Back in 2007, that is. The Pistons put an offer on the table to acquire the All-World guard, dangling Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and a first-round pick. The Lakers agreed to the deal, but Bryant blocked it with a no-trade clause.
It's true: Kobe Bryant was nearly traded to the Detroit Pistons. The rumor first surfaced in 2007 -- here's my DBB post from 5-plus years ago making fun of it -- and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski finally confirmed it today with quotes from Kobe in a column honoring Jerry Buss' legacy:
After all the anger and angst and fury of the immediate post-Shaq era had inspired Kobe Bryant to make a trade demand, Jerry Buss finally called his superstar guard to the owner's home in the Los Angeles hills on an autumn evening in 2007.
The Los Angeles Lakers had found a trade for Bryant, but Buss warned him that it wasn't to one of his selected destinations.
"Detroit," Buss said.
Bryant, the last player in the NBA with an actual no-trade clause, nixed the deal. As the story goes, he had an epiphany at the meeting that he wanted to remain a Laker for life, putting his trust in Jerry Buss that the proud owner wouldn't let the franchise flounder for much longer. And it didn't: within months, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol and Kobe won a scoring title. And even though the Lakers fell to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, they went on to win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
But let's stop for a moment and think about what could have happened.
When the rumor first surfaced in 2007, ESPN's Ric Bucher claimed the Pistons were offering Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and a first-round pick. The rumor blew up talk radio phone lines for a day but never gained much traction among the beat reporters -- at the time, Free Press beat reporter Krista Jahnke poured water on it citing "a high-ranking Pistons official" who said the proposal simply never happend.
Now, we're told, it did.
#Pistons source acknowledges that the Kobe Bryant trade, involving several players and draft picks, was done and agreed upon in 2007.— David Mayo (@David_Mayo) February 19, 2013
Would've been Rip, Tay and Amir Johnson along with a future #1 for Kobe in 2007. Story is true source says— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) February 19, 2013
If you recall, the 2007 playoffs weren't very pleasant. The Pistons won the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals and looked poised for their third trip to the NBA Finals in four years. Instead, LeBron James and the Cavaliers came charging back to win four straight -- including the legendary double-OT Game 5 in which LBJ scored 29 of Cleveland's final 30 points, finishing with 48 on the night.
That pitiful performance was a harbinger of things to come, and apparently convinced Joe Dumars that change was needed -- but as we now know, he was rebuffed by Bryant. Apparently unable to find another deal to his liking, Dumars sat on his hands and rode his core to 59 regular-season wins and another trip to the conference finals -- but by that point, the torch had already been passed to the Boston Celtics, who successfully parlayed blockbuster deals for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett into an NBA title.
If a pit is growing in your stomach, it's because you remember what came next: Dumars was finally able to orchestrate a blockbuster, but unfortunately, it was the wrong one. Having already dumped Flip Saunders for a completely-over-his-head Michael Curry, Dumars broke up his core by sending Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (who'd eventually return after a contract buyout) to the Nuggets for
the ghost of Allen Iverson.
Iverson never fit in, objected to coming off the bench and was eventually sent home. Dumars, who already wasted some of his cap space by extending Rip Hamilton, blew the rest of it on the first day of free agency by signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, finding time to "dump" the extremely affordable Arron Afflalo and Amir Johnson, both of whom would emerge as legitimate starters elsewhere, for zilch. Oh, and have you heard of this John Kuester guy? But I digress.
What if the preceding three paragraphs of sadness never happened? What if Dumars had been able to orchestrate the first blockbuster he wanted? Think about it:
That would have given the Pistons a core of Kobe, Billups, Rasheed and McDyess. Stuckey was a rookie.— Dave Hogg (@Stareagle) February 19, 2013
Would that have been enough to prop open Detroit's championship window another few years? There's no right or wrong answer when playing make-believe, but think about it: a three-guard lineup of Kobe, Billups and Stuckey would have been the best in the league -- if not in Year 1, certainly in Year 2 -- and even though Wallace and McDyess were already showing signs of age, McDyess was an absolute beast for long stretches in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals.
(Of course, losing Prince would have meant starting Jarvis Hayes and/or Walter Herrmann, but that's assuming the deal wouldn't have triggered additional moves. This is like the fading photograph in Back to the Future -- change one thing in the past and who knows how it alters the present. Or the future. Wait, what? Deep breath, let's try to focus ...)
However the rest of the roster would have came together, that team would have been a helluva good time to watch. And let's be clear, the proposal certainly took guts from Dumars, and it almost helps me view the Iverson deal in a different light. He knew his team was flawed, and even though he'd eventually develop a reputation for sitting on his hands (in part due to ownership issues), he was still willing and able to risk everything and swing for the fences.
This post is already long-winded and disjointed (I'm surprised you made it this far), so I'll stop now. But tell me, what do you think would have happened if Kobe, in a fit of impatience with the Lakers, said yes, opting to leave LaLa land for the Motor City, battling LeBron and KG in the East? Would the Pistons have another banner hanging from the rafters? Two? Or would it have been another dumpster fire like the Iverson experience?
Now your thoughts.