NBA Saturday: Kobe Defends MJ’s Comments
Kobe Bryant Basks in Michael Jordan’s Comments, LeBron James Refutes Them
Because Michael Jordan turned 50 years old this month and because LeBron James is playing the best basketball of his career and because Kobe Bryant is arguably the most legendary player still suiting up for an NBA team that just so happens to be the league’s most popular, it was all but a certainty that all three players and their collective standing in hoops history would find a way to come up during Friday’s media session at All-Star Weekend in Houston.
The most interesting parts of those conversations came from James, who felt slighted by Jordan’s comments that Bryant was the better player because he had more rings, and Bryant himself, who tried to defend both Jordan’s comments and LeBron’s pride.
“The message is winning takes precedence over everything. That’s really the big key,” Bryant said. “LeBron knows that. I’m sure that’s motivation for him to win as many championships as possible, as it is for me to try and win as many as I can… We all know. LeBron knows that. That’s what drives him. It’s the same that drove me, and it’s what drives me now—to win as many as you can. It’s really that simple.”
For LeBron, however, it’s really not that simple.
“[Jordan] said he would take Kobe over me because five rings is better than one,” James said. “At the end of the day, rings don’t always define someone’s career. If that was the case, I would sit up here and say I would take (Bill) Russell over (Michael) Jordan.
“But I wouldn’t take Russell over Jordan,” he added. “Russell has 11 rings; Jordan has six. And I wouldn’t take Robert Horry over Kobe. I wouldn’t do it. It’s your own personal opinion. Rings do not define someone’s career. You look at someone like Jud Buechler, who has multiple rings. Charles Barkley does not have one ring. He’s not better than Charles Barkley. Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all-time. Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all-time. Sometimes it’s about the situation you’re in.”
It has very quickly become a sore subject for James, who still has plenty of career left to catch up to Jordan and Bryant in the ring department, and in fact the HEAT look like the favorites to win another championship this very summer. That still would put him three behind Kobe and four behind His Airness, but even Bryant has to admit that what James is doing this season is something very special.
“I think [LeBron] just goes out and plays his game and plays to his strengths,” Bryant said. “He’s hit one of those patches where the hard work and physical talent just kind of comes together and you hit one of those hot streaks. Some of us have been there before, and there’s no feeling like it.”
That’s usually because those special seasons tend to accompany a championship, which is what LeBron James is hoping for his year, if for no other reason than to shut up Michael Jordan and everybody who agrees with him.
Kobe Bryant, of course, spent his entire media session grinning calmly. Clearly, the pressure to live up to Jordan’s words is weighing much lighter on his shoulders than LeBron’s.
Second Half Predictions & Midseason Awards
All-Star Weekend is a great time to pause a little and take stock of where things are in the league, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do today by looking at a few midseason awards and by making a few predictions for the second half of the season.
1. Nikola Vucevic will win this year’s Most Improved Player award.
Here’s something you might not know: the Orlando Magic have had more Most Improved Players over the years (5) than any other team in history, and assuming Vucevic stays healthy and keeps on dropping double-doubles the way he has been this year, Orlando has a good chance of extending that lead.
Vucevic has averaged 12.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 32.5 minutes per night, when a year ago he was playing half as often as a rookie and putting up less than half those numbers (5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds). To say he’s come a long way would be a significant understatement, as he’s currently tied for second in the NBA in rebounds per game, behind only Dwight Howard, and he’s third in the league in double-doubles behind only David Lee and Zach Randolph. It’s been an unbelievable year for him, and should he win it’ll be the first time a team will have had two Most Improved Players in a row (Ryan Anderson won last year).
As for the other major awards, here’s a quick rundown of who should end up winning each, should current trends continue:
MVP – LeBron James. He’s one of the best players ever, is having arguably his best season ever and one gets the impression that Miami is only just now starting to “heat” up.
Sixth Man of the Year – Jamal Crawford. He’s second in scoring (16.8 points) on a stacked L.A. Clippers team and has been a tremendous veteran leader for a group that has clearly made the leap this season.
Coach of the Year – Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls are still a top defensive team and look like the Eastern Conference’s best bet at giving Miami a run for their money, at least assuming Derrick Rose returns this season. Which leads us to…
2. Derrick Rose will return in March.
Before Rose came out and gave the city of Chicago one giant collective heart attack by saying he may not play at all this season, people were starting to get the impression that he’d be back right after the All-Star break. Chicago’s first home game after the festivities was against—who else?—the Miami HEAT, and what better way for the Bulls’ starting point guard to make his triumphant return?
But now Rose is admitting that he still can’t dunk the way he wants to, and Bulls team president John Paxson has said he expects more five-on-five practices after All-Star weekend to see just how ready Rose actually is for the floor.
Pre-trade-deadline now seems just a bit premature for Rose’s return, but he’s doing too well and is entirely too competitive to make anyone truly believe he’ll miss the whole season. That being the case, expect Rose back for at least the final four weeks of the season, which would put his return right around the middle of March.
3. The L.A. Lakers will make the playoffs.
While it certainly feels like the Lakers have been the Western Conference’s version of the Charlotte Bobcats, the fact is that they’re only 3.5 games out of the playoff picture, behind only the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers in that chase. They’re a veteran team with entirely too much talent to miss the show completely.
Kobe Bryant has been tinkering with his on-court identity this season, but if he comes out of the break with the killer mentality we know he’s capable of, the Lakers should have enough juice in the tank to make a run at things, and getting Pau Gasol back for the home stretch will be a major help, too. Confidence is waning for this team, but they’ve got enough talent to make a serious run at getting into the postseason.
4. The Boston Celtics will win a playoff series.
Every time we count out the Celtics, they find a way to remain relevant with a core that has very clearly seen better days. Rajon Rondo’s injury was supposed to finish them, but instead they’ve played inspired basketball and have wedged themselves firmly into the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture. They’ll make the postseason, for sure, but assuming they end up matched against the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers or Brooklyn Nets, there’s a real possibility that they could even upset a first-round series.
5. The Miami HEAT will win the NBA championship.
They have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but they still haven’t come anywhere near playing as well as they’re capable of playing. We’ve seen flashes of that greatness in the last couple of weeks, but we know from last year’s playoffs that the HEAT have this whole other level that they’re apparently saving for the postseason. When they’re at the top of their game, and when LeBron is playing at his frightening best, there’s not a team in the league that can touch these guys. We can hope for an interesting and competitive playoffs, but to hope for a new NBA champion is probably a little too much to ask for.
As always, you’re encouraged to hit up the comments section with some second-half predictions of your own, but in the meantime, please make sure to keep up with our All-Star coverage as we keep you up to date on media sessions before and after what should be a very exciting All-Star Saturday and Sunday. We’ll have all the latest, with plenty more to come here at HOOPSWORLD for the rest of the weekend.