Phil Jackson Revealed He Briefly Considered Trading Kobe Bryant To Detroit For Grant Hill
Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant won five NBA championships together but it almost never happened. In a recent interview with Today’s Fastbreak, the zen master revealed that the legendary partnership was very close to ending before it ever started, thanks to an immature Kobe, who at the time wasn’t found of Phil’s advice to come off the bench. It led to a trade proposal from the Pistons of Grant Hill for Kobe, which Phil says he considered before realizing Kobe would be great.
Kobe was very excited when Jackson was named coach of the Lakers in 1999, doing all he could to soak up some knowledge from him but that all changed when Kobe injured his wrist to start the season.
“The Summer League was in Los Angeles that year and we sat together to watch the games that the Lakers had. Jim Cleamons was one of my assistant coaches in Chicago and would also be on my staff with the Lakers. So it was JC who coached the team of free-agent hopefuls and draft choices. As I explained the unfolding of the elementary triangle offense that JC had installed, as well as more of the advanced principles, Kobe was still excited. It was clear to me that he not only was willing to learn, but that he really wanted to learn.
“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.
Since the team was having plenty of success without him, Phil didn’t want to mess with any chemistry with Kobe was ready to return and recommended he come off the bench. We all know Kobe’s personality and that didn’t sit well with him.
“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.
Could you imagine if that deal had happened and how it would’ve changed NBA history? Even though Kobe was still young, and at the time Grant Hill was still a very good player, Phil wound up looking like a genius for knowing greatness would come from Kobe.
“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.”