There have been many stories that have come out since Kobe’s retirement about all the times the Lakers were close to trading him, and we have another interesting one. Phil Jackson gave some insight on how Kobe was almost traded in just his fourth NBA season.
“When Kobe was healed and ready to return [from a broken wrist earlier in the season], I was a bit reluctant to make a major alteration in our winning combination. So I suggested that Kobe come off the bench. ‘I don’t see myself not starting,’ was his response. ‘I don’t want to be known as a bench player.’ Here was a 20-year-old already concerned about his legacy. So we had a little pushback, an indication of what might lie ahead.
“A couple of weeks later, we’re still winning and Shaq is completely motivated. But Kobe was only averaging about 19 points per game. So Kobe called Jerry West and wanted to know how Jerry and Elgin Baylor both averaged 30 points. Kobe also said that he wanted to be traded. Of course, Jerry told me about the conversation. And, for a few minutes I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill. Make that a few seconds.
“The thing was that Kobe already saw himself as being one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. I thought that, in time, he would indeed reach that goal.
Clearly this idea was dead as fast as it formed, but it could have been one of the great league-altering trades in history. Instead of the Lakers trading half of the greatest duo in NBA history on the verge of a 3-peat, they could have had budding superstar Grant Hill who played in 74 games the next season, but then only 4, 14, and 29 the following 3. Meanwhile, the Pistons would have a 20 year-old superstar to become a powerhouse for the foreseeable future.
There are a million what-ifs regarding Kobe’s career and many times he could have altered the course of the league with a simple trade.
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