The three greatest scorers and all-around players since Michael Jordan have been Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. Each one of these players are NBA champions, dominant scorers, and some of the most impactful players in sports history on and off the court. Both Bryant and James are regarded among the 10 greatest players who ever lived and Durant has a case for being top-15. But Bryant did not get his fair share of teammates like LeBron and Durant did in the 2010s.
Both Kevin Durant and LeBron James benefitted from playing with multiple Hall of Fame players en route to their winning 2 and 4 rings respectively. Bryant had a monster in Shaquille O’Neal which helped him win 3 rings and later Pau Gasol, but the last few years of Bryant’s career was wasted away despite remaining one of the top players in the world.
The Lakers had a chance to acquire Chris Paul, which would have easily led Bryant to win two more rings, but this was not to be. Instead, Durant and LeBron benefit from playing in superteams and when the going got tough - they bolted to different teams. Bryant, on the other hand, was dealt a bad hand and his final years at the top will always be wasted away.
Kevin Durant And LeBron James Had The Best Teammates In Modern NBA History
Both superstar small forwards Kevin Durant and LeBron James have benefitted from the greatest teammates in modern history. Kevin Durant had Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka at one time while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook was a superstar at that time, and James Harden was an All-Star talent although he was dominating games off the bench. Ibaka was one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA and expanded his game to include a mid-range shot.
Despite all this, Durant could not win with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Luckily for Durant, he had a choice to go wherever he wanted to go in Free Agency in 2017 and opted to join the juggernaut Warriors that went an incredible 73-9 over an entire season in 2016. Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were far more talented than any other team and they won 2 straight NBA championships. When injuries and even locker room beef came in the way of adversity, Durant bolted again to join Brooklyn who have Kyrie Irving and now 3-time scoring champion James Harden.
Similarly, LeBron James has played with exceptional talents. He bolted to Miami to form arguably the most dominant superteam in history with Dwyane Wade, a top 3 shooting guard of all-time, and Chris Bosh who was a bonafide All-Star. LeBron had too much talent on his side and he won 2 straight NBA titles. When getting blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, LeBron bolts back to Cleveland to join forces with a Hall of Famer in Kyrie Irving and a terrific Kevin Love. Despite losing in the Finals in 2015, LeBron bounces back to win in 2016 by coming back 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors.
Fast-forward to 2020, and James joins the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers being the great franchise that they are, acquire superstar Anthony Davis in one of the most blockbuster deals in NBA history. A duo that has size and physical dominance, LeBron and Davis capture the 2020 title in a coronavirus-shortened season and are now the favorites to repeat in 2021 and beyond.
Sad But True... Kobe Bryant Was Unlucky To Not Have 7 Rings
When seeing the quality of teammates that both Durant LeBron played with, it is very hard not to feel sorry for the great Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba won back-to-back titles with the Lakers, the franchise he went through thick and thin with, in 2009 and 2010. The roster featured the likes of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Derick Fisher among others. Clearly a great team, the Lakers were a force in the West but nowhere near a superteam. Bryant had 3 more seasons as arguably the best player in the world, averaging 25.3 PPG, 27.9 PPG, and 27.3 PPG. Rather than being a contender in these 3 years, the Lakers were sorry to watch.
The Lakers tried to shortcut a title by trading Andrew Bynum for an older and less athletic Dwight Howard, which was a total disaster. The Lakers also traded for a very old Steve Nash, and still had Pau Gasol and Ron Artest on the roster who were also old and slow. Howard could not get along with the Lakers, or anywhere for that matter, and the rest of the roster was finished. Kobe played at the highest possible level to keep the Lakers in the hunt in the West, but he simply did not have enough. In a major move by the Lakers organization, they found a way to acquire Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul with a trade centered around Pau Gasol.
Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant would have been the best duo in the NBA, and they would have captured 2 NBA titles out of those 3 years that Bryant was at an elite level. Paul could have also extended Bryant’s career by at least 1 or 2 more years as The Black Mamba would not have gotten injured carrying the Lakers by himself. Without a shadow of a doubt, Bryant would have been mentioned alongside Michael Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.
But it was not meant to be, because of a very unlucky circumstance. The NBA had ownership of the Hornets, the team Chris Paul played for, and they had to reject such a massive trade as losing Chris Paul would have hurt the Hornets market value in the eyes of potential buyers. In other words, Kobe Bryant was unlucky to not be playing with one of the greatest point guards in NBA history.
Rather than Bryant playing with another Hall of Famer and capturing his 6th and 7th rings, he has 5 rings to his name while Durant and LeBron continue their playing days with their own Hall of Fame teammates. While a matter of unfortunate circumstance and not because of the league being unfair to Kobe, Bryant does not have the luxury of playing with multiple superteams as Durant and James do.