Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: Could Kobe Lead Cavaliers To Best Record in NBA?
There is a debate in basketball that seems as old as time itself, who is "the man" in the NBA right now, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers or LeBron James of the Miami Heat.
Even if LeBron has only been in the league since 2003, it seems that the question has been thrown around all of my life.
Ultimately, the argument always boils down to rings vs. dominance.
The Kobe followers will go to the fact that Bryant has five rings, and was the most important player on his team for two or three of those five championships, depending on who you ask, while LeBron has zero rings, and only one finals appearance.
In his defense, the LeBron-lovers will claim that he has never played with another elite player, which is true on paper, but the teams he has played on have not been a group of Slava Medvedenkos and Ira Newbles.
There is one thing that has always sparked the debate and turned it into a full-on blaze, and that is, if the two were to switch places, how well would their respective teams fare with their new superstar.
Well, the thing that would interest me the most would be to see what Kobe Bryant could do with the now-inept Cleveland Cavaliers.
Would he be able to drag that team to 60 wins as LeBron James did in the past two seasons (although with a slightly different cast)?
Would they crash and burn like the 2004-05 Lakers when there was no viable No. 2 on the team?
Here, I have compiled what I think is a solid argument for and against Kobe Bryant leading these Cleveland Cavaliers to the best record in the NBA.
Pro: The Cavaliers Are Not As Bad As They Seem
The thing I here most frequently about the Cavaliers now is that people should be angry with ownership for not bringing in the players necessary to win a championship.
They may not have the star power and all of the flash and sizzle of the new "super-teams" but the Cavaliers are not a group of terrible basketball players, they are a group of complementary players without a nucleus.
To argue that LeBron James would make this team 25 wins better at this point in the season is believable, but it is not because they are that bad and James is that good, it is because they are a team without a focal point.
Any player who is a proven leader and scorer could come in and put this team in the top five in the Eastern Conference with the current cast.
They are just a team that lacks a main person to revolve around, unfortunately for them, that is the hardest piece of a basketball team to find, and without that, they are 8-36.
If Kobe had started the 2010-11 season with the Cavaliers, they would be above .500 right now easily.
Con: They Have Been Bitten By The Injury Bug
The hardest thing to control in basketball is whether your optimal lineup plays every night.
With the likelihood of injuries night in and night out, it is almost impossible to go through a whole season with the same five players starting all 82 games.
That injury problem is what has happened to the Cavaliers so far this season.
They are without Anderson Varejao, arguably their best player, and the only player to have started more than 33 games is Anthony Parker (who Kobe Bryant would supplant in the lineup anyway).
Kobe would come into a team that has been absolutely ravaged by injuries, and would be hard-pressed to lead a team that relies on Alonzo Gee and Manny Harris to play important minutes.
The injuries would be too much for Bryant to help overcome, and there is no way they could end up keeping up with the healthy teams throughout the league.
Pro: Cleveland Rocks
Clevelanders endured the pinnacle of sports break-ups over the summer, the likes of which the sports world has never seen before and may never see again.
From that, the city seems to have gone into a bit of a spite mode, and has been selling out their home floor every time their team plays.
Part of this is due to the fact that season ticket renewals were due before the start of the free agency period, but that doesn't account for roughly 10,000 more paying customers a night coming to The Q.
Kobe Bryant has always been a player to thrive off the energy of the crowd, and even though Los Angeles gets rocking from time to time, it isn't a constant chaotic buzz around the arena.
If Bryant were to magically appear in Cleveland and become their starting shooting guard, there is no telling how the people would react.
In the city he would become all four Beatles rolled into one, and he would have the opportunity to play in a constantly erupting arena.
Con: There Are No Big Men in Cleveland
Even when fully healthy, the bigger positions for the Cavaliers are staffed by unorthodox players.
Anderson Varejao has been Ben Wallace lite in the past few seasons, and that has been enough for him to get the nod to start center for the team.
He may be a high-energy player and a nuisance to other teams, but when there is a bigger, stronger center backing him down, he is hard-pressed to stop them.
Their backup to Varejao is Ryan Hollins, who is as soft as a warehouse full of Charmin toilet paper, and calls this defense.
Cleveland's troop of centers this season is a far cry from having Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas a season ago, and they are sure a far cry from the Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum trio that resides in LA.
Pro: The Team Would Be His
The biggest problem early in Kobe's career has been his inability to share the spotlight with another superstar.
This is most evident from the first half of the 2000s when it is accused that he "drove" Shaquille O'Neal out of Los Angeles.
Well, the moment he steps onto a floor with the Cleveland Cavaliers he is "The Man" and there is nobody who could even think about trying to take that title from him.
They are used to deferring to a superstar, as LeBron James was basically the entire offense in the past few seasons.
In fact, Bryant may even be happier as the floor general of the Cavaliers, so long as he is on a winning team.
Con: Those Old Knees Just Ain't What They Used To Be
Far be it from me to say that Kobe Bryant isn't a warrior. I mean the dude has played months at a time with a broken finger on his shooting hand, and always seems to be in some kind of pain.
But really, there's only so far a player can go in terms of playing through pain.
Kobe has nearly 50,000 minutes of professional basketball logged on his body, and it is only a matter of time before it starts to break down.
The Lakers have been wise this season to lessen the amount of work he does in the regular season in order to keep him healthy for the postseason, but if he were to join this Cavs team, he would be hard-pressed to play fewer than 40 minutes a night.
He would have to push his body as hard as he has ever pushed it in order to keep this team winning every night, and with his mileage, I just don't think he would be able to do it without sustaining an injury.
Pro: His Teammates Would Be Pumped
Remember back to when the Cavs were looking like they were a decent team for the first dozen or so games of the season?
They were stoked to be winning, and they were happy just to be playing basketball again.
Cleveland beat the Boston Celtics in their first game of the season on pure adrenaline, and ran on those fumes for the next few weeks.
The Cavs ran to a 5-5 record in the first 10 games of the season, but couldn't keep it up.
It's hard to give a maximum effort every night in any professional sport, and they had to give more than that in order to win games, and it quickly caught up to them.
Teams caught on that they needed to put pressure on them early, and they would be unable to come back from the brink, and they have won just three games in the 34 contests since.
Kobe magically appearing in a wine and gold uniform would bring back that never-say-die attitude that they played with for the first dozen games of the season, only they wouldn't have to push as hard as possible every night, and they would be able to keep it up for a longer period of time.
Con: The Top Of The NBA Is Crowded
In the past few seasons, the battle for the best record in the NBA has been a four- to five-team race, and it was never a big question in the last few games of the season.
This year, Boston, Miami, Orlando, New Orleans, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles and possibly even the Atlanta Hawks have the possibility of racking up the best record.
There are seven teams this year with a winning percentage of over .650, whereas last season only five teams finished with such a winning percentage.
Not only that, the middle of the pack of the NBA seems much stronger than it has in recent years, as teams such as New York, Dallas, Utah, Denver, Portland and even the lowly Los Angeles Clippers seem to be able to beat anyone on any given night.
Kobe and the new Cavaliers would have much stiffer competition than LeBron and the Cavaliers did in the past two seasons.
Pro: He Is Still Kobe Bryant
Despite the fact that his body has been ravaged by time at this point, and it is only a matter of time before he breaks down like a Pontiac from 1982, he is still Kobe Bryant, and he is still one of the most dominant players in the league.
Whether you like him or not, he is either the best or second best shooting guard in the league, depending upon your opinion of Dwyane Wade.
His 36.1 points per 48 minutes is the highest in the NBA, and his 50 percent effective field goal percentage is higher than his career average
In his increasing age he has become a smarter player, and a better distributor, and has become a player who no longer has a me-first mentality, but rather looks to his teammates for the best shot.
He would bring a winning mentality back to Cleveland, something that would without a doubt turn the club's fortune around.
Con: There Is No No. 2 Option
In Cleveland for the entirety of LeBron James' reign as the king of the Cavaliers, the quest for the No. 2 man was the biggest story in the city.
Alas, nearly eight years later, it seems that that man was never found.
They found plenty of complementary players who did a magnificent job in their own right, such as Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West (he at least entertained James' mom, and I am believing that rumor more every day), Daniel Gibson, Carlos Boozer and (ugh) Larry Hughes.
As far as a viable No. 2 goes, their best attempts were Mo Williams, who seemingly couldn't handle the postseason pressure, and Larry Hughes, who makes me want to punch a kitten.
The best that they possibly could have hoped for was if Carlos Boozer would have stayed in Cleveland, rather than taking advantage of the kindness of a blind man (Gordon Gund) and bolting as soon as he became an unrestricted free agent.
There are still some good players on this Cleveland teams, but there is no real No. 2 man, and Kobe has only ever been on great teams when he or someone else such as Shaquille O'Neal or Pau Gasol was the No. 2 man.
Kobe Bryant would without a doubt make the Cleveland Cavaliers relevant in the basketball world again, but would he be able to lead them to the best record in the NBA?
By all means, probably not.
There would be too much to overcome in terms of talent and ability in order to make them the best team in the NBA.
Would they have the potential to make a run? Maybe, but is it likely? No.
Cleveland would be a team that would take a lot to beat, but they would not end up winning north of 60 games again, and they would not end up beating out the likes of San Antonio, Miami and Boston for the best record in the NBA.
It would put them on a much different track than the one they are currently on, and could potentially end up cracking the top four in the East, and make them a threat for the finals, but it would not propel them to the top of the league.
Does that mean that LeBron James is better than Kobe Bryant? You tell me.