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.
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.
“There was such excitement around the pick that Charlotte actually didn’t want to go through with the deal,” Kupchak recalled. “There was a time there, whether it was Vlade (Divac threatening to retire) or just pressure on the franchise, where the deal was actually in jeopardy.”
Coincidentally, Mitch Kupchak – who was working in the Lakers’ front office at the time – is how 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.