West: LeBron has chance to be greatest

Updated: May 19, 2009, 1:05 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, surpassing veteran Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, 14-time All-Star guard Jerry West said Monday.

West, a shrewd judge of talent who brought Bryant to the Lakers when he was their general manager, said the Cleveland Cavaliers forward could become the league's next Michael Jordan.

[+] EnlargeLebron and Kobe
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesJerry West says he'd still want Kobe Bryant to take the last shot. But he'd take LeBron James if he were starting a franchise.

"I look at Cleveland [and] say to myself, 'How many games could they win without LeBron James?'" West told Reuters in an interview. "That's how great he is.

"He has a chance to be arguably the greatest player ever to play the game."

West, the NBA's executive of the year with the Lakers in 1995 and the Memphis Grizzlies in 2004, said playing both ends of the floor was what made Jordan so great.

"Michael Jordan was the best defensive player in the league but he was also the best offensive player," said West. "It wasn't a one-year fluke, he proved it over time.

"LeBron James will do the same type of things because he's getting better. He's a much more effective shooter. When's he's making his shots from the outside, you can't play him.

"He's just too big, too strong, too quick. And he has incredible body control. But more than that, he's a great teammate. You can see his teammates love him."

West told Bloomberg Television in an interview that starting a team with James is a "no-brainer."

"If you look at basketball today, it's not always the big guys that win for you, it's the intermediate-size guys," West said, according to Bloomberg. "[He] can play four positions if you ask him to do so, and his ability to get everyone involved in the game is just remarkable for someone his age. I don't know if there's a better athlete I've ever seen play professional basketball."

Even though it's hard for me to be objective, because I brought Kobe to Los Angeles, I do think LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a player.

-- Jerry West

James averaged 28.4 points this season and was named the NBA's MVP. But Bryant, a three-time NBA champion and 2008 MVP, still remains a force, said West.

"If I had to have somebody make a last-second shot, it would be Kobe Bryant," said West, architect of the great Lakers teams from the Magic Johnson years in the 1980s through the Shaquille O'Neal-led teams earlier this decade.

"But even though it's hard for me to be objective, because I brought Kobe to Los Angeles, I do think LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a player."

West, 70, was in Washington attending a conference for atrial fibrillation, a condition he has that can cause a racing heart, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression.

The condition, diagnosed at age 42, forced him to leave the front office of the Lakers and then the Grizzlies in 2007.

West, a member of the Lakers' 1972 title team, said he does not think about how he would fare in today's NBA but added, "I would be competitive, trust me."

Reuters contributed to this report.