One of the first postings on this site was about the hoopservation that, whenever you debate which player is better between two players, you do not wind up talking about each guy’s skill or athleticism, but, instead, you wind up debating which of the two players has better teammates. Separately, there have been multiple postings about the Cavs, contending that LeBron’s teammates are better than they’re generally given credit for.
Recently, the Kobe v. LeBron conversation has started to bubble back up a little bit. I guess it was inevitable; LeBron won his second MVP, Kobe has been showing signs of wear and tear, and the playoffs are heating up. The consensus seems to be that there’s nothing left to discuss, LeBron is much better than Kobe.
I’m not going to argue that Kobe is better — not right now, at least — but I must say that it’s still remarkable to hear how much more credit LeBron gets for doing not-all-that-much-more than Kobe. Listen to people talk about the two of them, and you’d think that Kobe was surrounded by guys on the Dream Team, while LeBron was surrounded by guys on an expansion team.
For example, on the Sports Reporters this morning, the guys were saying that the Cavs will not continue winning unless LeBron gets some help. Um, Mo Williams had 20 points on 8-14 shooting yesterday. That’s not helpful? The Cavs held the Celtics to 44% shooting. Unless LeBron was guarding all five dudes on the floor, that means that someone was playing some defense.
But this isn’t about the Cavs. The point, for now, is that Kobe is not surrounded by a Dream Team. Unless he goes Ko-ballistic, these guys ain’t beating nobody who’s left in the playoffs.
Let’s break it down for a minute:
Gasol is excellent. Teams can win titles with him as the second-best player on the roster. But don’t let the beard and the long hair confuse you — this isn’t Bill Walton we’re talking about. When Gasol was the best player on the Grizzlies, the Grizzlies were, well, the Grizzlies. They weren’t a contender to win much of anything.
Bynum is dangerous when healthy, but he isn’t always healthy. And he isn’t healthy now. Today, he was only good for 8 points and 0 – yes, 0 – blocks against an undersized Jazz team. Don’t let the limp confuse you – this isn’t Willis Reed we’re talking about. (Have I used that joke already?)
Artest is solid, and relatively consistent, but he’s lost a step since his days as a dominant defender, and he was never a consistent offensive threat. He’s good enough to start on a championship team if he has the right pieces around him, but I wouldn’t say that he consistently gives his team a dominant advantage over the guy he’s matched up with.
Then there’s Derek Fisher. Years ago, he was a quality starter. Now he’s a liability. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s the worst starter playing on any of the remaining playoff teams.
Which brings us to the Lakers’ bench. Odom is very talented, but, realistically, is not significantly better than Jamal Crawford, Anderson Varejao, Tony Parker, or a few of the other bench players whose teams are still playing. Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and Luke Walton have their moments, but, if those are the guys that supposedly make Kobe’s supporting cast significantly better than LeBron’s, well, I ain’t buyin’ it.
To be sure, if everyone on the Lakers is healthy, they are an excellent, well-balanced team. But they are old, and, now that Bynum is hurt, their top guys are not even all healthy. It’s still an excellent team, but a guy who calls himself the “Chosen One,” and who has a couple of All-Stars of his own for teammates should be able to take this squad down… if he deserves all of the hype, that is.