Steve Nash got here after a six-hour car ride Sunday from Phoenix, leaving behind his three kids in the city he called home the last eight years.
Pau Gasol came from a charitable appearance in Africa, and though he hadn't done much on-court work since the London Olympics, he looked bigger and, undoubtedly, relieved to still be with the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant was also there in El Segundo, make no mistake, saying this was the best team he'd ever been part of "on paper," the catchphrase for managing expectations uttered by almost everybody of significance Monday.
"On its face, it's the best talent I've been around," said Bryant, entering his 17th NBA season. "Whether that translates into winning a championship, that remains to be seen. But just on paper, you're obviously talking about defensive players of the years, MVPs, All-Stars. You're talking about a myriad of things where guys are on top of their position and have been at the top of their position."
Metta World Peace managed to be in town as well, leaving behind the nightclubs and the city of Vancouver, where he spent most of his off-season and somehow looked leaner than last season amid whispers of an improved outside shot.
He had some ideas, as usual, including how to maximize the assembled talent.
"Playing together, loving each other, caring for each other. Kind of like the Care Bears," he said.
For what it's worth, Antawn Jamison was the friendliest of the group, the Lakers' new sixth man staying for every … last … interview … with …far … too … many … reporters. He won't match the 17.2 points he averaged last season in Cleveland but will improve one of the NBA's worst benches last season.
The Lakers have an NBA-high $100-million payroll, part of their goodwill toward fans after finishing a troublesome 41-25 last season, tied for third in the Western Conference with Memphis. They needed all seven games to get past Denver in the first round and then lost to Oklahoma City in five, the first and final games in the series telltale losses of 29 and 16 points.
The Lakers were tirelessly boring on offense, something that will change with Nash, who somehow finished second in the league in assists last season while distributing the ball to Markieff Morris, Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez.
"I believe in this group," Nash said. "I haven't even set foot on the court as a team yet but I believe we have some great pieces and we can find a way to build a championship-caliber team."
With Howard bringing a burst to the middle that Andrew Bynum simply couldn't match, the Lakers couldn't possibly have another stretch of sub-100 point games as they did last season, 13 in a row setting a team record in the shot-clock era as fans groaned and Slowtime replaced Showtime.
Howard had back surgery in April to repair a herniated disk but will return in a handful of weeks, perhaps for the final exhibition game but more likely when the regular season starts, maybe even missing the first game or two.
The Lakers aren't worried. They traded the short-term issue of Howard's back for the long-term uncertainty of Bynum's knees.
Howard already started dunking and played with limited contact against assistant coaches last week. He will not, however, take part in five-on-five scrimmages any time soon.
"I'm getting better every day," he said. "I'm looking forward to the day where I'm 100%. Until then, I'm going to keep training."
Optimism is rarely higher than the first few days of the exhibition season, though there will be plenty of potentially discordant season-long story lines to monitor.
Can the ageless Nash, 38, continue to dodge the injury ogre after missing an average of only four games a season since 2000?
Will the Lakers be effective in their first year with the precision and timing of the backdoor-cutting Princeton offense?
Of greatest importance, how will Bryant handle it all? He has two more years on his contract and seems almost ready to hand the baton to Howard.
"I want to make sure with Dwight, when I retire this is going to be yours," Bryant said. "I want to teach him everything I possibly know so when I step away … it's like I never left. I mean, listen, this organization has done so much for me. I'm so thankful."
Finally, will Bryant match Michael Jordan by winning a sixth championship ring?
Maybe prominence "on paper" will become "in reality." Time will be the final evaluator, as always.
Times staff writers Ben Bolch and Lisa Dillman, and Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.