Phil Jackson boasts an impressive hardware collection that dwarfs all other NBA coaches. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both helped Jackson bring home 11 world championships, but the grass wasn’t always green–with Kobe, at least.
It’s well known that Bryant is a tireless worker who’s obsessive, competitive, and downright selfish at times. Those traits were more evident when Kobe was a young buck, and Phil Jackson even entertained a trade offer from the Pistons who offered Grant Hill in exchange for the Mamba. At the start of the 1999-00 season, the year when this took place, Kobe broke his wrist and missed his first 15 games, and Jackson recounted that time to Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak:
“When Kobe was healed and ready to return, I was a bit reluctant to make a major alteration in our winning combination. So I suggested that Kobe come off the bench. ‘I don’t see myself not starting,’ was his response. ‘I don’t want to be known as a bench player.’ Here was a 20-year-old already concerned about his legacy. So we had a little pushback, an indication of what might lie ahead.
“A couple of weeks later, we’re still winning and Shaq is completely motivated. But Kobe was only averaging about 19 points per game. So Kobe called Jerry West and wanted to know how Jerry and Elgin Baylor both averaged 30 points. Kobe also said that he wanted to be traded. Of course, Jerry told me about the conversation. And, for a few minutes I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill. Make that a few seconds.”
Bryant was 21 during that campaign and was beginning his all-time great ascension. Through 66 games, Kobe averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists as the Lakers marched to a 67-15 record and won their first of three championships.
Then, there’s Grant Hill. At this point, Hill is cemented as a premier player in the league and also looks like he’ll finish his career as an all-time great. As a 27-year-old, Hill averaged 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists for a Pistons team that was average at best. Up to and including that season, Hill was, essentially, LeBron James before LeBron James: a do-it-all wing with ridiculous athleticism who played both ends of the floor efficiently.
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Despite being older than Bryant, Hill was an established MVP-type player. But Kobe’s confidence in himself made Jackson hold onto him, as they both believed that he would go down as one the of the best players in the history of the game. Evidently, the trade never happened.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and looking back it seems foolish to trade someone of Kobe’s caliber for a guy who would struggle with ankle issues for the rest of his career. However, no one could’ve predicted that Hill would have fallen off so violently, and it’s also impossible to know whether or not those injuries occur if the trade is made.
For speculative purposes: what if that deal gets done, and a healthy Hill winds up in Hollywood and Kobe in the Motor City?
To be frank, neither situation changes most likely. Los Angeles would win at least two titles because of how seamlessly Hill would fit into their offense, and Detroit would remain mediocre, but Bryant would probably put up outrageous individual numbers since he wouldn’t have to battle with another Alpha male.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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