Kobe Bryant will have two jerseys retired at Staples Center on Monday, the last chapter in what has always been a controversial career. Kobe’s career has ranged from difficult teammate to mentor, sidekick to doing-too-much superstar, winner to lost seasons.
Early in his career, Bryant was effectively a sidekick to Shaquille O’Neal. No matter how great Kobe was even for as young as he was, he never matched Shaq’s dominance while they were teammates. Ultimately, the two big personalities clashed, forcing the Lakers to trade away the big man and build with Kobe for the rest of his 20-year career.
One of the biggest what-ifs in NBA history focuses on what would happen if Kobe and Shaq were able to put aside their egos and continue their partnership throughout the big fella’s prime. But there may be another huge hypothetical as it pertains to one of the greatest duos of all time: it was almost a trio.
Former Lakers head coach Del Harris revealed to Marc Stein of the New York Times on Monday that then-general manager Jerry West wanted to trade for a young Tracy McGrady to form a longstanding partnership between him, Kobe, and Shaq:
“As Harris tells it, Tracy McGrady had an even more impressive audition [than Brryant] for the Lakers one year later, prompting West to make a brief but serious push to try to acquire McGrady’s draft rights and team him with O’Neal and Bryant. […] It was the Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss, hungry to end a championship drought that would ultimately last 11 seasons before Shaq, Kobe and their new coach Phil Jackson won their first of three successive titles together in 2000, who shot down the idea of a Bryant/McGrady partnership.”
It’s really hard to play the blame game with Dr. Buss considering the team as it stood won three titles together and appeared in a fourth Finals. But it’s definitely an amusing thought to consider how the team would fare with two young, athletic, and skilled wings surrounding the most dominant big man in NBA history. Would it have extended the run Kobe and Shaq had together? Would T-Mac be remembered as a winner on top of his Hall-of-Fame resume? How many times per game would Kobe and McGrady throw passes to themselves off the backboard?
There’s no way to know how things would have shaken up but it goes to show that both Jerry West and Dr. Buss were always thinking of new ways to get the Lakers to the promised land.