Lakers Insider: Rivalry with LA Serves as Backdrop for Spurs in NBA Finals

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJune 5, 2014

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LOS ANGELES — Better career: Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan?

Better coach: Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich?

Better overall since they've been in the NBA together: Los Angeles Lakers or San Antonio Spurs?

Right now, the Spurs only care about one opponent: the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. But how San Antonio fares in this championship series will affect how history looks at the overall success of the Lakers and Spurs.

Duncan winning this title would square him with Bryant, at five rings apiece, as the leading men of the NBA's post-Michael Jordan era. The fact that Duncan has two NBA MVPs to Bryant's one in what is fundamentally a big man's game leads to a reasonable conclusion that Duncan's careereven with the epic disparity in points scored between the two as well as Bryant's greater dominance this decadehas been superior in strictly basketball terms.

There's no doubt that Bryant, far more willing than Duncan to embrace the spotlight and the challenges that come with it, has had a greater impact on society at large. However, part of that impact is Bryant's identity as a winner, and Duncan matching him in total championships would undermine anyone who wants to argue that Bryant's way to win is better.

As far as Popovich is concerned, he's now reached his sixth NBA Finals, as compared to Jackson's 13 (and Red Auerbach's 11 and Pat Riley's nine). A win over Miami would give Pop five titles, which is still a far cry from Jackson's 11, who won six of those rings in Chicago, not Los Angeles.

Gregg Popovich heads into the 2014 NBA Finals with a chance to win his fifth title in six appearances.
Gregg Popovich heads into the 2014 NBA Finals with a chance to win his fifth title in six appearances.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

That's a long way to go for Popovich, who likely isn't going to travel that long way; Popovich has indicated he might retire as a coach when Duncan retires as a player.

So what about the Lakers versus the Spurs over the 38 years that San Antonio has been in the NBA?

Here's how close that one looks: The Spurs have made the playoffs 34 times in that span; the Lakers have made it 35. The Spurs have 20 division titles; the Lakers have 19.

While the Lakers have had to sit out this postseason, the Spurs made it for the 17th consecutive year—another feather in Duncan's cap—and are trying to make the absolute most of this appearance. Those 17 appearances in a row actually ties the Lakers' best-ever continuous run from 1977-1993.

This is the first time, though, that the Spurs have ever repeated as conference champions, which obviously means that they've never repeated as NBA champions. The very definition of a dynasty is a continuous line of rulers.

When you get to the crux of it in that way, it's really not close.

Since the Spurs entered the league, the Lakers have ruled far more often and far more continuously.

They have won 10 NBA championships in that time. The Spurs have won four, the same number as another distant Lakers rival as far as the recent league history goes: the Boston Celtics.

Lakers Eye FutureNot Presentin Draft

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says he is looking for the best long-term talent in the draft, not necessarily someone who will make the fastest impact.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says he is looking for the best long-term talent in the draft, not necessarily someone who will make the fastest impact.Nick Ut/Associated Press

As the June 26 draft nears, it's logical to look at things in terms of traditional position needs. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is not doing so, however.

"We need help everywhere," Kupchak said. "So, I think we'll be in position to take the best player at almost any position. And even the position we do have covered [Bryant at shooting guard], he's been around 18 years, so we have to look for beyond that position, too."

The Lakers will take the player they view to be the best available prospect at No. 7 overall—and it is increasingly clear that they are OK if that player is a project who is not likely to help Bryant win a title before he retires.

Kobe Bryant, Draft Enforcer

The Lakers' big predraft workout Wednesday was thrown off when Michigan guard Nik Stauskas and Duke guard Rodney Hood pulled out late. Here's one way to ensure that doesn't happen again for the rest of the most important workouts: bring Bryant in to run them.

No agent could possibly talk his clients out of showing up to a workout with Kobe. Now, that would be some fun: Bryant barking orders at these kids who revere him and are aspiring to actually become his teammate. It's a reality show waiting to happen.

Steve Nash showed up Wednesday morning at the facility to lend support to fellow Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis as well as the other prospects in attendance. Kendall Marshall sat in and watched some of the workouts, too.

But asked about Bryant and whether he grew up a Kobe fan, Ennis replied, "I think everybody was. You have to respect Kobe."

Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.