There's no mistaking who is the head honcho on the Lakers.
"I got a question earlier about whose team this is," Kobe Bryant said. "It's my team."
Even after the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard, who is considered the best center in the league, and Steve Nash, a future hall of fame point guard, Bryant is clearly at the top of the pecking order.
The fact that Bryant can make such a bold statement without anyone so much as batting an eye is a testament to the respect that he commands.
"It's hands-down Kobe's team," Magic Johnson told The Times on Monday evening at Time Warner Cable Sportsnet's launch party. "It's never going to change until Kobe is not on the team.
"Kobe is the leader as of today, and this year, and whenever he's playing, because he's been there, he knows how to win, he knows how to perform in the clutch moments. Dwight needs to learn how to do that. Will it ever be Dwight's team? Yes, someday it will, but right now this is Kobe's team. Make no mistake about it."
Howard, a six-time all-star, may have automatically been the franchise player on most NBA teams -- but he seems to knows his place alongside Bryant, who has won five NBA championships and is considered one of the greatest players of all time.
"Learning from Kobe, I think this is something that I need for myself so I can grow as a player and as a person," Howard said. "He’s been through almost every single situation possible on the court and off the court, and I think he can really help me out a lot."
Howard's tone has markedly changed after joining the Lakers, the 16-time NBA champions. His humility is in stark contrast to the hubris he showed in his prolonged and infamous "indecision."
So clearly the key to the Lakers' success this season will be chemistry.
Can Howard, a larger-than-life star in Orlando who has a career average of 18.4 points and 13 rebounds, handle not being his team's first option? Can Bryant share the ball and the limelight with another superstar? Can Nash somehow maintain the peace?
The process will surely take time -- but Lakers Coach Mike Brown is doing his part to make things as clear as possible.
"Everybody asks me who is going to take the last shot in a game that's 100-100 with three seconds left on the game clock," Brown told The Times. "Well, it's Kobe. Kobe is going to be our first option."
The Lakers look incredible on paper. But they've also foundered in the past -- by their high standards -- with a stacked team that couldn't seem to gel.
Look at the 2003-04 season, when the Lakers had Bryant, Gary Payton, Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal -- yet fell short of winning a championship.
Johnson said that the Lakers' success this season will hinge on the players not only knowing their roles, but accepting them.
"It's just like when I played with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]," Johnson said.
"Yes, he was the best player, but it was my team."