Forgive Jerry West for being biased. The man who brought Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers recently called the high-scoring, high-maintenance guard the best player in the NBA. West made his preference clear with all due respect to Kevin Garnett, though the Hollywood logic behind his choice will likely spark debate in advance of tonight's Celtics-Lakers game at the Staples Center.
"Garnett is very good, but if he had the pressure on him to score like Kobe does every night, there's a difference," said West. "Kevin is going to be a great, great player every night in all facets of the game.
"But the other one has a little bit different kind of cachet to him. You're going to pay to see Kevin Garnett play, but you're just going to see a tremendously good basketball player.
"The degree of excitement with Kobe Bryant is like going to an action movie instead of seeing a great film. Kevin Garnett would be in a great film and Kobe Bryant would be the action-hero figure. He's going to supply the jumps off the tops of bridges, dunks, going through 10 people, driving to make a layup.
"Kevin Garnett is just going to be the steady, steady, steady guy there every night. But I think from an all-around standpoint, Kobe is the best."
Considering that Bryant and Garnett play different positions with dramatically different supporting casts, West may have the comparison in the right context. Bryant, a shooting guard, struggled earlier this season to stay patient with the young, developing players around him. Garnett, a power forward, enjoys the company of two other veteran All-Stars in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
With Pierce and Allen helping the Celtics to the best record in the NBA, Garnett has become the top vote-getter in All-Star balloting (1,186,690 as of Friday). Bryant leads the Western Conference (941,716).
Asked if he would choose an action hero like Bryant over a steady player like Garnett all the time, West said, "That is if you have good players with him. And [the Lakers] have some pretty darn good players. They have a good young team, and they're going to get better. With me, it all depends on what market you're in. Kobe Bryant would be hard not to want to have on your team.
"I love Kevin Garnett as a player. As you move along in your life, you learn to appreciate different things. I saw the incredible skill of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I saw incredible skill in Magic Johnson. But Magic Johnson was the action hero, and Abdul-Jabbar was your serious actor. They played on one team, and that was pretty fun to watch. You didn't even know Abdul-Jabbar was out there at times, but they never won a championship after he left.
"Boston's never had a player like [Bryant]. They've had Kevin Garnett types. Larry Bird. Bill Russell. Very serious players who were incredible players. But when you bring someone like [Bryant] into a building, you might see him do anything."
Prior to the arrival of Garnett, the prospect of Bryant leaving LA for less glitzy Boston presented an intriguing possibility. Whenever reports of irreconcilable differences between Bryant and the Lakers surfaced, Celtics supporters wondered "what if?" What if one of the NBA's most exciting players switched sides in one of the NBA's most storied rivalries? But to hear West tell it, Bryant fits perfectly in Los Angeles, if not always with its marquee franchise. Enjoying retirement in the LA area, West follows all the NBA drama, including that involving the player he presciently acquired fresh from high school shortly after the 1996 draft, and the Lakers, the team he led to seven NBA championships as a player and executive. He said Bryant was "in many respects misunderstood" because "he expects everyone to be as competitive as him, as good as him."
For financial reasons above all else, West believes Bryant will remain with the Lakers, though the season started with the guard seemingly headed elsewhere. During last season's playoffs, Bryant told reporters he wanted West back in the Lakers' front office or he would request a trade. With Bryant still dissatisfied about the direction of the Lakers, a deal appeared likely. The Chicago Bulls surfaced as the most serious candidate. But Bryant has a no-trade clause and almost $90 million remaining on his contract.
"He's not going to be traded, period," said West. "Somebody's made a bigger story out of it than it is. Whoever would want him, they would have to decimate a franchise to get him.
"You'd have to take four or five players. So, it would be a very complex deal to start with, unless you had somebody in there making so much money that it was a joke to acquire a player like [Bryant]. But I just don't see that happening, period.
"Los Angeles is a star-driven market out here. It always has been. The fans are used to seeing someone who plays the game at his level and, more importantly, plays it with a flair."
After 40 years with the Lakers as a player, coach, and executive, West has earned the right to view the NBA through purple-and-gold-tinted glasses. He predicted the Lakers will be a very good team by the end of the year because he likes their younger players and finds their role players more complementary to Bryant than in the past.
Still, West acknowledged the impact Garnett has made with the Celtics and commented that he is happy for them. But do the Celtics have what it takes to win a championship?
"I wouldn't even want to venture into that," said West. "One injury to the best of teams [changes the odds]. I don't care who it is. You take the best player off the best team and they can forget it."
As Lakers fans know all too well, sometimes it doesn't take an injury to sidetrack a team. Just an unhappy action hero.