Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are two all-time great basketball players, each with five championships all with the same team, who are in the twilights of their careers. But they’re in extremely different places right now: Duncan’s Spurs are the defending champions and look to make another title run this year; Bryant’s Lakers missed the playoffs last season and are likely going to again.
In a feature on the pair’s relationship by the LA Daily News‘ Mark Medina, Bryant admits that he’s somewhat envious of Duncan’s situation in San Antonio:
Instead, the indisputable difference involves Duncan’s unmatched stability in playing for Popovich through his entire career, while Bryant has played for seven coaches.
“I’m in a system that allows me to play well,” Duncan said. “With the kind of teammates I have and players we put together, it’s not just on one person’s shoulders. We can spread it out and continue to win.”
Bryant enjoyed that luxury when he teamed with Shaquille O’Neal during the Lakers’ three-peat (2000-2002) and with Pau Gasol on back-to-back championship teams (2009, 2010). All of those teams featured the steady presence of Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson and trusted confidant Derek Fisher.
In between those title runs, Bryant played with the likes of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown for one missed playoff appearance and two first-round exits. Bryant wondered aloud what would have happened had Jackson, Gasol, Fisher and Lamar Odom stayed on his team longer.
“I can’t express to you how much I’m jealous,” Bryant said of Duncan’s career stability. “I’ve been up and down.”
In a lot of ways, Duncan and Bryant are opposites, and Medina’s story outlines a lot of them. They both have almost unprecedented longevity, but the Spurs have never fallen out of contention. Part of this is due to the willingness of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to take pay cuts while Bryant is making a league-high $48.5 million over the next two years.