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Monday, February 14, 2022

This Date in Lakers History, 2006 and 2022

The phrase "making your teammates better" is both overused and meaningless. One player cannot "make" another player better--but a great player can make his team better, and there is a great "not advanced" statistic for that: wins and losses. 

For example, consider this date in L.A. Lakers history. 

On February 14, 2006, the Lakers had a 26-25 record. The undisputed best player for the 2006 Lakers was Kobe Bryant, who is not cited as often for making his teams better as he should be when one considers who his teammates have been, how well they performed alongside him, and how much his teams won. The 2005-06 L.A. Lakers finished sixth in the Western Conference with a 45-37 record. They then pushed the third seeded Phoenix Suns to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

The top five scorers for the 2005-06 Lakers were Kobe Bryant (35.4 ppg), Lamar Odom (14.8 ppg), Smush Parker (11.5 ppg), Chris Mihm (10.2 ppg), and Brian Cook (7.9 ppg). Lakers not named Kobe Bryant combined for one career All-Star selection before, during, and after that season (Andrew Bynum, who played 338 minutes in 2005-06, made the All-Star team in 2012). 

On February 14, 2022, the Lakers have a 26-31 record. The undisputed best player for the 2022 Lakers is LeBron James, who is often credited with "making his teammates better" despite the fact that every All-Star who has played alongside James has suffered declining statistics: that list includes Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Anthony Davis, and the much-maligned Russell Westbrook, who played at an MVP level in the second half of last season before being thrown on the proverbial trash heap in L.A. so far this season. The top five scorers for the 2021-22 Lakers are LeBron James (29.0 ppg), Anthony Davis (23.3 ppg), Russell Westbrook (18.3 ppg), Carmelo Anthony (13.4 ppg), and Malik Monk (13.0 ppg). Lakers not names James combined for 36 All-Star selections plus three selections to the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team

Comparing the two teams without counting Bryant and James, the 2022 Lakers have three 75th Anniversary Team members, while the 2006 Lakers had one player who made one All-Star Team six years later. Yet, the 2022 Lakers are ninth in the Western Conference, and if the season ended today they would have to earn a playoff spot via the Play-In Tournament; the 2006 Lakers were one defensive rebound away from beating the powerful Suns in game six in the first round of the playoffs.

James is an extraordinarily talented player who has accomplished a lot during his incredible career, but everything on his teams happens on his terms, and the main focus is not always team success. Davis is in his prime. Westbrook was playing at an MVP level just a few months ago. Anthony provides scoring punch off of the bench. Monk would have been the third best player on the 2006 Lakers behind Bryant and Odom. If you took Bryant and James out of the equation, and arranged a time machine game between the 2022 Lakers and the 2006 Lakers, the 2022 Lakers would win by 20 points--but the difference is that when you put both players in the equation James has been unwilling/unable to elevate the 2022 Lakers, while Bryant figured out how to push, pull, and drag a 2006 Lakers team with very limited talent not just into the playoffs but almost to the second round--and after the Lakers added one one-time All-Star to that limited roster in 2007, Bryant carried the Lakers to three straight NBA Finals, winning back to back titles in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

There is a good reason that every time I hear the ridiculous comparisons of LeBron James to Michael Jordan my response is, "LeBron James has not even passed Kobe Bryant yet, so why is anyone comparing James to Jordan?" James has won fewer championships than Bryant with a worse Finals winning percentage, and James has demonstrated that he needs multiple All-Stars alongside him to win titles. It is not 100% clear that James surpassed Tim Duncan on the list of great players in the post-Jordan era; Duncan and James faced each other in three NBA Finals, with Duncan's teams winning two out of three--and Duncan was one Ray Allen three pointer away from going 3-0 versus James in the NBA Finals. Shaquille O'Neal did not stay at his absolute peak as long as Bryant, Duncan, and James did, but are we absolutely sure that peak James is better than peak O'Neal? I'm taking peak Jordan over any of those players, and James has to establish clear superiority in the post-Jordan era before being compared to Jordan.

James is a great player, but the media-driven narratives asserting that he is the greatest player of all-time and that he is the best at "making his teammates better" are demonstrably false.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:40 PM



At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 12:43:00 AM, Blogger Zeddie said...

Hi Dave,
I couldn't agree more and don't forget LeBron and AD cosigned getting Russ on the team, but back to Kobe I feel like Kobe never got enough love he went to 7 Finals in arguably the toughest Western Conference went up against some of the best teams, and got 5 out of 7 rings and those rings with Shaq do count because they got to look at the whole playoffs not just the Finals and people don't realize Kobe sacrificed his stats so he could win. LeBron is an all time great, but this would be a blemish on his resume if they don't make the playoffs.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 2:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post David. Casual fans/James supporters and media members needs to read this. If 06 Bryant was on this Lakers team right now there is no way in hell they would be where they are now. He would have let Westbrook run the show and he can play in the post or play catch and shoot. The thing about Bryant was that he was willing and capable of doing whatever it takes to win.

James on the other hand not so much, he has only one way of playing and that is the LeBron James way. He doesn't adapt his game to other all-stars around him. He's in his 19th season and he still doesn't have an off the ball game where he could catch and shoot and his post up is too unpredictable where he only fades over his right shoulder. We don't even need to mention his free throws. Despite all of this, he still gets praised for 'making his teammates better' and is a 'great leader' who is also a 'pass-first' player.

An unrelated question David - do you have another platform apart from this site where you publish these analysis pieces? I am just thinking if you are already reaching a wider audience as I think your insights are always on point and very objective, which a lot of casual fans and media members aren't. It would be awesome if somehow your analysis can reach those people.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 7:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But how much of the difference owes to the fact that LeBron is 10 years older now than Kobe was in 2006 -- which may impact energy on offense, inside scoring, D, boards, etc. What if you took Kobe's '12-13 Lakers with Pau, Dwight, Nash -- a lot of individual awards for those players but a playoff goose-egg. Also how many individual awards for other players on Lebron's Cavs that he took to the 2007 NBA Finals? Not saying LeBron is better or justifying all of his decisions, or discounting Kobe's accomplishments in 2006, or making any other point than to question whether this comparison is fair to him, per the questions posed above. Thanks again,

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 1:25:00 PM, Blogger Al Fahridi said...

Kobe’s 12-13 campaign is indeed a very apt example: dysfunctional Lakers team, high expectations, season starts as a disaster – then something different happens. The team ends up winning at 70% clip post all-star game, Kobe has stretches of several consecutive games playing the full 48 minutes – ‘cause they HAVE to make the playoffs. And they did. Kobe also suffers a career-altering injury in the process. Whatever: Kobe’s 12-13 campaign is the ultimate example of a captain, a leader and a franchise player. Let’s see how far Lebron carries this dysfunctional Lakers team.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 2:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make good points about Kobe, and I have discussed those points in previous articles while Kobe was an active player.

Regarding a "blemish" for LeBron, this is not just about the 2022 season but about the general pattern of how much help LeBron has always needed to win, how much his teammates have to sacrifice to play with him, and how much he avoids blame while distributing blame to his teammates and coaches after things do not go well. Considered in that larger context, what has happened so far with the 2022 Lakers is not so much a "blemish" but just a continuation of a career-long pattern for LeBron: LeBron produces big box score numbers, his teammates' numbers decline, sometimes his teams win big, sometimes his teams underachieve and he makes sure that he avoids being blamed when his teams underachieve.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 2:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you!

I do not have another basketball platform. Over the past 20 years or so, I have written for a variety of publications/websites, and I still annually write team previews for Lindy's Pro Basketball. My work for other publications/websites can be found in the right hand sidebar, including articles that I wrote for Basketball Digest (which went out of business), Sports Collectors Digest, Tar Heel Monthly, and NBCSports.com.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 2:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The patterns of behavior that I described have been true throughout LeBron's career, and do not just apply to this season.

Regarding the 2012-13 Lakers, the team cycled through three coaches, Nash missed 32 games, Gasol missed 33 games, and the fifth leading scorer after the "Big Four" was Metta World Peace, who shot .403 from the field and was a shell of his former self at both ends of the court. Despite all of those difficulties, Bryant carried the Lakers to a 45-37 record and the seventh seed in the West. Let's see if LeBron can match that this season.

Regarding the 2007 Cavaliers, media members continually downgrade the quality of that roster in order to elevate James. The 2007 Cavaliers featured a big and deep frontcourt that rebounded and defended well. I was one of the first, if not the first, commentators to predict success for that team, precisely because I recognized that the 2007 Cavaliers were not just a one man show.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 3:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Al Fahridi:

You are correct that the way Kobe handled the 2013 Lakers' season stands in marked contrast to the way that LeBron has handled the 2022 Lakers' season thus far.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 5:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Bryant carried the Lakers to a 45-37 record and the seventh seed in the West. Let's see if LeBron can match that this season.

If the Lakers don't make the playoffs, the summary over the last four seasons will be:

2 seasons not making the playoffs
1 first round exit
1 championship with a huge asterisk attached to it

Unfortunately, the stupid play-in tournament has devalued the regular season even more than before, and now they can get in the playoffs even as the 10th seed. Hopefully that does not happen.

But they will be out in the first round regardless given that it will be the Suns or the Warriors they will have to face.

So then we have:

1 season not making the playoffs
2 first round exits
1 championship with a huge asterisk attached to it

What has happened the last two years is, simply put, unacceptable with this roster (and, for the record, abandoning the 18-19 playoff chase mid-season wasn't acceptable either, but there could be some injury-related excuses made at least for that).

This is not 12-13 and it is not 03-04 either, when you had 40-year old legends being relied on as starters. The washed up vets on this team are on the bench, i.e. that should in theory be the perfect supporting cast, meanwhile you have a 28 year old HOF big in his prime and a Westbrook who isn't at the peak of his powers from 2017, but is still a very good PG if you let him be the PG.

You can't even make the playoffs???

Also, the 03-04 still made it to the finals, and would have been a lot more competitive if not for injuries. This team is, again, not making it past the first round.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 7:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe's critics still blame him for the "failed" 2004 season during which the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals, but LeBron's fans--many of whom work for prominent media outlets--act as if LeBron is playing heroically this season.

I agree with your summary of LeBron's L.A. tenure, but the narrative that will dominate mainstream media is that LeBron led three different franchises to at least one title. Everything else will be ignored or excused.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 7:40:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Hey everyone. Ya'll are missing the bigger picture. The Rams just won. And the Dodgers and Lakers won 2 seasons ago. So, Lebron is focused on jumping on the bandwagon, and stealing the Rams' shine, by celebrating the bubble chip and the Dodgers World Series along with the Rams winning the Super Bowl. Makes perfect sense right? Right? The Lakers are on a 3-game losing streak, are 26-31, 10th in the West, and Lebron wants to celebrate a championship from 2 seasons ago.

In his spare time, he's on television choosing all-stars laughing at James Harden. He and KD. James Harden has been one of my least favorite players to watch over the past decade, and I think the way he exited both Houston and Brooklyn is atrocious. But, he's going to a top 5 team, while the Lakers and Nets are both perilously close to falling out of the playoffs all together.

I can't picture West, or Magic or Kareem, or Shaq or Kobe, in a similar situation, laughing. Kobe was pissed off the entire 14-15 season. He never smiled and took offense when his teammates did. And that team was projected to be the worst team in the league (they were), not a title-favorite.

Look, I think Kobe's obsession was unhealthy at times, and toxic, especially for certain teammates. But there was never any question what his goals were. Not breaking records. Not keeping his shooting percentage pristine. He did call out players, but he never went into chill mode. He was always trying to win.

As a Lakers fan (and a Westbrook apologist), this season has been my worst fears realized after we mortgaged our future for one solitary championship.

@anyonymous, you are spot on man. Lebron barely has a 50% winning percentage as a Laker. He's been more awful than good. Sure, the Bubble championship still counts as a championship. But, it doesn't feel like it. lol.

If we retire his jersey, I'm hanging up my purple and gold fandom. Been heading that way ever since Lebron brought his talents to LA. It hasn't been the Lakers. It's been the LA Lebrons.

So many other fun, exciting teams to watch. And, still following the career paths of all the baby Lakers we traded away too.

At Tuesday, February 15, 2022 9:07:00 PM, Blogger Zeddie said...

@David Friedman
Another great point Dave!!! In 2004 it was a miracle they made the Finals with all the dysfunction and media circus surrounding the Lakers at the time, but Kobe played his heart out and while he deserves blame for what happened in Detroit, he isn't the only reason they lost, and also he's the reason they didn't get swept, but Kobe took accountability for losing that Finals series and blamed himself, and even the next year when Shaq left when they missed the playoffs people don't even use context with that because Kobe got injured and missed a month and Lamar got injured and missed 16 game I truly believe had they stayed healthy they could've gotten to the playoffs, and Kobe averaged close to 7 assists that season. but, it's funny people wanna revise history because when Kobe was losing they blamed him and said he didn't make his teammates better and they don't factor in the level of competition

At Wednesday, February 16, 2022 12:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>If we retire his jersey, I'm hanging up my purple and gold fandom. Been heading that way ever since Lebron brought his talents to LA. It hasn't been the Lakers. It's been the LA Lebrons.

Here's the thing - the Lakers are thought of as the Hollywood team, and they have certainly attracted disproportionate amount of attention over the years because they are LA's team.

But mostly in terms of actual basketball operation it was all always approached very seriously. They shrewdly drafted a lot of legendary players, and while they also signed many big names through trades and in free agency (mostly big men), those moves generally worked out well. The only real fiasco was the Dwight Howard signing and the 12-13 team, which then also indirectly destroyed the franchise for the next half a decade. But that team had Kobe and Kobe was dead serious in everything he did.

This is the first time in franchise history in which it is truly a Hollywood circus team -- everything is focused on a spoiled superstar who isn't really interested in playing winning basketball and there is this constant stream of former all-star players coming and going, and never ending drama to an extent rarely reached in the past.

This is going on for four years now and will likely last another two unless LeBron completely breaks down sooner than expected.

Meanwhile he forced them to ship off all their young players and a lot of their future draft picks, so when he leaves it will again be a lottery bottom feeder team like 2016 that has to start from nothing.

You combine that with the unprecedented six years out of the playoff picture in the 2010s, and that championship in the middle will look like the anomaly it is. And the franchise reputation will start to take a real hit after what will turn out to be 10-15 years of, again, never experienced previously in history dysfunction and underperformance. And when you have developed a bad culture in the organization for so long, it is often a hard task to rebuild it after that.

So was it really worth it to gamble it all on LeBron?

At Wednesday, February 16, 2022 8:13:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Hello David. I am in agreement with your contention, that LBJ's leadership has been found wanting in three of the four seasons as a member of the Lakers.

If you replaced him with a Hall-of-Fame of equal stature, say Tim Duncan or Bill Russell, or any other winner with greater leadership skills, they should win more games and be seeded higher in the West.

At Thursday, February 17, 2022 6:24:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


Well written. Sad as everything to read, but so spot on.

To answer your question. No. No it was not. At least, not at this moment. If the Lakers suddenly go on some magical run here and win it this year...then, maybe. That would be as many chips as the Curry/KD Dubs at least.

And, if they trade AD, that could help the reset. Though they won't get back nearly what they gave up. The Lakers can also trade Lebron. He doesn't have a no trade clause. Though, I wonder if that would do more harm than good to the Lakers rep.

I think the first encouraging sign, has been pushback from the organization that they didn't panic trade at the deadline, and they held onto their first. If Bron and AD can't stay healthy, and even when they are healthy, the team still sucks, why mortgage the future...again...for what will amount to a player that will have zero impact on the outcome of this season?


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