PHOENIX — James Harden might be on a scoring tear that hasn’t been seen in decades, but Kobe Bryant doesn’t think the Houston Rockets can win a championship with the reigning MVP continuing to play this way.
“Well, I think he has to do what he has to do in order for his team to win,” Bryant said in an interview with ESPN’s The Jump. “And there’s certain levels to it. So, there’s the style of play in which he’s using, which I’m not a fan of in terms of winning championships. I don’t think that style’s ever gonna win championships.”
“But at the same time, you have to keep your team’s head above water to win games,” Bryant told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Tracy McGrady. “So, you have to do what you have to do to win games. And he’s doing it.”
Harden extended his streak of scoring at least 30 points to 27 games on Monday night with 44 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in a 118-110 win over the Phoenix Suns. It is the third-longest such streak, behind Wilt Chamberlain’s streaks of 65 and 31.
When told of Bryant’s comments, Harden agreed with the former Lakers star.
“I mean, I have to be ball dominant just because we have injuries,” explained Harden, whose Rockets improved to 31-22. “We had injuries throughout the course of the year, but when we get Chris [Paul] in a rhythm and Eric [Gordon] back and get our full roster, we got multiple guys that can make plays, multiple guys that can dominate the ball.”
Bryant — who recently opened the Mamba Sports Academy, a holistic, multisport training facility for young athletes in Los Angeles — won five championships, but none came during his six-highest usage seasons that ranged from rates of 38.7 to 32.9, respectively, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The highest usage rate Bryant had during a championship season was 32.3 during 2009-10, the seventh highest of his career.
“For right now, he’s probably right,” Harden added of Bryant’s comments. “This way, that we’re playing, won’t happen, won’t get us to where we want to go. But we haven’t had a full roster yet, so I’m excited for that to come.”
Harden’s usage rate this season of 40.2 is on pace to be the second highest in NBA history, behind Russell Westbrook‘s MVP season (41.7) in 2016-17, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of the seven other highest-usage seasons, none of the players made it out of the first round in the postseason during that respective season.
Bryant also was asked about his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, pursuing Anthony Davis in a trade. Bryant said he loves the young talent the Lakers have in Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball, but he added that the “smart thing” for the Lakers to do is to try to acquire New Orleans Pelicans‘ elite big man.
“Listen, we have a lot of talent in Kuzma,” said Bryant, who has helped mentor Kuzma in the offseason. “You have a lot of talent — talent in Ball.”
“It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and what your long-term objectives are,” Bryant added. “Now, by signing LeBron [James], you’re already making an indication that you wanna win now. Right. So, I think it’d be a smart thing to do for the Lakers to look at that. But at the same time, you know, you gotta play a little bit of poker.”
The Lakers presently are offering the Pelicans a package that includes forwards Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, guard Lonzo Ball and two first-round picks, as well as a willingness to absorb the remaining $12.7 million on Solomon Hill‘s contract in the 2019-20 season, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Pelicans haven’t countered the Lakers’ offers but do have expectations that Johnson will overwhelm them with young players and a historic haul of draft picks. To New Orleans, that means four first-round and second-round picks as part of a trade package, league sources told Wojnarowski.
“I mean, you gotta really look at it,” Bryant said of trying to persuade New Orleans to trade Davis. “You got other teams out there, Boston and so forth and so on, competitors looking to add the same piece.”
The Lakers want to add another superstar to play alongside James, who at 34 missed a career-high 17 straight games after injuring his groin in a game on Christmas. Bryant, who tore his Achilles tendon at age 34, believes James will adapt as he gets older.
“I think it’s fine,” Bryant said. “I mean, it just depends how he adapts his game, right, ’cause at some point, you have to evolve. So, the speed and the power that he’s used to playing with has to change, which he can because, now, he has the God-given size to be able to adapt and to go to below the free throw line, use more of a power game versus being on the perimeter 30 feet, 35 feet, from the hoop and creating situations off the screen [or] isolation.”
“He can go down to the post and play more of a power game and dictate the game from that position,” Bryant added. “Magic did a lot of that. Magic, at 6-9, went down to the post a lot, attracted double-teams down to him, made plays from there. And he’s more than capable of doing that and playing for a long, long time.”