ESPN's Chad Ford Takes Aim At Kobe Bryant's Trade ValueIt has been public knowledge for several months that Kobe Bryant would like to be traded and Lakers owner Jerry Buss has publicly acknowledged that he is willing to deal the two-time defending NBA scoring champion. So why is Bryant still a Laker? ESPN's Chad Ford asserts "Bryant's trade value isn't nearly as high as he or the Lakers would like to think." Ford lists four reasons that this is the case. Let's take a closer look at each one:
1) "Does Kobe have too much mileage?"
Ford's case: Bryant is only 29 but, because he came to the NBA straight out of high school and has been involved in many extended postseason runs, Bryant has played a total of 33,462 regular season and playoff minutes. Ford also mentions that Bryant has had a couple arthroscopic knee surgeries and he points out that Bryant is nearing the age when Michael Jordan retired for the first time, adding that when Jordan came back (nearly two years later) he was not quite the high flyer that he had been.
Why Ford's case is not built Ford tough: The arthroscopic surgery issue is a red herring. Nowadays, unless a more problematic condition is discovered during the procedure, this amounts to little more than a car getting a tuneup. Last year's surgery had such a bad effect on Bryant that he put up
the highest post-All-Star Game scoring average in the past 43 years. If I were building a team from scratch then I agree with the NBA GMs who would take LeBron James over anyone. However, a team that trades for Bryant now is not planning on building from scratch; the Chicago Bulls or Dallas Mavericks--two teams that have been mentioned in the Bryant sweepstakes, though both currently deny that they are actively pursuing a deal--are trying to win right now. Bryant figures to remain the NBA's best player long enough to help either team to pursue that goal.
I have a rule of thumb: I distrust general conclusions made by people who cannot get their facts straight. Yes, anyone can make a mistake but if you have basic information wrong then I tend to suspect that you are either very sloppy or you have such an agenda that you won't allow facts to get in the way. Ford asserts that Bryant has played more regular season and playoff minutes than Allen Iverson; in fact, coming into this season Iverson has played 34,248 combined minutes, nearly 1000 more than Bryant. The Bryant-Iverson comparison is flawed for another, more fundamental reason: Bryant is much bigger physically than Iverson and therefore better able to withstand pounding. Most of the NBA players who have had the longest careers (other than freak of nature John Stockton) are big guys. Michael Jordan, who is roughly the same size as Bryant, proved that he could play at an MVP level in his mid-thirties and at a better than average level even in his forties. Bryant, like Jordan, is a conditioning fanatic, so there is every reason to believe that he has at least three to four high level seasons left and another few decent seasons after that if he is willing to continue to play during his declining years.
2) "Is Kobe really the best player in the NBA?"
Ford's case: Ford relies largely on John Hollinger's PER and Roland Beech's adjusted plus/minus to make the argument that Bryant is not really the best player in the NBA.
Why Ford's case is not built Ford tough: Ford notes at the start of his piece that he talked to several "NBA sources" about Bryant and later in the article he acknowledges that Bryant is widely considered to be the best player in the NBA--then he completely disregards expert opinion in favor of relying exclusively on the verdict of some statistical systems. It should be noted that those same systems ranked two-time MVP Steve Nash lower than Bryant last season. (NOTE: in an earlier version of this post I suggested that Beech did not intend for adjusted plus/minus to be used to compare players who played for different teams but the reality is that he made that statement about his on court/off court data, not adjusted plus/minus, proving that I should have reread my article titled "Defining the Value of a Superstar," which correctly cites the Beech quote).
Obviously, calling one player the best player in the NBA is a subjective judgment; a good case could be made for perhaps a half dozen players. Nevertheless, there are very good reasons that NBA players, coaches and GMs generally say that Bryant is the best player in the NBA. Many of these reasons were on very public display when Bryant led Team USA to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas tournament.
3) "Is Kobe a winner?"
Ford's case: Ford acknowledges that Bryant has won three championships but then descends into practicing psychoanalysis without a psychiatry degree, writing "The best-selling book Leadership and Self-Deception explains that leaders try to develop people who are even more capable and creative than they are. They are constantly in the process of creating future leaders. They are more interested in results than credit. Certainly Bryant wants to win. But he wants to win his way, according to many who have followed his career. And when you break it down, that translates to this attitude: I would rather lose my way than win your way. Bryant wants to win, but he also wants the most shots. He wants to be a great hero, not a great teammate or leader. He wants the credit." Ford concludes by saying that if LeBron James were available for a trade that it would not take months to get a deal done like it has for Bryant; to Ford, this proves that James is considered more of a winner than Bryant.
Why Ford's case is not built Ford tough: This is by far Ford's weakest argument. A careful reader will note that it consists entirely of speculation that is not supported by any facts, so let's supply the facts that Ford chose to ignore: Bryant was the leading playmaker on three championship teams, making the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. One of those years he was in the top five in MVP voting. How can anyone watch the impact that Bryant had on Team USA--when he was clearly not trying to be a "great hero" or lead the team in scoring--and still believe that Bryant is not a winner?
As for the Bryant-James comparison, there are more questions about James' killer instinct than Bryant's. James is not yet a lockdown defender and at times he seems too passive on offense. One reason that James may be a more desirable acquisition now--if that is in fact the case; Ford did not prove that--is the age factor.
4) "Is Kobe worth it?"
Ford's case: Ford finally gets around to noting how difficult it is logistically to make a trade for Bryant due to Bryant's unique contract. A team would have to give up so much to get Bryant that there might not be enough left to make a title run. Ford concludes, "Most GMs prefer to stick with the status quo. Taking risks invites scrutiny from the media and fans, and tends to hasten a GM's dismissal, many feel. Doing nothing is simply safer."
Why Ford's case is not built Ford tough: Actually, this is the one valid point that Ford makes. The real reason that it is difficult to trade for Bryant is the unique contract he has, which Ford finally mentions at the end of his article--this should have been the first point. Bryant has a no-trade clause and a trade kicker; not only can he reject any deal but a team would have to give up so much (in personnel and contracts) to get him that there might not be enough left to make his new team any better than the Lakers are now. That, and not Ford's psychobabble, is the real reason that Bryant has not yet been traded. The reality is that Bryant is worth trading for if his new team can arrange to deal away primarily young players while keeping enough of a core intact for Bryant to lead the team on a title run.
Clarification: In my recent post comparing Gilbert Arenas to Chad Johnson, I quoted a passage from Arenas' NBA.com blog, appending the comment "yes, I left the typos uncorrected." I was not being sarcastic; I just wanted to make it clear that I was quoting the text exactly as it appeared. Dave McMenamin, who is Arenas' ghostwriter, emailed me to say that the word "droff" is not a typo but rather a shorthand term that Arenas uses to mean "drop off."
posted by David Friedman @ 6:51 PM