There is an argument to be made that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal combined together to form the greatest duo in NBA history. Playing together for 8 years, Kobe and Shaq were an epic 1-2 punch, helping bring 3 consecutive NBA championships to the Los Angeles Lakers. But their historic duo almost could have been a legendary trio if former Lakers GM Jerry West had his way.
Former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Dell Harris recently revealed that Jerry West wanted to bring Tracy McGrady to the Los Angeles Lakers to pair him up with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in 1998. But despite West's best efforts, it was Lakers' owner Jerry Buss who rejected the deal, opting to keep All-Star Eddie Jones with the fearsome duo rather than form a trio with McGrady.
As the Lakers' longtime roster architect, West was famously smitten by the predraft workout performance that Bryant, then 17, unleashed against the longtime Lakers defensive standout Michael Cooper, who was an assistant coach by that point. As Harris tells it, Tracy McGrady had an even more impressive audition for the Lakers one year later, prompting West to make a brief but serious push to try to acquire McGrady's draft rights and team him with O'Neal and Bryant.
"I don't think anybody can look at an 18-year-old and say he's a Hall of Famer," Harris said. "You couldn't even do that with Jordan. And Kobe was a young 18 in his first season. He was still in a pretty normal teenage body, compared to when LeBron James came in and had a man's body.
"McGrady came in the next year with a more mature body and worked out so well that Jerry kind of tooled around with the idea that maybe we should just go ahead and make a deal for whatever it took to get this guy — even though it'd be a step back in the short term — to have two guys like this on the same team."
It was the Lakers' owner Jerry Buss, hungry to end a championship drought that would ultimately last 11 seasons before Shaq, Kobe and their new coach Phil Jackson won their first of three successive titles together in 2000, who shot down the idea of a Bryant/McGrady partnership.
Harris, himself, also didn't want to surrender an All-Star like Eddie Jones for McGrady, either, fearing it would take the Lakers out of the title mix. Bryant was the first guard in N.B.A. history to make the jump directly from high school to the pros and working one teenager into a lineup with championship aspirations was already a sizable undertaking.
H/T: CBS Sports (Via New York Times)
The move to the Lakers was one of many potential deals that almost took place during McGrady's career. Because the Lakers didn't get McGrady, he went to Toronto to play with his cousin Vince Carter. McGrady eventually left Toronto to play for the Magic. But his best stint was arguably in Houston, where he formed his own impressive duo with Yao Ming.
One can only imagine how well this trio could have played together. But there is no way of knowing. Kobe and McGrady became rivals eventually but had respect for each other. McGrady even called Kobe the toughest player he has ever played against in the league. But Kobe could very well have been McGrady's best teammate if they had played together.