Did Kobe Bryant Ruin Eddie Jones' Chance To Be an LA Lakers Great?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IOctober 13, 2010

31 Oct 1997:  Guards Kobe Bryant (left) and Eddie Jones of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during a game against the Utah Jazz at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.  The Lakers won the game 104-87. Mandatory Credit: Aubrey Washington  /Allsport
Aubrey Washington/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant and former Lakers guard Eddie Jones shared the same position, height, weight and style of play during their brief time together on the same roster.

The similarities don't end there, as both Jones and Bryant also shared a common Philadelphia area interest, and a striking physical resemblance to each other illustrated in the photo above.

Jones attended Temple University in Philadelphia and was drafted by the Lakers with the 10th pick in the 1994 NBA draft.

Jones was a highly skilled, versatile shooting guard who was fundamentally sound, and had a game that was mature beyond his years.

Jones was already a key member of the Lakers roster when former general manager Jerry West initiated the series of moves that would culminate with the free agency signing of Shaquille O'Neal and the acquisition of Bryant

Bryant was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick of the 1996 draft, and then later shipped to Los Angeles for center Vlade Divac.

Although Jones would hang around a few more seasons and provide much-needed mentoring to the young Bryant, his tenure as a Laker effectively ended when Bryant arrived in Hollywood.

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Some people questioned West for choosing a player with nearly the same exact skill set as Jones, but West must have seen something special in Bryant that separated him as a player.

During his time in Los Angeles, Jones garnered a huge fan following from his hustle, work ethic and talent on the court, and there were some fans who refused to see the handwriting on the wall.

After all, Jones was an above-average shooting guard, and Bryant was an untested high school phenom whose brash nature was in stark contrast to Jones' humble persona.

But, even though Bryant and Jones' styles were similar, it didn't take long to realize that Bryant was the more talented player, and it was only a matter of time before Bryant wrested away the starting shooting guard spot.

Jones continued to excel despite the shadow of Bryant looming over his shoulder, but the 1998-99 season would be his last as a Laker, as Jones departed ironically for Charlotte, the city of Bryant's NBA origins.

The rest is history.

The Lakers won the first of three consecutive championships the following season with Bryant as the starting shooting guard, and Jones continued a career filled with near misses in his quest for an NBA title.

Jones' career with the Lakers lasted five seasons, and although he created many memories, his chance to become a Lakers legend may have been erased when Bryant joined the roster.

Bryant's rise to superstardom made it easy to forget Jones' contributions, but could the Lakers franchise still have reached the same level of success with Jones instead of Bryant?

Popular theory suggests that O'Neal was the primary catalyst for the Lakers 2000-2002 championship run, and that the players who surrounded him were less important.

That may be true, but Jones' highest playoff average as a Laker was 17 points per game, while Bryant averaged 21 points per game during the 2000 postseason.

The higher average doesn't mean that the Lakers would not have won in 2000 with Jones as opposed to Bryant, but it does mean that Bryant contributed more during the run.

The next two seasons Bryant averaged 29.4 points and 26.5 points in the postseason respectively, and firmly cemented himself as the league's top talent at the shooting guard position.

I have never bought the theory that the talent surrounding O'Neal was inconsequential, because that line of thought betrays the superstar talent he won NBA championships with.

Jones was a nice, steady player, but he was no Bryant or Dwyane Wade, who served as O'Neal's superstar sidekick during the Miami Heat's championship run in 2006.

I was also a big fan of Jones, but I was never blind to the limitations of his game.

Jones averaged 14.8 points per game during his career, and his highest single-season scoring average was 20.5 points per game as a member of the Charlotte Hornets.

As a Laker, Jones' best season was 17 points per game, and regardless of how dominant O'Neal was, it's hard to picture the Lakers having the same success with Jones as the starting shooting guard, rather than Bryant.

Jones was a decent talent, but in truth he was only a caretaker for the position that Bryant would later claim as his own.