Would Your Company Trade For Kobe Bryant?

Kris Dunn Compensation/Cash Money, Engagement and Satisfaction, Recognition

Do you like spending a large portion of your comp budget on the best player available, or would you rather have strength at all positions and spread the money around?  You can’t have it both ways, so pick already…

The whole Kobe Bryant thing is getting a lot of airtime.  For those of you who aren’t aware of Kobe and don’t follow pro hoops, here’s a primer.  Bear with me, there’s a talent nugget related to stars vs. teams somewhere in this:

Kobe was drafted straight out of high school (1997?), and rapidly ascended into theKobe stratosphere of the NBA, winning 3 NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s and is now widely regarded as the best player on the planet.

As Kobe matured, he has become widely reported as more selfish, to the extent he forced the trade of an all-star teammate (Shaquille O’Neal).  His desire by most accounts in doing this?  He didn’t want to share the limelight with Shaq, and wanted to win a title as the sole franchise player.

-Since running off Shaq, Kobe’s image has taken other hits, including sexual assault charges that were ultimately dropped, but not before the details of the case came out and painted him in a very negative light.  In the process, he lost lots of "look at this good guy" endorsements with uber-brands like McDonald’s, Sprite and Adidas.

-The latest on Kobe?  Frustrated that the whole "me without Shaq" thing hasn’t worked out, Kobe’s lashing out at his team (the Lakers) by demanding a trade…. Repeatedly, and loudly…

The trade demands have swirled around for 6-8 months, and are heating up again with the start of the NBA season and the booing of Kobe in the Laker’s home opener this season.   With this backdrop in mind, one franchise is rumored to have the means and the desire to do a deal with the Lakers and bring Kobe into their fold – the Chicago Bulls.

Your mission as a talent pro?  Figure out whether you would risk your culture by bringing the most talented, and at times, the most disgruntled player in pro basketball, into your team by comparing and contrasting Kobe and the Bulls.

Here’s a rundown of the Bulls:

Building with Youth – The Bulls have built their team over the last 5 years through the draft, to the extent that they now have a roster of 10-11 solid players, 3-4 with the ability to be All-Stars.  To get Kobe, they’ll have to trade 4 of those players, including 2 All-Stars…

Team-First Approach – The Bulls use a balanced approach, with different players stepping up and leading the team in scoring every night.  Hustle and floor burns are also the norm with the squad.

Authority Matters – The Bulls have a coach who has actually said "no" to a reasonable (but individualistic) request by a player (Ben Wallace wanted to wear a headband) and was backed by the front office.  To this point, it’s been the coach’s way or the highway, a rarity in pro hoops.

Compensation Flexibility – Building with youth means the Bulls have a reasonable payroll, and can make a variety of decisions in the coming years regarding which players warrant contract extensions, etc.  If Kobe comes aboard and has his contract reworked, most of that flexibility is gone…

So what would you do if you were the General Manager for the Chicago Bulls? It’s a talent trap, the star vs. the team thing…

It’s easy for me – If I were running the Bulls, I would stand pat.  Not because I hate Kobe, because I don’t.  While the Bulls haven’t won a championship, they are undeniably still in their ascent towards a championship.  Will they win a championship?  Who knows?  One thing is certain – the curtain hasn’t begun to close at this point.  Additionally, I like the aspect of where the Bulls are from a payroll perspective.  They can choose when and where they want to put their money in the years to come.  Finally, Kobe’s a 3-time cancer to those around him (Shaq, the criminal charges that were dropped, and the recent trade demands), so even if things went well initially, there’s a high probability he would poison the current culture eventually. 

I’d do the same thing with a workplace team.  Keep the deep team intact, avoid the attention starved, disruptive forces that drag everyone down…

What about you?

Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He's also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.