This debate could go on for months. And months. And months. Actually, years. Both players are signed through 2011.
Who should start? The nice-guy former All-Star with superior offensive moves but some deficiencies in doing the dirty work? Or the sloppy, whiny, rebounding machine with an incredible hitch in his shot and permanent tough-guy scowl?
It seems like a no-brainer, right? So much so, that before last season, 88 percent of respondents to a Sacbee.com poll said Shareef Abdur-Rahim should start over Kenny Thomas. I was among them. It's not that Thomas is god-awful - he's an incredible rebounder for his size, he actually has some moves in the post and can be counted on for double-digit points (ask Luke Walton), and he's similar to Reef in his average ability to defend bigs. But Kenny Thomas is a Ford Grenada (dependable, kinda ugly but somewhat endearing) compared to Shareef's Austin-Healey (smooth as hell, slick and pretty, but ready to drop a transmission at any moment). (Kevin Garnett is clearly the Mercedes - powerful, swift, graceful, troubled - in this analogy. Tim Duncan is a Dodge Stratus - highly reliable, high-quality, not particularly exciting. Michael Sweetney would be the Volkswagon Bus.)
We all want the pretty car, right? Of course we do. Which has to be at least part of the reason we choose Reef. But even though his two points come after a tremendous dribble-drive from the left elbow and Kenny's come from an ugly jump shot that rattles in from the same left elbow, it doesn't make Reef's count more. It's about getting the job done.
When it comes to scoring and handling the ball, Reef is still much better at getting things done (pretty or not). But on rebounding - which is the Kings' greatest weakness BY FAR coming into this season - Kenny is far superior.
Mike Bibby is not a particularly adept rebounder for his position. Kevin Martin is not a particularly adept rebounder for his position. Ron Artest is a bad rebounder for his position. Brad Miller is an awful rebounder for his position.
Unless we're pushing the ball like Phoenix (which we aren't), that fifth starter should probably be an above-average rebounder. With the above-average shooting this team has (Martin, Bibby, and Miller are all above-average shooters for their positions) and the great foul-drawing potential (Artest, Bibby, and Martin drew lots of fouls last season), defense needs to be solid and rebounding needs to be average to end up towards the top of the conference. Coach Musselman is working on the defense. But you can't teach 28-year-olds rebounding. You can't scheme rebounding. You can't cover up a huge hole on the boards.
Which is why Kenny Thomas should probably start over Shareef.
There's also a cost-benefit type analysis you could do: if Shareef starts, you have three-star starter and probably a one-star reserve. If Kenny starts, you have a two-star starter (two-and-a-half, maybe?) and a three-to-four star reserve. Wouldn't Shareef be the prohibitive favorite for Sixth Man of the Year? Might he get so fired up about the slight that he gets even angrier and more hell-bent on regaining his star status? And we all know how Kenny reacts to being benched. He sulks, he drags the chemistry through the mud, and he doesn't perform close to his capabilities.
This situation will end with a trade - and I assume it will be Kenny's bloated contract on the way out as opposed to Shareef's valuable deal. But it doesn't look like it's going to end this preseason. So, Musselman has to deal with it. And I think Thomas is the better choice right now.