Roland Lazenby's Lakernoise blog has all kinds of interesting points to add to this debate, from Phil Jackson's longtime right-hand man (and current Laker consultant) Tex Winter. Winter has been around both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant for almost their entire careers. You should really read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that Lazenby has generously let me cut and paste:
A few years back, the Lakers coaching staff concluded Bryant and Jordan were much alike, almost eerie, in fact, when it came to the alpha male qualities of their competitive natures.
Kobe and Michael were ruthless when it came to winning, everyone agreed.
And their skills were similar.
Except Michael's hands were larger.
The major difference between the two came with college experience. Jordan had played in a basketball system for Dean Smith at North Carolina, thus he was better prepared to play within a team concept.
Winter says they're both very much alike:
"They both display tremendous reaction, quickness and jumping ability. Both have a good shooting touch. Some people say Kobe is a better shooter, but Michael really developed as a shooter as he went along. I don't know if Kobe is a better shooter than Michael was at his best."
Observers like to point out that Jordan played on a Chicago Bulls team with no great center, but Winter always countered that Jordan was a great post-up player and in essence was the premier post weapon of his time.
Bryant himself came into the NBA with amazingly good post skills, but there was never room for him to play in the post with Shaquille O'Neal occupying the lane during their years together with the Lakers.
In a lot of ways, Bryant is Jordan's equal as a post player, Winter said, except for one critical element. "What's happened to Kobe and his post play - and he is a great post player - is that he's catching the ball just out of the lane and the defenders are forcing him out toward the wing."
As a result of getting pushed out of the post, Winter worries that Bryant may rely too heavily on three-pointers, which Bryant often shoots against intense pressure.
Winter also admits that Bryant abandons aspects of the triangle offense with some regularity. But that's not Winter's main complaint with the guard:
"I'd like to see him play better defense," Winter said, adding that he had addressed the issue recently with Bryant but didn't come away with the idea that Bryant was intent on changing his approach.
"You know Kobe," Winter said with a chuckle. "He has his game plan. I think he heard me. But he feels there's a certain way he's got to play the game. But it doesn't involve a lot of basically sound defense."
Because the Lakers need so much of his effort at the offensive end, Bryant has adopted a save-energy plan on the defensive end, Winter said. "He's basically playing a lot of one-man zone. He's doing a lot of switching, zoning up, trying to come up with the interception.
"The way Kobe plays defensively affects the team," Winter added. "Anybody that doesn't play consistently good defense hurts the team. That's not only Kobe. Our other guards tend to gamble and get beat. Another problem is that the screen and roll is not played correctly."
Winter never really says who's better. But to me, at this stage that's a victory for the legacy of Kobe Bryant. Winter is tough, honest, and as good an authority on this topic as we'll ever get. If he thinks it's a debate worth having, that's really something. Not all that long ago only die-hard Laker fans were seriously making the case that Bryant might be Jordan's equal.