Mitch Kupchak: Hornets nearly nixed Kobe Bryant trade with Lakers after drafting him
Kobe Bryant steered his way past the Nets – who strongly considered picking him No. 8 – in the 1996 NBA draft. He wanted to play for the Lakers, who agreed before the draft to trade Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the No. 13 pick if Bryant were available. Charlotte drafted Bryant.
However, the draft was June 26. The Lakers and Hornets didn’t complete the trade until July 11, after the moratorium.
Between, Divac threated to retire if sent to Charlotte.Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:
But according to Kupchak, that wasn’t the only thing holding up a deal, finally consummated two weeks after the draft.
“There was a strong possibility then that it might not happen,” Kupchak said.
Coincidentally, Mitch Kupchak – who was working in the Lakers’ front office at the time – is now Hornets president.
It’s hard to believe Charlotte would’ve scuttled the trade. Reneging would’ve tarnished then-Hornets general manager Bob Bass’ reputation. Team executives rely on each other standing by these agreements.
But this also opens a rabbit hole of what ifs?
Trading Divac opened cap space for the Lakers to sign Shaquille O’Neal that summer. Would Shaq still have gone to Los Angeles? Might he have stayed with the Magic? Signed elsewhere?
How would Bryant have handled going to Charlotte after a perceived slight from the franchise? He almost certainly still would’ve had a great career. But he probably wouldn’t have won the five championships that are so important to his legacy.
Where would the Lakers be without the Shaq-Kobe era?
It’s just so wild to even consider.