During his 20-year NBA career, Kobe Bryant always tried to give his best, but not everything worked for the Black Mamba. He was a fierce competitor, somebody dedicated to his job, and a person hungry for wins. Even though he won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, playing in LA wasn't always nice for Bryant, who was close to being traded more than once.
He was linked with high-profile names like Kevin Garnett and almost joined the team where his idol Michael Jordan played, but none of this ever happened. Yet, there were times when Kobe was so fed up with the Lakers that even his biggest rivals at the time looked like good options to continue his career.
That's what happened with the Detroit Pistons, who almost traded for him not once but twice. The first one involved Grant Hill in 1999, but things never came to fruition. That was a great decision for the Lakers, who would win three consecutive championships with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal on the roster.
Moreover, eight years later, the Pistons were even closer to acquiring Kobe via trade, but the player's indecision forced Dr. Jerry Buss to block the move. During a recent edition of "The Crossover” podcast, Joe Dumars joined Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated, revealing details of what could have been a terrific move for the Pistons (52:43).
"It was myself and Mitch Kupchak, current GM was obviously involved [Rob Pelinka] 'cause he represented Kobe at the time, Bill Davidson, the Pistons' owner, and Jerry Buss. Those were the people that knew the deal. Mitch Kupchak and I went back and forth about parameters. This is when Kobe was saying, 'I want out, Lakers aren't trying to win, I want out.' It was two teams that Mitch felt like had enough pieces to do a deal for Kobe. It was us and Chicago. Mitch called and said, 'look, I'd like to work out something with you', take us a couple days to work it out, and then we agreed on the deal."
Once that part was done, they needed to get approval from Kobe, which turned out to be the biggest reason why the deal fell apart. If accepted, the Pistons would have sent Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson, and a first-round pick to Los Angeles.
"At the time, Kobe is the only player that had a no-trade in his contract. Mitch says, 'look, as you know, Kobe has a no-trade so he has to approve this, but we're gonna take this to him. I'm gonna take this to Dr. Buss.' They did, Dr. Buss said 'ok,' they took it to Kobe, and Mitch [Kupchak] told me that Kobe said, ‘I need 48 hours or something to discuss this with my family.’ Dr. Buss was like, ‘no. We need an answer in the next day or whatever.’ And Kobe didn’t want to be forced into making a decision that quick.”
“Dr. Buss has given him a day and if he doesn’t, Dr. Buss is pulling out and he’s done. Kobe refused to make a decision in one day, he didn’t make a decision in 24 hours. He was like, 'I need a couple of days to meet my family and make a decision, and he didn't make the decision in 24 hours, and Dr. Buss said, ‘That’s it. I’m out. We tried to make a deal, you wouldn’t make a decision and we’re gonna move forward.’”
Things looked very promising for the Pistons, but Kobe wanted to be sure he was taking the right path for his career. Team owners even called to confirm things were going on the right track, but then Bryant doubted.
“Yeah! I thought it was going to work, but the thing is in trades, the longer it takes, the bigger the chances it's going to happen. When it didn’t happen right away and time started going by over that 24-hour period, I realized this could go off track. When we hung up and Mitch says, ‘Okay, we have a deal.’ I called Davidson, he calls Dr. Buss and he said, ‘We have a deal. Only thing, Kobe’s gotta approve it.’”
Dumars wasn't celebrating yet, but he felt they had a good opportunity to add an offensive superstar to a team with many great defenders.
“At that moment you’re going, ‘Okay, this could happen!’ You’re not popping champagne. You’re silent about it, you're not talking with anyone about this. This is under wraps and you’re waiting for things to play out.”
This would have been huge for the Pistons, who made it to two NBA Finals during the 2000s, winning the first one against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 and losing against the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. Perhaps, with Kobe, they could have dominated the Eastern Conference regardless of who the Boston Celtics brought in and maybe would have forced LeBron James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier than he did.
It's good that Kobe never left the Lakers, and the team actually got serious about bringing the right people to help him win a championship. In the end, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, who would become Bryant's sidekick during his 4th and 5th NBA championship runs. This is a huge 'what if,' but we're pretty sure Kobe was happy that things turned out to be the way they did, as he spent his entire career with the Purple and Gold.