On the Grantland Basketball Hour, featuring noted Boston homer Bill Simmons and noted Detroit homer Jalen Rose, there is a segment where they answer questions in the mailbag. In the most recent edition of the GBH, Kobe Bryant was a special guest. When the mailbag rolled around, several interesting questions came out. (The mailbag segment is the fourth video on this page.)
What would you do differently about being Dwight Howard's teammate?... Nothing. How many championships should Kobe and Shaq have won?... At least five, maybe six. Should the Lakers count the five championships the team won while in Minneapolis?...Yes.
Is it true you rejected a trade to Detroit in 2007?... "Yes."
Here's what Kobe said:
(About the Lakers) And I said, I gave you a list of teams that I'm comfortable being traded to. That wasn't one of them, so no.
Simmons: So who was on the list?
Kobe: Not Detroit.
Kobe: Chicago. Chicago was my number one choice of destination.
Kobe also went on to confirm that essential pieces of that trade included Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and a boatload of draft picks. Here is the video. The Detroit question comes up at 3:10. Jalen appears very disappointed and surprised that Kobe declined a trade to his beloved hometown (Jalen's, not Kobe's), but let's examine, what would have happened if Kobe had waived his no trade clause and joined the Pistons.
The curious case of Allen Iverson.
If Kobe comes to Detroit, does Joe Dumars then make the trade that sends Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets for a washed up Iverson? In short, no, because the whole point of the Iverson signing was to bring some superstar appeal back to Pistons basketball after a period of frustration. With Kobe there, Chauncey probably stays, and they try a quick rebuild in the hunt for Detroit ring No. 4.
The starting 5.
By trading away 40% of your starting 5, it becomes a question of who steps in. Obviously Kobe comes in at shooting guard, but who steps in at small forward? Do the Pistons play small ball and start a rookie in Rodney Stuckey or Arron Afflalo at the two and try Kobe as a small forward? Do they swing another trade? Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell are on the roster, as well as experienced veterans Lindsey Hunter and Antonio McDyess. Although Johnson's value and potential was yet unrealized, the other three each could have netted a solid small forward. Or perhaps the Pistons start to realize potential.
With Kobe Bryant on the roster, it's unlikely that the Pistons miss the playoffs the next few years, and therefore force their draft pick to climb from the lottery into the twenties. Detroit had the 29th pick in the draft, and selected D.J. White. But the next few seasons their draft position was 15th or higher. Kobe was on a seven-year contract at the time, signed in the summer of 2004, and would have been locked in until the 2011 offseason. If he was with the team the whole time, the 2010 and 2011 drafts look a lot different.
Let's postulate that the Pistons finish with a record good enough for a top 2-3 seed in the East those two seasons. That would put the Pistons, at best, roughly at the 25th selection. Let's take a look at who was drafted with picks 25-30 in 2010:
25) Dominique Jones
26) Quincy Pondexter
27) Jordan Crawford
28) Greivis Vasquez
29) Daniel Orton
30) Lazar Hayward
Hmm, stellar choices. There's not a chance in hell that the Pistons draft Greg Monroe unless they trade up the draft. Instead, Monroe probably goes to someone like the Clippers, Jazz, Pacers or Hornets.
Again, in the final year of his hypothetical contract, Kobe leads the Pistons to a top seeding. They have the 25th pick (at best) in the draft. Who were the late first rounders in this edition:
25) MarShon Brooks
26) Jordan Hamilton
27) JaJuan Johnson
28) Norris Cole
29) Cory Joseph
30) Jimmy Butler
This draft is considerably stronger down the tail end of the first round (funny enough, current Piston Reggie Jackson was the 24th pick by Oklahoma City. Again, Brandon Knight is not a Piston, and we likely select a Cole, Joseph or Butler. Would Jimmy Butler be the player he is today if he spent the first few years of his career playing for coaching royalty such as Lawrence Frank and John Kuester instead of Tom Thibodeau? Probably not. (Although John Kuester at least probably doesn't get a chance to coach with Kobe.)
Also, without the selection of Brandon Knight, the Pistons don't eventually go on to acquire Brandon Jennings in a sign and trade with Milwaukee. Knight becomes the PGOTF at probably Charlotte, while the Pistons have selected Daniel Orton and Norris Cole in the last two drafts (if they stick with a point guard).
Looking retrospectively, perhaps Kobe did us a favor by not rescinding his no-trade-clause and being sent to Detroit. Also, I even forgot to mention, in the trade, as I said before, we were including draft picks. We don't know what picks, but it's very likely at least one first rounder, which makes some of the aforementioned analysis extra moot because we don't have a pick.
Personally, it may have been better for the Pistons' future (which is the present, stay with me) to not acquire Kobe. We were able to acquire Monroe, a solid combo guard in Brandon Knight (who we turned into Jennings), and Andre Drummond. I didn't even get to Drummond because his draft was the year after Kobe's contract expired. If he signs that extension, we probably pick someone like Festus Ezeli or Miles Plumlee. KCP would not be in blue, red and white, but rather his spot would be taken by someone like Andre Roberson or Archie Goodwin.
We don't know how good Kobe would have made us, and for how long, but this long struggle to rebuild is finally bearing success, and, in hindsight, perhaps it was a good thing Kobe refused to be traded to Detroit in 2007. We would probably have trotted out a lineup of Kobe and 4 role players, and turned into some version of the Brooklyn Nets, with no future because it was mortgaged in a past ill-advised trade. Perhaps players like Arron Afflalo and Amir Johnson would have found success here, but we'll never know.
I'll take a Drumroe that hasn't even scratched the surface of its potential over a 30-year-old Kobe who would go on to make close to 80 million dollars but soon enter a rapid state of decline. It was a long road, but the future looks bright in Motown, and we didn't mortgage it on Kobe.