by Farmer Jones / @thefarmerjones

I don’t want to overplay the significance of this, but: nobody wanted Kobe.

This list, which so many of you have received so good naturedly, was submitted last month to the vast pool of SLAMonline freelancers as a first-come, first-served opportunity. The top two (I don’t want to give anything away, but you’ll notice the name “Joey Graham” has been conspicuously absent thus far…) were claimed before the list was sent out, leaving players 3-50.

Kobe Bryant was No. 3. He remains so.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write one of these this year, but as the list was sent out, and then sent out again, I couldn’t help noticing that, while some of my fellow scribblers were apparently clamoring for the chance to weigh in on LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson, Mr. Bean remained unclaimed.

At first, this shocked me. But then I realized it made a perfect sort of sense.

We’re kind of over Kobe, aren’t we?

I probably should’ve said this sooner, but what you’re reading is not the sort of Bean-bashing I’ve done in the past. (Which, let’s be honest, is a shame. I think we all had a lot of fun back then, didn’t we?) When I say we’re “over” Kobe, I don’t mean we don’t like him (which is irrelevant, even for me, at this point), or that we think he sucks, which, duh. Kobe’s still really good at basketball.

It just seems like maybe Kobe is past the point of being worth arguing about.

OK, so maybe not for all of us. Ha, ha, ha. No. Some of you us will argue about anything, I know. But after a season in which he put up his lowest scoring average in seven years (granted, he was sort of banged up all season), and after a Playoff run that ended in a second-round sweep (granted, to the eventual champs), it seems like our collective analytical energy is directed increasingly toward LeBron (still…) and Kevin and Derrick and Dwyane and Dwight. Sure, we’ll still make our case for where Kobe Bryant, Elder Statesman™, belongs among these younger lads who lack his creaky knees and fistful of rings. But it doesn’t seem to matter, not nearly so much as it did.

There’s a reason for this. A good one. It’s about legacies, and how they become set regardless of whether we’re consciously aware of it at the time.

Kobe Bryant’s legacy is set.

Kobe Bryant might play one more season, or three, or five (which would make 20—wow), but it doesn’t much matter. However much longer he goes, his career totals will go up and his averages will taper off accordingly, and it won’t really matter. He might win another title or two, which would be impressive without Phil Jackson, but will also almost certainly require the help of a player like Dwight Howard (you know, as a random example), and so that won’t matter, either.

It won’t matter because we all know where Kobe stands.

Better than Jordan? No. Never. But close, in many ways as close as anyone’s gotten, and maybe as close as anyone will get.

Better than LeBron? No, not anymore—but yes, certainly, where legacies are concerned. In that, it might never be particularly close.

We can argue the rest—Kobe vs Wade in their prime, Kobe vs Durant, Kobe vs Rose, Kobe vs Barnes or Shabazz or whoever comes next—and we will, because that’s what we do. We can make the case that some nights, during this theoretical ‘11-12 season that may never exist, Kobe Bryant still will be the best basketball player alive. And we’ll be right. Because, some nights, he still will be.

Other nights he’ll show his age, or his impatience, or his belligerence, and those of us you who are so inclined will smile at his eternal, incurable flaws and comfort yourselves with the knowledge that his time is near.

And it doesn’t matter. Because his career, in as much as it matters as a discussion piece for basketball fans, is pretty much over.

But for now—right now, today—a list composed of the opinions of a bunch of well-informed basketball writer/fans says Kobe Bryant is the third-best player in the NBA. (We had him second last year, and second the year before that.) I didn’t vote on this list, but I’m fine with his ranking. I’d probably be fine if we had him fourth, or sixth, or maybe even second. I’m not all that into lists. I don’t think it’s a big deal either way.

Hey, do you guys have any thoughts on this?

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2
31 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 9
30 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 10
29 Josh Smith Hawks PF 9
28 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 5
27 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 8
26 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 6
25 John Wall Wizards PG 7
24 Danny Granger Pacers SF 5
23 Monta Ellis Warriors SG 4
22 Joe Johnson Hawks SG 3
21 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 4
20 Steve Nash Suns PG 6
19 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 8
18 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 7
17 Chris Bosh Heat PF 6
16 Kevin Love TWolves PF 5
15 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 5
14 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 4
13 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 3
12 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
11 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 2
10 Deron Williams Nets PG 3
9 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
8 Chris Paul Hornets PG 2
7 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 1
6 Dwight Howard Magic C 1
5 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 2
4 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 1
3 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 1

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.