All-Time Los Angeles Lakers vs. All-Time Chicago Bulls, Who Ya Got?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 21, 2015

AP Images

Shaquille O'Neal might want to modify his claim that the Los Angeles Lakers' all-time team would beat the Chicago Bulls' version by 50 points.

But he doesn't need to back off of it entirely.

Here's the Instagram post that started it all:

Michael Jordan, ever above the fray, has yet to respond. But Scottie Pippen shot back at the Diesel. A meme war ensued, and the discourse broke down—as it so often does—when Photoshop became the primary tool in the debate.

So let's take up the question as seriously as we can.

The Rules

Sorry, Karl. You're out.
Sorry, Karl. You're out.KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/Associated Press

We'll pretend there's a one-game, winner-take-all scenario in which both the Lakers and Bulls get to field their best possible squads. To be eligible for inclusion, players must have spent a portion of their primes with L.A. or Chicago and/or be primarily associated with that team. Any players who spent significant time with another team have to at least logged meaningful, All-Star-caliber years with the Lakers or Bulls to qualify.

Yes, this is how we get Wilt Chamberlain on the Lakers.

It's also how we make sure L.A. doesn't get Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Glen Rice, Mitch Richmond, Steve Nash or Dwight Howard. And the Bulls? Well, they don't get Tyson Chandler—whom, as you'll soon see, they could actually use.

We'll also assume these players are at or near their primes.

The Lakers' Massive Advantage

Here are your rosters:

Lakers vs. Bulls All-Time Rosters
LakersPositionBulls
Magic JohnsonPGDerrick Rose
Jerry WestSGMichael Jordan
Kobe BryantSFScottie Pippen
James WorthyPFDennis Rodman
Shaquille O'NealCJoakim Noah
Wilt ChamberlainBenchHorace Grant
Kareem Abdul-JabbarBenchJimmy Butler
Elgin BaylorBenchJerry Sloan
Gail GoodrichBenchArtis Gilmore
Byron ScottBenchToni Kukoc
Michael CooperBenchBob Love
Jamaal WilkesBenchLuol Deng
Pau GasolBenchJohn Paxson
A.C. GreenBenchSteve Kerr
Lamar OdomBenchBill Cartwright
NBA.com

There's no shortage of lineup options with those rosters, particularly when it comes to the Lakers frontcourt. Should we just start Wilt alongside Shaq? Does Elgin Baylor deserve the nod over Jerry West? Are we cheating by moving Kobe Bryant to small forward? Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league's all-time leading scorer, seriously coming off the bench?

Those questions are the first signs of the talent mismatch we've got on our hands. Go ahead and start Kareem if you want. Give Baylor a first-unit gig. One way or the other, the Lakers will have multiple Hall of Famers stashed in reserve.

George Mikan didn't even make the team because there's no need for a fourth center, for crying out loud.

The Bulls can't match L.A.'s depth. Once you get past their first unit, you're leaning on young players like Jimmy Butler or role-fillers like Jerry Sloan and Toni Kukoc. That's perfectly fine if you're fielding a team to go against regular NBA opponents.

It's a problem against a Lakers club that will have Wilt and Elgin standing at the scorer's table halfway through the first quarter.

At the risk of overkill, consider this: Luol Deng ranks fourth on the Bulls' all-time scoring list with just over 10,000 points. Baylor is fourth on the Lakers' list...with over 23,000. Los Angeles has a dozen players in its history who have scored more than 10,000 points.

One final statistical note before we leave the numbers behind: If you take only the starting lineups (which benefits Chicago's top-heavy talent), the Lakers still absolutely dominate in combined career points, rebounds, assists and win shares.

Note that those numbers reflect career statistics—not just the ones accumulated while playing for the Lakers or Bulls. This also helps Chicago, as both Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen played a handful of strong seasons for other teams.

Even then, the Bulls don't measure up. If we were to include the reserves, the numbers would tip even more dramatically in the Lakers' favor. And also note that Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain, who rank first and second in all-time win shares, aren't even included because they're not starting.

Statistically, this isn't close.

Chicago's Best Hopes

INGLEWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 1: Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers jokes with Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls on February 1, 1998 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Clear hierarchies are critical to keeping teams organized, and that's a good place to start when making a case for Chicago. Admittedly, it's a little crazy to talk chemistry and order in a pure hypothetical like this—especially when dealing with players from various eras. But this whole thing is imaginary, so let's just go with it.

There is no question who's leading the Bulls.

Jordan is in charge, and everyone else falls in line behind him. That matters because the best teams have a pecking order. It helps define roles, dictates who gets which shots, and more broadly, assures a certain kind of calm in tense moments.

There's a reason the military has a chain of command. If everyone thinks he's the general, it's hard to execute marching orders.

The Lakers face the potential chaos of Bryant and O'Neal sniping at one another as Chamberlain tries to cope with coming off the bench for the first time in his life. Abdul-Jabbar's just going to take a third-string role quietly? Do we really think that's possible?

We can trust Pau Gasol to be cool about things, I guess. Beyond that, the Lakers have too many players who genuinely believe they're the alpha. There are some all-time great egos in play here.

ANN HEISENFELT/Associated Press

Maybe that means the whole will be less than the sum of its parts.

The hope would be for Magic Johnson to keep everyone happy with his unparalleled distribution skills. If anyone could handle such a task, it'd be him. But that's an awfully tall order.

The other thing is: Depth doesn't matter much in this scenario. Jordan is going to play at least 40 minutes of our pretend game. So is Pippen.

The fact that the Lakers have all-timers on the bench means less in the context of one game than it would in a series or a full season.

Beyond those two key areas—hierarchy and depth—you have to look pretty hard to find Chicago's advantages.

It's probably fair to say the Bulls have better wing defense and athleticism. Jordan and Pippen are two of the best perimeter stoppers to ever play, and we know Scottie can handle Magic because we've seen it happen:

And if we pretend Rose is in his prime, the Lakers don't have anyone capable of slowing him down—except, of course, the scariest bunch of rim-protectors imaginable. On both ends, the Lakers' interior dominance would be flat-out unfair.

Pumping the Brakes

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 17:  Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during the NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 17, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 102-85.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly ackn
Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

This isn't a 50-point game.

Not with the importance of depth minimized, and not with the potential infighting the star-laden Lakers could face.

Also, there have only been 34 games in NBA regular-season history decided by at least 50 points. And here's a spoiler: Jordan wasn't on the losing end of any of those. He's not going to allow it to happen here.

Ultimately, though, the deeper you get into the analysis, the more you realize that you're looking for ways to argue the Bulls can stay competitive. That's because there's not really a logical case to be made that they can win.

The talent disparity is just too overwhelming.

O'Neal went overboard on the margin of victory, but it's hard to disagree with his predicted result.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Grant Hughes covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @gt_hughes.

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