So it turns out the rumored Kobe to Detroit trade in 2007 wasn’t the first time Bryant almost ended up a Piston. According to Phil Jackson in an interview with Charles Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak, an unhappy Kobe asked to be traded during the 99-00 season and the Zen Master, for a few seconds, contemplated sending him to Detroit for a then-healthy Grant Hill.
“Then he fell and broke his wrist in our first exhibition game. For several weeks, Kobe had to be sidelined and watch guys like Shaq, Glen Rice, Ron Harper, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, A.C. Green, Brian Shaw and Robert Horry pile up a 10-1 record. Shaq had really bought into the triangle and was well established at the heart of our offense.
“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.
Most people 30 and under are probably thinking that trade would have went down as one of the worst trades in hoop history since Kobe is arguably the greatest Laker of all-time and Grant Hill was an injury-riddles role player for half of his career. Although I agree the trade most likely would have turned out to be a mistake for the Lakers, even if Grant Hill was able to stay healthy, I have to defend the player who was impossible to defend during the first half of his career.
Like Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill was a basketball great that can’t be fully appreciated from just looking at boxscores and stats – although he did put up some amazing numbers in his first few years: Only the Big O, Bird and LeBron James accumulated more points, boards and assists in their first 6 seasons than Hill. In his 2nd season, he had a third of the league’s triple-doubles and was third to only Karl Malone and Michael Jordan in MVP voting. He was also so popular he beat out Jordan and Shaq in All-Star votes during his first two seasons. Hill was such a great playmaker, he led the league in assists for a non-guard for 4 seasons, but when he needed to put up points, he could put up points. During the season Phil briefly thought about bringing Hill to LA, he was the league’s third leading scorer, behind Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal.
So, it’s easy to look back at the past 16 years, when Kobe went from great to God-like and Grant went from good to common man, and say this would have been a horrible trade, but believe me when I say, a lot of people would have taken Grant Hill over Kobe Bryant in the late 90s.