As we know through various Phil Jackson books, there were some real trying times between the Hall of Fame coach and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. As Bryant was coming up in the NBA and learning how to be a superstar, he didn’t always buy into the team harmony concept Jackson was preaching and teaching. He’d test Jackson and test teammates. He’d test opponents. He’d test the limits of whatever could potentially be a barrier for him. It’s what made him both one of the greatest players ever to do it and one of the most difficult superstars of his era.
Three years into his career, Kobe was sidelined with a hand injury to begin the 1999-00 season. He missed the first 15 games and didn’t want to come off the bench as he returned from his injury. Jackson tells the story to Charley Rosen that Kobe had called Jerry West to both get advice on how to be a great volume scorer alongside another star like Shaquille O’Neal and request a trade at the same time. And for a brief moment, Jackson considered taking the Detroit Pistons up on their offer of Grant Hill for Kobe.
“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.
“The thing was that Kobe already saw himself as being one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. I thought that, in time, he would indeed reach that goal.
“Anyway, he was not going to be traded. So we’d talk about being patient, and letting the game come to him. But Kobe would sometimes still go off on his own, disregarding the offense and trying to single-handedly take over the game. When I called him on this, he’d say that for us to keep on winning, there was a lot for him to do.
This type of move sounds ludicrous now, but this was before Kobe had become one of the greatest players in the league. He wasn’t far from it at the time, and the Lakers would go on to win a championship that season — Bryant’s first of five titles. But Hill was one of the best in the league at that point in his career and technically a better fit for everything Jackson wanted to do with the Lakers.
In 1999-00, Bryant would go on to average 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in a real breakout season — even more of a breakout than his third season in the lockout-truncated campaign. Hill would average 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in 99-00. But he was also seven years older than Kobe. So while the Lakers would be gaining an incredible, established superstar in Hill, they’d be giving up on a potentially longer window with Bryant. Fortunately for the Lakers, they didn’t make this deal as Hill would begin to have the severe ankle issues the following season that essentially ruined his career and ability to be a star.
It would be interesting to know how various teams tried to pry Kobe away from the Lakers in the early years. This is certainly one of the more plausible trade scenarios because of the talent coming back, but the Lakers made the right move sticking it out with Bryant for two decades.
Source: CBS Sports / Phil Jackson says he briefly considered trading Kobe Bryant for Grant Hill