What would have happened if the Lakers had traded Kobe Bryant?
Usually around 9 a.m., Byron Scott would arrive at the Forum for the morning shootaround. By the time he arrived, a young rookie by the name of Kobe Bryant would already be there.
"Coming in and watching him shoot when there were no lights on, I would shake my head. I knew he had it in him," said Scott, the former Lakers guard who now coaches the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I knew he had a goal in mind and that was to be the best. And he wasn't going to stop until he was able to obtain that goal."
Bryant's five rings and ninth-place standing on the NBA's all-time scoring list show he may very well be on his way. But stop for a minute. What would have happened had the Lakers followed Bryant's initial demands for a trade during the 2007 off-season? That question popped up following the Lakers' 112-57 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday because it's obvious how much LeBron James' departure has sapped the Cavaliers organization. Scott maintained that Cleveland could be a playoff-contending team next season -- with the big qualifier that the Cavaliers need to make significant off-season changes. But what about the Lakers? Would they have gone through similar turmoil had the they traded Bryant?
"It's quite a question," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "My counsel to Dr. [Jerry] Buss was when Shaquille [O'Neal] left and we traded Shaquille, whenever a big impact player leaves, there never is an equal amount that can be traded that fills the vacuum in numbers for one superstar in basketball."
Interestingly enough, Jackson shared in his book "The Last Season" that he had asked Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak to trade Bryant for Jason Kidd, believing Kidd would have filled the playmaking role without all the headaches Bryant and Jackson suffered when they first worked together. Also consider that the trade of O'Neal to the Miami Heat brought in Lamar Odom, and Laker fans know well the value that he has brought to the team this season. Beyond Bryant's talent level, it's also necessary to consider his other influences. Ron Artest, Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes all shared that their decision to sign with the Lakers was in large part because of Bryant's influence. It was hard enough for the Lakers to experience a season with a failed playoff appearance and two first-round exits to Phoenix before advancing to three consecutive NBA Finals. One can only imagine how much different the Lakers would appear if Bryant and all the moving parts he influenced weren't the same.
That's why Jackson offered to Denver Coach George Karl during training camp that Karl should "hang tough" regarding the uncertainty regarding Carmelo Anthony, a situation that is ongoing.
"It's not an easy situation for a coach because of your cross-purposes. Sometimes the management has to do what their part is and the coach has to both be a player's advocate, but also you're in the management's side so you have to hold the management's viewpoint. So sometimes you have to sit on the teeter-totter to balance everything out.
"We had to let it play itself out. There's no play involved, but there's timing," he continued. "To be appropriately concerned about Kobe's wishes and listen to what they were, entertain them and then negotiate from a position where Dr. Buss could negotiate from. It was that nothing we could possibly have in a trade situation could possibly replicate what you bring to this team."
So, what would have happened to the Lakers had the summer of 2007 resulted in Bryant leaving the Lakers, as many feared? Share your thoughts and scenarios in the comments section below.
-- Mark Medina
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