July 03, 2009
It's a barroom/barbershop argument with legs. And those gams? They can really turn heads. It's the rare hypothetical worth working over. It's something worth discussing, if you'd like me to get to the point.
Kobe Bryant(notes), Tim Duncan(notes), and Shaquille O'Neal(notes) all have four NBA championship rings. With each player securely placed on a championship contender, heading into 2009-10, which star do we see getting his fifth ring first?
Each owns sound arguments in their favor.
Bryant, arguably, is on the best team. He has the best supporting unit in the game. He's a month removed from picking up that fourth ring, and despite his 30 (soon to be 31) years of age, he's hardly on the downside of his career. In fact, he's peaking, and he's got a Pau Gasol(notes) on his side. To say nothing of a Phil Jackson, and a competitive spirit that few in NBA history can match.
His former teammate, the loquacious Mr. O'Neal, is on the downside of his career. And though his new team in Cleveland can't boast the sort of depth Kobe can rely on from teammates 1-through-15, O'Neal does get to play second fiddle to the best player in the game. And Shaq, as is his custom, won't let that fact go unmentioned. Over, and over, again.
Tim Duncan, as has always been the case, takes a quieter tone. His supporting cast resembles the game he's most comfortable with. Reserved. Talented. Fundamentally-driven. Efficient. Dangerous. Title-worthy. The guy is so good, his team is so great, that we can barely get in one word before the sentence ends itself.
So who gets to five first? Remember, this isn't an argument bred to determine who would be the best player amongst the three. Though it isn't a huge advantage, Kobe probably takes the honor, at this point.
It's a team game, and we're trying to guess at which crew seems the most fit for pulling in a title. It doesn't even have to be in 2010, and while we're at it, Shaq (a free agent one year from now) doesn't even have to be a Cleveland Cavalier while grabbing that fifth Lawrence O'Brien Trophy.
If pressed, I'd have to put my money on Bryant. His team is so good, even if Lamar Odom(notes) is "forced" to head elsewhere. He has the right system, motivation should not be a problem, and Gasol's presence just seems to vault him over the top, to me.
O'Neal could get it together, though. He could reprise his role as second banana, something he did quite well for a Miami Heat team that won the 2006 championship, clearing spaces and dunking in faces as LeBron James(notes) earns his first Finals win.
Duncan has no issues working as the second or even third banana. He's two years removed from a 2007 win that saw him clear the lane for a driving Tony Parker(notes), and he's never had any issues letting Manu Ginobili(notes) work his magic while TD mans the boards and defends like mad.
There are arguments, individually-based, for why all three could fall short. Bryant could let his scoring instincts get the best of him, and shoot his Lakers out of any sort of offensive rhythm. O'Neal could show up to camp out of shape, or act as a defensive sieve on a team that badly needs him to patrol the paint. Duncan's wheels, as he enters next year's playoffs at age 34, could fall off.
But before that happens, let's hear your thoughts. Kobe, TD, and Diesel all have four. Who gets to five, first?