There was a time when Kobe Bryant was unquestionably the best player in the NBA. He dominated the 2000s in much the same way that Michael Jordan dominated the ’90s. All five of his championships were won between 2000 and ’10, two of them without Shaquille O’Neal casting doubt over Kobe’s relative contribution.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Kobe’s status among the NBA elite is undergoing an ever-increasing amount of scrutiny. Coming off of a broken bone in his left knee that kept him out of all but six games last year, the 18-year veteran appears to be intent on proving all of his doubters wrong.
He stated recently on Jimmy Kimmel Live that he is “100 percent healthy,” and I believe him. We have all seen that look in Kobe’s eyes; when he decides that he will not be denied something that he wants. The rest of the NBA should be scared.
The Los Angeles Lakers are clearly making a concerted effort to surround Kobe with the type of talent he needs to make one last run at his sixth title. Their roster was stacked with players signed to a one-year deal, for the very purpose of opening up an incredible amount of cap space for this summer. Assuming they can find a suitor for Steve Nash’s $9.7 million salary, they will have plenty of room to add multiple stars with which to surround Kobe.
Thursday night, the Lakers selected Julius Randle with the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, yet another piece to the championship puzzle.
With the right supporting cast, and assuming Kobe can stay healthy, I would not be surprised to see the Lakers make a quick return to prominence, right where they belong. This year’s playoffs just didn’t seem right without them in it.
But, just as the scrutiny is intensifying for Kobe, so too is the criticism surrounding Kevin Durant.
Durant certainly did his legacy no favors this season, as he clearly deferred to Russell Westbrook multiple times throughout the Oklahoma City Thunder’s playoff run. Durant is beginning to feel the pressures that plagued LeBron James’ career prior to his first championship victory, and he appears to be shying away from the spotlight.
In fact, I believe Durant should be fielding more criticism than is actually being thrown his direction. If it weren’t for the fact that he was perceived as the “nice guy” of the NBA, he would be getting absolutely slammed by fans and media alike. And he would deserve it. Superstars need to own those moments. They are the moments that define one’s legacy.
I’m not trying to denounce Durant’s talent at all. He is incredibly gifted and clearly one of the best players in the league, but for my money I’ll take Kobe every day of the week, and 24 times on Sunday. And I’m not talking about in their respective primes either; I mean next season.
Yes, you heard me right. I’d take a fired up Kobe, on the downside of his career, over a passive Durant in his prime. And I dare anyone to tell me why I should feel otherwise.
Let the debate begin.