The fact of the matter is that Kobe is only one brick in the wall that needs to be built for Panini to actually have the success they need to counteract the license money they spent already. Per many industry people, they grossly overpaid for the ability to produce NBA cards, then spent absurd money to sign Blake Griffin and company, followed by throwing more money at Kobe, when they still have no Jordan, LeBron or others.
Design is also going to be a huge factor, there is no question in my mind. With UD being the overwhelming fan favorite, to go from the best looking sets of the card year, to the ones that look like the unholy abominations they create in a lab somewhere for football, is not going to go over very well. Basically, Panini is not going to compete, especially with UD most likely continuing their basketball production. Even if they get Jordan or LeBron some how some way, I would still see collectors going away than continuing to buy the Panini junk. Think of it this way, if Mercedes left the market and all that was left is Kia, people would still go buy old Mercedes for their luxury cars rather than switching to a inferior brand.
Dont get me wrong, there will be some who will embrace the change, but not the collectors that UD hinged their continued success on. Basketball is a different animal, with the majority of the collectors focusing on super high end rather than the base stuff and mid end like the other sports. This is only further evidenced by the fact that even at 800+ dollars a box, 09-10 Exquisite sold out in 3 hours, even though 08-09 Exquisite was less than two months old. Without Jordan, LeBron, Garnett, and the other UD exclusives, Panini has lost the ability to duplicate that cash flow to subsidize the brand. They can pump out shit like Prestige and Limited all they want, but its not going to make up for their inability to cater to the existing install base.
Personally, I feel bad that Basketball collectors will now have to settle for this:
Instead of this:
Thanks to Mario for the UD poster.