Kobe Bryant won three titles as a wingman to Shaq from 2000-2002. Shaq was in his prime, easily the dominant player in the league, and collected three straight NBA Finals MVP awards. Shaq’s numbers during those runs were staggering:
Age 28: 30.7 ppg, 15.4 rpg in 2000 playoffs
Age 29: 30.4 ppg, 15.4 rpg in 2001 playoffs
Age 30: 28.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg in 2002 playoffs
Kobe was a terrific No. 2 during those years, an explosive scorer who was just starting to emerge as one of the best perimeter threats in the NBA. Then Kobe got Shaq shipped out of LA and blew up as a scorer … but found no postseason success. It wasn’t until the Lakers heisted Pau Gasol from Memphis that Kobe was able to get two more rings and vault himself into the discussion as the greatest Laker ever (sorry, my vote will always go to Magic).
LeBron and the Heat have Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on the books for two more years. At that point, Wade will be 32 years old. Given his regular season struggles – his #’s were down in scoring, rebounding, getting to the line; his postseason numbers took a hit, too – and the beating his body has taken over the last decade … LeBron will need a new No. 2 if he wants to try and catch Michael Jordan in the rings department. Let’s assume for now Chris Bosh (27 years old now) remains in the fold in the future (albeit at a slightly reduced salary). Some suggestions:
1. Kevin Love. The Timberwolves only locked him up for three more years, at which point he can opt-out. Could the Bosh-Love tandem be Kobe’s Bynum and Gasol?
2. Rudy Gay. He has plenty of detractors, but perhaps that’s because he’s a natural No. 2, not a No. 1 (and unfortunately, he’s paid like a No. 1). Given his length on the wing, his perimeter defense save LeBron from having to lock up the likes of Melo, Granger, Pierce and Durant.
3. DeMarcus Cousins. Followed up a 14-9 rookie year with a beastly 18-11 sophomore campaign. He’s only 21. Playing for a rudderless franchise, perhaps he’ll be mature enough in a few years to join Bosh and LeBron on the frontline and become a 25-12 superstar.
4. Kyrie Irving. Sorry Cleveland, couldn’t resist twisting the knife. If he leaves the Cavs, it won’t happen anytime soon given his rookie contract, but LeBron hasn’t played with a star point guard in his career, and in a few years, Irving could be the league’s best point guard.