What if the Lakers Had Traded Kobe Bryant to the Pistons for Grant Hill?
Reports have surfaced in the last couple days that former Lakers’ coaching wizard and current president of the New York Knicks Phil Jackson had briefly thought of shipping a young and developing Kobe Bryant for another up and coming superstar in Detroit Pistons forward and current centerpiece Grant Hill. The question then arises, if Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak and Jackson had agreed with former Pistons’ GM Rick Sund to swap Hill and Bryant, how would the NBA landscape have changed?
If this trade had happened, it would’ve done much more than just changing Kobe and Hill’s legacies. Trades never would’ve happened, championship teams wouldn’t have formed, and players would have stayed where they were instead of creating more turmoil and forcing their way off a team (cough, Shaq.) So without further ado, let’s jump right in to this what-if scenario and look at all the possible changes it could have made to the NBA of the early 2000’s and beyond.
Let’s start with the Lakers, a team on the rise in the late 90’s with superstar big man Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq and Kobe were known for not being able to share the spotlight with each other, this feud eventually ending with O’Neal being shipped to Miami, who would go on to win the 2006 title with a young Dwyane Wade. Let’s say Kobe was traded in 1999, would Grant Hill and Shaq prove to be as dangerous of a duo as Kobe and Shaq ended up being? Maybe playing in LA would’ve changed Hill’s fate of having an injury-filled career and he could have turned out to be a Hall of Famer. If Hill shared the spotlight with Shaq better than Kobe did, Shaq wouldn’t have been traded and that dynamic duo could have dominated the NBA for years to come. If Hill avoided the injuries and continued to build on his growth that he had with Detroit, this trade wouldn’t have seemed so lopsided as it does in hindsight.
Now let’s look at how this would’ve affected Detroit.
Obviously, the Pistons get one of the greatest ever in the Black Mamba to team up with fellow star Jerry Stackhouse, which would’ve caused problems for any team on the wings. But, there are many more effects of this trade that would’ve changed the Pistons road to title contenders. Instead of Hill being traded to the Lakers in 1999, he would end up being signed and traded to Orlando for a man who was integral to the Pistons’ success, future 4x Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace. Without Wallace, the Pistons’ style of play would’ve drastically changed, and Detroit would’ve had a huge hole at the center position. Another crucial part of the ’04 team, Rip Hamilton, probably wouldn’t be needed because his position was already filled by Kobe, so Stackhouse quite possibly never would have been traded to Washington. There’s a good chance the Pistons still would sign Chauncey Billups, because there was still a need for a starting point guard. But that is one similarity among many differences of this new Pistons team. Maybe pulling off a masterful trade like this would’ve prevented general manager Sund from leaving for the Seattle Supersonics later on, and if all the pieces fell in the right place, he might have put the draft pick Detroit acquired from the Vancouver Grizzlies, which turned out to be the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, to better use than Dumars did. Maybe he would’ve drafted a proven big man (Chris Bosh) to fill the starting big man-hole instead of drafting an unknown commodity like Dumars would end up doing in Darko Milicic, who is arguably one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. Also, if Detroit had Kobe and Stackhouse on the wings, there would be no need to have drafted Tayshaun Prince in 2002. Instead, they could’ve have filled their power forward void with the likes of Carlos Boozer or Luis Scola, who used to be pretty good. Provided everything goes perfectly in the upcoming drafts after a Kobe trade, also assuming Rick Sund stays in Motown and the chemistry meshes, could you imagine a starting lineup in 2003-04 of Billups, Kobe, Stackhouse, Boozer and Bosh? I could still see the same result of this hypothetical 2004 season and the one that happened in real life, with the Lakers and Pistons going at it in the finals, just with totally revamped rosters. Both teams would have a different identity, but this Pistons team would still contend every year just as they did with the Goin’ to Work Pistons.
This would also change the rosters of many other NBA teams. If Orlando never traded Ben, the Magic wouldn’t have needed to select Dwight Howard, and could’ve gone with guys like Andre Igoudala, Josh Smith or Luol Deng to create a strong core with Wallace and a prime Tracy McGrady, creating a dynasty of their own. If Orlando hadn’t drafted Dwight, he could’ve fallen to the Bobcats at No. 2, giving them enough talent to not be irrelevant until 2014. There’s too many domino effects to count from just one trade.With this swap, other questions arise. Would Ben Wallace become a star for the Orlando Magic? Who would Detroit fill the big man hole with instead of Big Ben? Would Hill and Shaq still dominate the NBA? Who would win the most titles in the 2000’s? Would Hill avoid injury with LA? Lastly, would Kobe still have a similar legacy and earn as many championship rings if he played for Detroit, or would he be hated and find less success because of the city he played for? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer to these questions, but it’s fun to imagine the Mamba in red, white and blue (and teal, for a while.)
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