During the 90s, the Chicago Bulls were an icon. After winning his sixth championship, going a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals, it felt pretty bare for a few years after 1998. The Bulls were nowhere near competitive like the glory days. It took nearly a decade for Chicago to make some real noise in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, a young, budding star in Kobe Bryant was taking over as the face of the league, teaming up with Shaquille O’Neal to win three straight championships for the Los Angeles Lakers. As Bryant won ring after ring, Jordan’s career was winding down, but the two became close like brothers. Realistically, Bryant might be the closest thing to Jordan that we may ever see.
In 2007, Chicago nearly replaced one Michael Jordan with their best version of another. It was reported that the Bulls and the Lakers had a deal in place to send Bryant to the Bulls. That never happened as Bryant stayed with the Lakers until his retirement in 2016. Had Bryant came to Chicago, the Bulls would have to make a lot more room for championship banners instead of flirting with playoff mediocrity.
The Trade Details
Chicago Bulls Receive: Kobe Bryant
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas
At the time, Bryant was a 28-year old phenom. He was coming off a 2006-2007 season where he averaged 31.6 points per game. Despite his accomplishments, the Lakers finished just 42-40 and lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Suns. There was growing frustration around the team and the Lakers appeared to be ready to tear everything down and rebuild from the bottom.
The Lakers were willing to trade Bryant for Gordon, who was coming off a season where he averaged 21.4 points per game. Deng was just 21 years old and coming off a season where he averaged 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. Tyrus Thomas was the former No. 4 overall pick of the 2006 NBA Draft and undrafted, while Noah was the Bulls’ 2007 first-round draft pick. Essentially, the Lakers were getting a plethora of talent and a lot younger.
On the other side, Chicago was getting their first true superstar since Jordan. It would have felt like the modern-day Michael had the Bulls pulled this off. The Bulls were ready to win, They wanted to win. It was nearing the 10th anniversary of their last championship and Bryant was going to be the player to lead them back to glory.
Kobe Wouldn’t Waive His No-Trade Clause
It was reported that both sides reached an agreement, but Bryant wouldn’t budge if Chicago was going to trade Deng. At the time, Bryant was the only player in the NBA who held a no-trade clause. Essentially, the focal point of the trade package for Los Angeles was getting Deng, a player they believed had the talent to be one of the best two-way players in the league. Given the production at such a young age, the Lakers had a lot to be excited about.
That is why Bryant wanted to play with Deng. He believed that Deng could be the perfect complement to his game. If Chicago was going to trade him out, then Bryant didn’t want to go to Chicago. This is what led to Bryant using his power to veto the trade.
Chicago Projected Lineup If Trade Happened
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Andres Nocioni
PF: Joe Smith
C: Ben Wallace
The glaring question to ask is: Could this lineup take down LeBron James? The Cavaliers were coming off a trip to the 2007 NBA Finals, where they were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs. The bulk of the team was back and LeBron was an MVP candidate himself. The next question is could this lineup take down the Boston Celtics? The 2007 offseason was when the Celtics made moves to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The Celtics eventually won the 2008 NBA Finals.
Let’s break it down. Hinrich was coming off his best season at the time, averaging 16.6 points and 6.2 assists. One could say he is an upgrade over Derek Fisher at the time. Andres Nocioni was a 14-point, six-rebound caliber player on the wing. Ben Wallace was coming off his first full season with the Bulls, remaining one of the most elite defensive players in the league.
Remember when the Lakers won two championships in 2009 and 2010? Pau Gasol was a major part of those teams. Do you see a player like that on this team? Gasol was a midseason acquisition by the Lakers in the 2007-2008 season. Would he have been traded to Chicago instead? Who knows?
Lakers Projected Lineup If Trade Happened
PG: Derek Fisher
SG: Ben Gordon
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Lamar Odom
C: Joakim Noah
The Lakers might still be good enough to make the playoffs with this lineup. You have 23-year old Ben Gordon, 21-year old Luol Deng, and 22-year old Joakim Noah to build for the future. Lamar Odom was the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.1 points per game. Gordon and Deng were both potential 20-point scorers. While losing a superstar in Bryant was huge, you had pieces for the present and future with this lineup.
Then again, this young lineup struggled in Chicago, which led to the Bulls getting the No. 1 overall pick in 2008. Had this happened to the Lakers, they would have put Derrick Rose on this team and we all know what happened after that. While the next few years would have been hard for Laker fans, the future would have looked bright.
Gordon eventually made his way out of this core, but Deng and Noah were both future All-Stars. Noah was a future Defensive Player of the Year. It would have forced fans in Los Angeles to be patient for the future, but that’s the problem when you have a franchise like the Lakers. Nobody would want patience, so it’s hard to believe that the core truly would have stuck together.
In the end, the Lakers would have made a huge mistake making this trade. For starters, the Lakers made three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals despite the trade rumors circulating Bryant that fateful offseason. Bryant led the Lakers to playoff contention, the Lakers made a move for All-Star Pau Gasol, and the team played the Boston Celtics to a tough NBA Finals before falling in 2008.
Then, Bryant won back-to-back Finals MVPs, including leading the Lakers to his fifth championship during his tenure. Had Bryant been moved, the Lakers would have faced a few years of rebuilding. There was also no guarantee that the Lakers would be as lucky as the Bulls in bringing Rose to the team. Had Rose been in Los Angeles and not Bryant, maybe the core of Rose, Deng, and Noah would have made the NBA Finals without facing LeBron James in the East. After all, the Bulls were a top team in the league in 2011 and 2012 before Rose’s injury.
As for Chicago, the Bulls traded Ben Wallace and Joe Smith midseason and finished 11th in the league. Somehow, the team was lucky to get the No. 1 ping pong ball, which was used on Derrick Rose. Over time, Rose became the face of Chicago. Rose and Co. pushed the Celtics, who eventually made the NBA Finals, to a seven-game series in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. In 2011, he became the youngest MVP ever at 22 years old.
However, the Bulls could never get past the Miami Heat, nor the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James leading the charge. Rose suffered two career altering injuries, including a major knee injury in 2012 when the Bulls were the No. 1 seed. Had Rose never been hurt, the Bulls might have a championship. Had the Bulls made a move for Bryant, there is no guarantee the team would have won either. However, the idea of Kobe vs. LeBron in a Conference Finals is just an absolute dream.
Credit for an idea: NBA Debates/Instagram