Kobe Bryant's farewell tour stops in Toronto this weekend for his final NBA All-Star Game appearance. With the exhibition contest largely serving as a goodbye party for the legendary Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard, he's the sentimental choice to corral another MVP trophy.
When Bryant partook in his first All-Star showdown in 1998, Lakers teammate D'Angelo Russell was about to turn two years old. In his 18th turn as an All-Star, Bryant can pass Bob Pettit by winning his fifth MVP honor.
NBA TV gave a glimpse of the current leaderboard:
While the 37-year-old isn't playing at an All-Star level, the fans awarded him for his career achievements. There's a growing belief the same gushy sentiments will land him one last going-away present on Valentine's Day. According to Odds Shark's Andrew Avery, Bryant is the comfortable MVP favorite:
|Kobe Bryant, LAL||27-20|
|Stephen Curry, GS||5-1|
|LeBron James, CLE||8-1|
|Russell Westbrook, OKC||8-1|
|Kevin Durant, OKC||10-1|
|James Harden, HOU||18-1|
|Kyle Lowry, TOR||20-1|
|DeMar DeRozan, TOR||22-1|
|Kawhi Leonard, SA||25-1|
|Paul George, IND||25-1|
|Klay Thompson, GS||25-1|
|John Wall, WAS||28-1|
Is showing up enough to net him the award? Or will he need to prove his worth among younger, superior adversaries who grew up watching the old geezer ball?
After highlighting the deep crop of competition, let's dissect Bryant's MVP candidacy.
All-Star Game Schedule
When: Sunday, Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Live Stream: TNT Overtime
|BC||Kyle Lowry||Toronto Raptors|
|BC||Dwyane Wade||Miami Heat|
|FC||LeBron James||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|FC||Paul George||Indiana Pacers|
|FC||Carmelo Anthony||New York Knicks|
|BC||Jimmy Butler*||Chicago Bulls|
|BC||DeMar DeRozan||Toronto Raptors|
|BC||John Wall||Washington Wizards|
|BC||Isaiah Thomas||Boston Celtics|
|FC||Chris Bosh*||Miami Heat|
|FC||Paul Millsap||Atlanta Hawks|
|FC||Andre Drummond||Detroit Pistons|
|FC||Pau Gasol (replacing Butler*)||Chicago Bulls|
|FC||Al Horford (replacing Bosh*)||Atlanta Hawks|
|BC||Stephen Curry||Golden State Warriors|
|BC||Russell Westbrook||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|FC||Kobe Bryant||Los Angeles Lakers|
|FC||Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|FC||Kawhi Leonard||San Antonio Spurs|
|BC||Chris Paul||Los Angeles Clippers|
|BC||James Harden||Houston Rockets|
|BC||Klay Thompson||Golden State Warriors|
|FC||LaMarcus Aldridge||San Antonio Spurs|
|FC||DeMarcus Cousins||Sacramento Kings|
|FC||Anthony Davis||New Orleans Pelicans|
|FC||Draymond Green||Golden State Warriors|
Football fans will feel a tingling of deja vu during this conversation. Last Sunday, the Super Bowl revolved around Peyton Manning probably lacing up for the last time. Although the star quarterback no longer performed at a top level, the Denver Broncos' ferocious defense led them to a championship victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Before, and perhaps even during the game, onlookers would have expected Manning to take home MVP recognition if the Broncos won. Regardless of his individual output, a Hall of Fame quarterback on his way out the door carries a massive advantage over a defender who doesn't help in most fantasy leagues.
By the end of Denver's victory, there was no choice but to not give it to Manning, who amassed a dismal 141 passing yards with no touchdowns and two turnovers. Rather than forcing the fairy-tale conclusion, the voters rightfully gave pass-rusher Von Miller the distinction.
If the Bryant shooting 34.9 percent shows up and throws up a bunch of contested bricks, his legacy won't overcome a Stephen Curry shooting barrage or overall LeBron James domination. It's his award to lose, but he can certainly lose it as the game's least qualified participant based on his ugly 2015-16 credentials.
The difference, of course, is Bryant will face lackadaisical defense in an exhibition bout rather than elite defenders playing the biggest game of their lives. It doesn't count, and his teammates idolize the retiring guard. They'll give him every chance imaginable to succeed.
Curry represents Bryant's biggest MVP impediment. If the reigning regular-season MVP catches fire from behind the arc, everyone will quickly forget about the old man missing long twos. Yet the Golden State Warriors star isn't looking to steal the spotlight. He talked to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears about Bryant's last All-Star hurrah:
People remember Michael’s last All-Star Game [in 2003], Shaq’s [O’Neal] last All-Star game [in 2009], all the greats. This will be Kobe’s great moment. The fans obviously voted him in to see him on the court. I might get a couple of assists off of him. I will see him get his moment that he definitely deserves.
He pushed everyone to try to elevate their game going after what he was trying to accomplish. He’s left a mark. To be in the same [starting lineup] as he rides off into the All-Star sunset will be a fun moment that I will remember for a long time.
If Bryant wants to take 25 shots, nobody will stop him. He'd probably make eight or nine, but inefficient volume would still give him the trophy. Per ESPN's Baxter Holmes, however, he (for once) doesn't sound interested in hogging the ball:
Will Kobe go for All-Star Game MVP? “Why? I’m good. I’ll make a couple jumpshots and try to play the best I can, but I’m okay."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) February 11, 2016
More importantly, Holmes also relayed Bryant's playing-time estimation:
How many minutes does Kobe want to play in his final All-Star Game? "I'd be good with 10." #NBAAllStarTO— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) February 12, 2016
Just because Bryant starts doesn't mean he needs to log 25-30 minutes. While an All-Star Game without him would have felt incomplete, it's also unfair for him to trap the likes of James Harden, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the bench.
Honor the past, but let the present prove the league remains in good hands.
After Bryant, Curry and James represent each conference's top favorite. Yet last year's MVP, Russell Westbrook, will defend his crown while Kevin Durant tries to snag the distinction from his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate. A point guard has won three straight times, so don't count out Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and John Wall—although the Washington Wizards star will have to overcome an injury, per ESPN.
Voters will look for every excuse to reward Bryant, but don't be surprised if the actual results force their hand to look elsewhere.