interesting uninteresting kill-me-now painful as the discussion over whether the 2012 team could beat the Dream Team has been, Magic Johnson gave an interesting answer Saturday on who would make the Dream Team from this year’s squad. From the L.A. Times:
“You have to say Kobe would definitely make it,” Johnson said. “He’s unbelievable. We’re so lucky and so fortunate we get a chance to watch Kobe play every single night here in L.A. LeBron is the best all-around player in the game so he would definitely make our team. Kevin Durant would have a shot as well. You have two definitely in with Kobe and LeBron.”
So then the question becomes who would they replace on the Dream Team. Johnson would only target poor Christian Laettner, the single college player put on the team and the one constantly derided by his teammates both at the time and in retrospect.
But in truth, it becomes an interesting answer with James possibly starting, and Bryant obviously backing up Jordan, if their natural positions are reserved.
There’s a kind of weird inverse connection between Bryant’s position on that team and that James’. Bryant isn’t quite as sharp as he was, say, four years ago in Beijing. Clyde Drexler, on the other hand, was just 30. And while taking Drexler over Bryant sounds insane given total career accomplishments, it might have been closer than you’d think. Is a 30-year-old Drexler better than a 34-next-month Bryant? Well, no, probably not. One thing is indisputable. Bryant wouldn’t be starting. (An argument could be made that Bryant and Jordan should start over Magic Johnson, but as Jack McCallum noted in his book on the Dream Team, that wasn’t going to happen. It was Magic’s team in name, if not function.)
For James, list me a player who at the time was better than James is right now: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Chris Mullin. Bird is the only player who you can actually try and make an argument was better at his peak than James is now, but in ’92, Bird was a shell of himself due to a back injury that would lead to his subsequent retirement. You could make the case for Pippen’s ability to compliment Jordan, but if we’re going overall talent, the edge goes to James. If it’s at power forward, you can probably say that Barkley fits the position better, but you have David Robinson and Patrick Ewing for true size, and James’ versatility makes up for whatever he gives up.
So likely, at this moment in time, Magic-Jordan-James-Barkley-Robinson/Ewing with Bryant off the bench first is probably the setup. If this was 2008, that question gets even tougher. You might even then be able to make the argument for Magic-Jordan-Bryant-James-Barkley/Robinson/Ewing.
One thing’s certain. James and Bryant are great enough, even with the contextual restraint of recentness dragging them down, to be a part of the Dream.