Three Stupid Reasons to Trade for Kobe Bryant

I've been trying to avoid the Kobe trade issue because it's mostly indicative of everything wrong with the NBA.  It's the ESPN hype machine, SLAM magazine, Scoop Jackson, and Steven A.Smith combined with fans just as out of touch with reality.  Unfortunately I do end up reading some it and the following seems unavoidable.  Three stock phrases among many that are parroted by nearly everyone, including by people who should know better.

Three Stupid Reasons to Trade for Kobe Bryant

#1 "Kobe Bryant is the best most dominant player in the league"
I realize all kinds of NBA players, media, and even a few coaches and GMs might agree with this statement, which gives fans free license to repeat this crap.  But it's both incorrect and reflective of the same mentality that leads people to complain about missing out on the J.R. Smith experience in Chicago.  Call Bryant the most talented player in the league.  The best shot creator in the league.  Call him the best perimeter defender in the league when he decides to play any.  These statements can be defended.  But if the Bulls trade for Bryant, I assume the goal is to win more games since the United Center already sells out.  So shouldn't the best player in the NBA be responsible for winning the most games for his team?

And when it comes to winning games for his team, it should be even more clear that Kobe isn't the best or the most dominant player in the NBA.  Boring old Tim Duncan is.  Yes, Duncan and his 4 championships where he actually was the best player on his team.  Yes, Duncan who has won 2 NBA MVPs and 3 Finals MVPs.  So how many MVPs has Kobe earned?  Kobe has won a grand total of two All-Star game MVPs, although even boring old Duncan managed to win one of those as well.  I could get into a whole range of player ranking systems and stats, but basically it's an easy argument to say that Duncan, Garnett, and LeBron James are better players, and when healthy Wade is at least as good as Kobe.  Instead of being the best player in the NBA, Kobe is fighting to stay in the top five.  This is reflected in PER.  Kobe has finished higher than 5th only once in PER, and that one time was a third place finish in 05/06.  And that's the player ranking system that actually rewards Kobe for taking every shot.  The only year he managed to finish higher than fifth was the year he really did take every shot he could get his hands on and he still only finished 3rd.  If Kobe really is the best player in the league shouldn't he at least be able to finish better than 5th more than once?

#2 "The only reason Kobe doesn't win is because his teammates are bad"
No one would call the Lakers roster great, but other players have done more with just as little.  The 05/06 Lakers were a 45 win team with a 48 win point differential.  It's the only one of the three years since Shaq left to be relatively injury free.  That team did take Phoenix to seven games in the 1st round, but it also blew a 3-1 lead and ended with Kobe deciding not to take shots, while Phoenix won by 31 points in game seven.  Consider the players that Duncan won a championship with in 02/03 beating Kobe and the Lakers along the way.  Consider that Garnett took a team that had Sam Cassell as its 2nd best player to game six of the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers a team where the 2nd best player was the great Kobe Bryant.  And Sam Cassell was injured in game 3 of that series, and didn't play the last three games so Garnett may have taken that team to the finals.  The series was tied at a game a piece before the 3rd game.  Garnett's supporting cast was only three Player Wins better than Kobe's in 05/06.  The difference was Garnett led the league in PER, Player Wins, and rebounding along with winning the MVP.  Garnett had 17.3 Player Wins in 03/04 that ranked on par with Jordan's best, and Bryant managed a near career high 13.7 in 05/06.  That's roughly the margin between Bryant and Ben Gordon.  The problem isn't so much Bryant's teammates as the difference between Bryant's perceived value and his actual value.

#3 "Bryant is the closest thing to Michael Jordan"
This may be technically true in that they are both listed at 6'6", play SG, take a lot of shots, etc.  But when people say this, they almost always use it as a means of supporting the idea that Bryant is Jordan like in terms of impact, which is why this falls on the stupid reasons list. It's indicative of someone failing to realize the size of the gap between Jordan and Bryant.  Bryant's career high PER in 05/06 ranks 8th among Jordan's single season PERs.  Bryant's 2nd highest PER finishes 10th among Jordan's PERs.  And Bryant's seasons likely would not have ranked even that high if Jordan had the three seasons he lost to injury and retirement.  To put this in perspective, Jordan's rookie season was basically Bryant's peak so far in terms of both PER and Players Wins.  Again the difference between Jordan and Bryant is the same as the difference between Bryant and Ben Gordon last season.  MJ consistently had an impact equal to that of the very best big men in the league.  No other perimeter player has done that in the last thirty years.  Bryant at his peak struggles to compete with a 22 year old LeBron James let alone Michael Jordan.  Kobe Bryant wants to be a Jordan impersonator, but the impersonation is on the level of an Elvis impersonator.  Everyone should know it's a joke and that it's entertainment largely without substance.

While I'm personally as excited about seeing Kobe Bryant in Bulls uniform as I am about seeing the Matadors up close, I won't begrudge people that have a desire to watch a "superstar."  Be excited.  Make your trade proposals.  Just please refrain from using the stupid reasons above.  Just because K.C. Johnson's thinks that Kobe Bryant is the best most dominant player in the NBA doesn't mean you should.  More of Trader Sam's objectivity seems to rub off on K.C. everyday.  K.C. also tends to be more human interest than analytical, evidenced by him giving Matt a hard time for running stats on his blog.  Instead, know Bryant's value when it comes to winning.  If the goal is to get to the Finals then Bryant's supporting cast must be better than Wade, Garnett, and LeBron's.  If the goal is to actually win a championship then the supporting cast has to be significantly better than Tim Duncan's, which means guys 4-8 have to be significantly better.  Do you want to play all your chips while Duncan is still in his prime?  

What is Bryant worth?
It's also possible a Bryant trade doesn't even improve the Bulls.  If you still think Bryant's the greatest thing since sliced bread then don't bother reading this, find a Jay Mariotti column instead.  Otherwise here's a look at what Bryant's  value really is using Dean Oliver's Player Wins.  If Gordon can play 3000 minutes (36.5 min/g, and he played 35 min/g over the last 41 games of last season) then the difference between Gordon and Bryant is about 3.5 Players wins over the same minutes played, plus another Player Win or two at the most for the additional minutes Bryant plays.  That's if Bryant plays at his 05/06 level.  If Bryant plays at his 06/07 level, which may be more likely given his increasing age and possible knee injuries, the gap between Bryant and Gordon slips to 1.5 Player Wins and 2.0 total.  And that's only if Gordon doesn't get any better and further close the gap.  If Nocioni and Tyrus Thomas are also traded with Gordon, it should be easy to see how trading for Bryant wouldn't necessarily end up making the Bulls any better.  Thomas alone if he plays only as well as he did in the 2nd half of his rookie year is worth 2-3 Player Wins over Joe Smith and anyone else on the roster that takes his playing time.  The gap between Gordon and Bryant isn't substantial enough to cover for the loss of Nocioni and Thomas let alone additional players in the short term if Bryant isn't playing at his peak level of production.  And that's without the long term costs of shortening the team's competitive window by trading a 24 year old Top 10 SG and a 20 year old 4th overall pick.  Unless you have Michael Jordan, championships are won primarily in the front court.  Unless you think Tyrus Thomas is a complete bust, I'd be careful about trading him away.  A player capable of guarding both LeBron James and Tim Duncan is a rare commodity.  

I purposefully tried to be as fair to Bryant as possible, staying away from all the character issues.  But, it's impossible to get around the fact that not even in one single season was Bryant ever the best player in the NBA by any statistical system except points scored.  Both Jordan and Shaq led the league in PER at least five times.  All the players that have been considered the best in the league have managed to finish at least 1st or 2nd in either PER or Player Wins, usually both.  They also managed to win an MVP.  Bryant simply doesn't have the resume.  And I can't shake the belief that Bryant trade would end up making the Bulls worse both in the long term as well as the short term.  At best I can see it as a slightly better than break even trade in the short term if Gordon, Nocioni, and Thomas are traded.

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