The NBA is full of 'what ifs.' We've seen 'minor' moves that changed the fate of franchises when nobody believed in them, while others turned out to be a nightmare for teams that thought they have found heaven.
Whenever people talk about the biggest draft mistakes of all time, the Charlotte Hornets trading the No. 13 overall pick in 1996 to the Los Angeles Lakers always comes to mind. That pick would later become Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest, if not the greatest Laker to ever exist.
The Hornets, however, weren't the only team that missed out on the chance to draft one of the most influential players in NBA history. A rookie coach John Calipari intended to draft the Black Mamba to the New Jersey Nets before changing his mind at the last minute.
A couple of years after that, Calipari would admit he wanted to draft Kobe. Revealing his biggest NBA remorse, the coach mentioned passing on Kobe during that star-studded draft. After Bryant recalled who the Nets drafted, Kerry Kittles, Calipari got some things off his chest.
"Now, how many times did I have you up in New Jersey? Three times with your family. You know who I wanted to pick. I'd still be coaching in the NBA if I had you. Just so you know."
After that, Gary Payton jokingly called Calipari out, saying it was easier to say he blew that chance instead of making excuses. Right after the Nets selected Kittles in the 1996 NBA draft, the first-year head coach explained the decision, saying Kerry fit better the Nets' needs at the moment.
Last year, in the wake of Kobe's tragic death, Coach Calipari remembered that moment, recalling all the things he heard for wanting to draft an underage player.
“I had the eighth pick in the draft, and everyone thought I was nuts. A 17-year-old kid, a high school kid who’s just now getting to the NBA? It shows you don’t know what you’re doing. But anyway, through all those times, all the years we came in contact. One time he said, ‘You know if you drafted me, you would still be in the NBA.’ He said that too. Just a great, great guy.”
This would have been an excellent pick for the New Jersey franchise. Although his beginnings weren't the best, Kobe turned out to be one of the greatest players in NBA history. He had to earn the chance to showcase his talent, but that was worth it when he won three NBA championships before turning 25.
We can only imagine how great the Nets would have been if Calipari went with Bryant instead of Kittles.