James Harden may just want to sit out any meetings between the Rockets and Lakers after Kobe Bryant comes back.
Through no fault of his own, Harden is probably now on Bryant’s hit list after NBA general managers chose Harden as the best shooting guard in the NBA by a wide margin over the five-time champion. A massive 56.7 percent of GMs named Harden the best at his position, nearly three times the number of GMs who named Bryant, at 20 percent.
Poor, poor Harden. We hardly knew you.
As the recent Sports Illustrated cover story illustrated, Bryant is wired to crush his competition — especially any competition that challenges his place in the sport. He strategizes ways he would escape from Saw traps, for crying out loud. He’s a lot like Michael Jordan — who, legend has it, punctuated every basket he scored against Suns forward Dan Majerle in a 1993 NBA Finals game by spitting, “Dan [bleeping] Marjerle!” after Bulls GM Jerry Krause spoke admiringly of Majerle in an interview.
Is Harden honestly a better player than Bryant, right now? Probably. But that won’t matter to Bryant, who still has trouble admitting LeBron James and Kevin Durant have surpassed him in the hierarchy of the best players in the game and is coming off one of the finest seasons of his career. Count on Bryant dropping at least 40 points on the Rockets next time he is healthy. The Lakers might lose, but count on Bryant getting his.
Harden may yet survive, if only because the Rockets play the Lakers three times before the end of February, when Bryant’s return is far from assured. The lone late-season matchup is April 8 in Los Angeles, when Bryant may be just barely getting his spring back.
Whatever ends up happening to Harden, hopefully he understands it’s not personal between him and Bryant — although Harden may have a bone to pick with all those GMs when it’s all said and done.
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