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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

ESPN's Chad Ford Takes Aim At Kobe Bryant's Trade Value

It 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

9 comments

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9 Comments:

At Tuesday, November 06, 2007 8:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a fantastic retort to Ford's article. Very well done!

 
At Wednesday, November 07, 2007 12:33:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

It's ironic. First Ford questions Bryant's status as a winner by accusing Bryant of needing to be the "hero" or "the man" or whatever. Then Ford overlooks Bryant's three championships because Bryant wasn't the "hero" or "the man" or whatever on those teams. I wish these writers would at least attempt to be consistent.

It's also nice that Ford cited a bunch of useless stats, like Hollinger's garbage and the "clutch shot" stats which restrict clutch shots to a tiny subset of itself.

In my opinion it seems that Kobe does want to win and he does want to be the "main reason". I have no way to know for sure, of course, but it looks like Kobe wants very badly to be known as the best. The problem is that in the opinions of most writers and fans, the only way to be the best is to win AND to be "the man." I blame writers and fans for being so narrow-minded, and I blame Kobe for being sensitive enough to care about such a stupid point of view.

In any case, I don't think wanting to win and wanting to be known as the best are conflicting goals. It is possible to have more than one goal (see Jordan, Michael). It's sad that people are questioning a three-time champion's status as a "winner."



On a side note, espn.com has become rather lame with the same old recycled opinions and shallow "analysis." Every other day, there is a a new article on Kobe and his possible trade and his place in history, or some article about how the sky is falling for the Knicks. I'm sure that in a week or so the MVP debate will begin, and ESPN will essentially decide the front-runners by making the same points about them over and over and over and over.

Since Jordan emerged, everything has just become hype. It's not good enough to win or to be a great player. You have to win and supposedly do it all by yourself. Every decision a player makes will be dissected and the player's killer instinct, or heart, or selfishness or status as a winner will be questioned afterwards.

 
At Wednesday, November 07, 2007 1:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What disappoints me is that ESPN and ESPN.com have the resources and the access necessary to provide great NBA coverage but those resources and that access are not being most effectively used in many instances. Sadly, ESPN has the ability to distribute Ford's article much more widely than this rebuttal will be distributed--including a very prominent placement at ESPN's own in house basketball blog. What ESPN's management does not seem to understand is that their financially preeminent status is not a divine right; ESPN started out small and became big by filling a void in sports coverage. Now it seems like they have become as petrified as the media giants that they initially challenged. They can mass distribute their product but if the product is not high quality then sooner or later consumers will look around and discover that higher quality work is being done elsewhere. When IBM was the world's premier computer company, Bill Gates was building computers in his garage and IBM had no idea that Microsoft would be taking everything over in a few years. As Intel's Andy Grove put it, only the paranoid survive--it is essential to constantly grow and constantly improve. ESPN.com once had Ralph Wiley and other writers who produced "must read" work instead of the "must be rebutted" work that shows up there now.

 
At Wednesday, November 07, 2007 1:15:00 PM, Blogger Samash said...

Man you beat me to the punch. I was going to write a very similar post on my blog. It's a good thing you did though. Yours is much more thorough than what mine would have been.

I ended up writing my own anyway and I linked heavily to your post. Just to throw a couple more logs onto the fire.

Great job.

 
At Thursday, November 08, 2007 2:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

the reality is ford article was not that good because he didnt explain it well kobe has logged alot of minutes but he has nt really been severely injured like allen iverson or injured as much as iverson. he is a oldr 29 but he got a few more years left

kobe has won 3 rings but that was with shaq ill be fair and say shaq couldnt win the 3 rings without kobe butcould get farther and have more impact than kobe. what that said kobe won for 3 years so he is a winner.

kobe the best player no
i believe is has the most talented and a great player but not the best ill go to my grave saying tim duncan is underapppreicted and i would take him over kobe right now and lebron james they dominate more categories the game is about complteness not just offense.

is kobe worth it
if you haveenough around him he is definetely worth it for real man he could carry a tram but he might need more than louel deng as second best player.

 
At Thursday, November 08, 2007 10:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Ford pulls a bait and switch by mentioning at the start that he talked to "NBA sources" but then basing most of his arguments on his own opinions/psychobabble and stat systems that are hardly universally accepted. He gives the impression that "sources" told him that Kobe is not as good as he/the Lakers think but what the "sources" told him is that Kobe's contract situation makes him hard to deal. The mileage issue is a red herring because a team that acquires Kobe is trying to win right now. The stuff about Kobe not being a winner is ludicrous and you will note that Ford is on his own there, with no quotes from "sources."

Did Shaq get farther or have more impact than Kobe last season? The Heat got swept by the Bulls, who were not as good as the Suns team that beat the Lakers in five. In his prime, Shaq's teams were swept several times. If Shaq could win all by himself then shouldn't he be worth at least one game in a playoff series? As I keep telling you, no one wins by himself. A great player needs another great player or a very good ensemble cast in order to win a title.

Duncan is perhaps the most dominant player. He is not a bad choice for best player, either, but Kobe has a more complete skill set with no weaknesses (Duncan is not a great free throw shooter and is not as explosive offensively as Kobe). LeBron is a worse shooter than Kobe and also is not as good defensively.

 
At Friday, November 09, 2007 2:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

i dont read chad ford alot so i dont know if he likes kobe or not but you cant go off per and stuff to judge best player cause duncan is not one in per he won 1 in rings same with lebron. the other things i told you about with what he said it seemed like he was playing devil advocate on kobe value i dont know if he really believed what he wrote.

shaq has more impact than kobe i know he didnt win a game aginst the bulls last year but shaq is too old as we see know to dod so in his prime it's no contest he cariied his team farther than kobe and could any day of the week. this is fact this is not kobe hateing it's reality ill take shaq 100 out of 100 over kobe. without shaq the lakers would be worse off than without kobe on those championship teams i could get to the conference finals with shaq in his prime alone.

duncan is the most dominant so what he cant shoot free throws that well he does everything else better than anybody. lebron better descion maker better shot selection more explosive better shooting percentage, kobe better defense and scoreing lebron young is why and i think lebron could score with kobe if he wanted to i gt kobe 3rd david you could make a case best palyer me personally i put him 3rd.

 
At Tuesday, February 05, 2008 5:35:00 AM, Anonymous xrism said...

The PER system is based primarily on opinion to begin with. John Hollinger through his opinion assigns a number to start his metric which is crucial to his final number. This is why nobody ever takes the PER system serious.

This is also the reason why Michael Jordan has the highest PER of any player even though Wilt Chamberlain's stats are by far greater.

Depending on who starts the metrics and does the math the PER for a player will change.

This is why John Hollinger's system is really John Hollinger's opinion.

 
At Tuesday, February 05, 2008 7:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Xrism:

I agree with you and would go one step further. Not only Hollinger's PER but just about any statistical system used for player evaluation contains some inherent biases because of what data is included and excluded and how that data is managed. Some of these stat systems are useful as "quick and dirty" tools to get a rough estimate of a player's production but the only way to really understand a player's impact and value is to actually watch him play. It is worth noting again that Dave Berri, whose system seriously overvalues rebounding, has said that there is no value in observing players and that he can determine a player's value through numbers alone. It should be obvious that this is an absurd position to take. Just because each observer has his own biases, we should not abandon the observation process or assume that raw numbers tell us all we need to know.

 

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