Much has been made of the annual ESPN NBA Player Rankings, which (I want to remind everyone) are merely the opinions of a collection of writers/bloggers and analysts. While I respect and appreciate the thoughts and opinions of many of those individuals, it isn’t as though players are going to magically regress or lose a step simply because a panel of analysts places a number beside their name. For argument’s sake, I may have ranked Kobe Bryant (6th) ahead of Derrick Rose (5th), based upon a maintained productivity and unparalleled durability (Bryant played 70 total, including postseason, games compared to 40 from Rose) for a man in his 16th season. That said, I don’t think the ranking will impact Bryant’s game in the slightest. Come to think of it, it should actually be a heralded fact that he can even remain in the discussion with the amount of miles (42,372 regular season & 17,281 post-season minutes) on his 34-year-old body.
I will commend the ESPN panel for not holding the public-relations and social media based nightmare (driven by ESPN) against Dwight Howard when ranking him third on their list. Unfortunately, public perception can be highly influenced by emotion and feeling rather than fact-based. I’ve even seen complaints, by fans of the Lakers, about Howard being ranked ahead of Bryant. Point is, you’re not going to please everyone.
Although it is considered blasphemy by the most diehard of Kobe fans, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for a player to no longer be the most productive player on a team and still be considered the leader. Again, this isn’t a knock against Bryant, but the organization (even if his fans won’t) has already publicly acknowledged Bryant’s window coming to an eventual close by taking the risk of acquiring Howard without technically having assurances the 26-year-old big man will stay. For the record, I would be absolutely shocked to see Howard leave at the end of the season, as I can’t possibly imagine a better scenario for any superstar player. I’m only referencing that fact, because it cannot be ignored when judging the potential impact of these two players as they currently stand. From Twitter:
It’s funny how history repeats itself, Kobe is the @KAJ33 (Abdul-Jabbar) and Dwight is @MagicJohnson for those who understand history…Magic never stopped smiling on the court, didn’t have to because he was always game. Cap (Abdul-Jabbar) was a killer. Point blank. Sound familiar? — Jory Dreher (@jay_laker)
I reference that, because it is not only a fantastic point, but it is absolutely relevant in terms of the current situation with the Lakers’ roster. Even with the additions, Bryant remains the unquestioned leader and pulse of the team, just as Abdul-Jabbar was during the 1979-80 season when a rookie named Earvin Johnson was added to an already talented roster. While Abdul-Jabbar remained the “go-to” player for another several years, the Lakers were able to use those years as a bridge toward the future. The same will be the case for these current Lakers, and Bryant has already acknowledged this.
I know L.A. is excited about the deal and rightfully so. The Lakers landed a piece that will hopefully carry the franchise long after I’m gone. I have spoken to Dwight Howard already and we are locked and loaded to bring back the title — Kobe Bryant
Just as Magic’s presence didn’t diminish (actually enhanced) Abdul-Jabbar’s greatness, Howard’s presence will do the same for Bryant. Gone are the days where it is even realistic (or fair) to expect/demand Bryant to carry the bulk of the load in all aspects of the game. General Manager Mitch Kupchak made certain of that when he went out and acquired Steve Nash (ESPN’s 19th ranked player) in order to remove the burden of being the team’s primary ball-handler and play maker from Bryant’s shoulders.
Bryant knows this, and obviously embraces the idea, which is why I’m left in a state of bemusement when I see/hear comments about perceived “chemistry issues” and negative conjecture by opposing players, coaches, and owners. Folks have even brought up the fact that Howard likes to smile and have a good time while on the court, as though Bryant will have an issue with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see plenty of smiles even out of the normally ‘Mamba-faced’ Bryant as long as Howard is producing and dominating out of the post, which has never come into question.
Obviously, this video was recorded prior to the acquisition of Dwight Howard, but does Bryant sound like a man concerned with rankings or being considered the top player in the league? If anyone has a legitimate gripe with the rankings it would be Metta World Peace (ranked 137th). While his stats from last year certainly won’t support this statement, MWP can still be a Top-50 player in this league. His off-season dedication to fitness combined with the play making ability of Nash will back that notion up.
As Bryant mentioned, after the disappointment of consecutive second-round exits, this is a roster that is “locked and loaded” and ready to contend for a title. No ranking, article, or opinion is going to do anything to diminish that from being a fact. With media day on Monday, I’m ready to end all speculation and get down to business.
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