Pinch me if you’ve heard this one before: wealthy NBA owner nearly trades for the game’s biggest superstar in-between sets of an annoying TV series. I’m assuming that’s a first for you, right? It’s a weird age we live in when stories like this one are dominating the blogosphere. While taking a break from spanking Jason Kidd, Mark Cuban said recently he thought he acquired Kobe Bryant in 2007 while he was practicing for Dancing With The Stars. Sounds reasonable. This is a pretty typical Mark Cuban thing to do. He used to host press conferences in-between huffs and puffs on his stairmaster inside the Mavs locker room. Plus, it’s feasible. Bryant wanted out in Los Angeles. Spending two years with anchors like Kwame Brown and Smush Parker took him over the edge. This was pre-Pau Gasol and pre-dynasty talk in Hollywood. Things were so bad, they were coming off two straight first-round exits, including one partially at the hands of Tim Thomas (which is just about the worst way to go).
Bryant’s 2007 flirtation with the Chicago Bulls is well-documented. First, the Lakers wouldn’t accept Chicago’s trade. The Bulls weren’t giving up enough (for an idea of how quickly the NBA can change, there were reports the Bulls were actually refusing to part ways for a time with Kirk Hinrich – let’s see… Kobe… or keeping Kirk? Hmmm, not sure about that one – which is like refusing to take Charlize Theron out on a date because she has ugly feet. Then, Bryant decided against going to Chicago because the Lakers were taking back Luol Deng, and he didn’t think he could win if the Bulls completed gutted their roster. Finding a deal for Bryant would’ve been difficult without getting one side (Bryant, the Lakers, another team) to back off, but above all else, Bryant did want out. So the Mavs/Bryant near partnership probably has roots.
The Dallas Morning News writes:
“When I was doing Dancing with the Stars, I was taking breaks because I was talking to Kobe’s agent because Kobe wanted to get traded,” Cuban explained on the Ben and Skin Show on 103.3 [KESN-FM]. “Literally, between Dancing with the Stars practices I had thought we traded for Kobe Bryant. I even talked to their owner and thought we were going to have done deal, and [Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak changed [Kobe’s] mind and brought him back.”
Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t involved. But you can paint a picture of who could’ve been: some package involving Jason Terry (30 years old at the time but two years before he’d win the Sixth Man award), Devin Harris (considered one of the best defensive guards in the league AT THE TIME), Josh Howard (an All-Star in 2007) and maybe someone like Jerry Stackhouse (Kobe could’ve paid him to go to L.A. and knock the s$%& out of Smush). Dallas would’ve gutted a team that made the Finals in 2006, and were coming off the worst 67-win season ever (you get punk’d in the first round by the Warriors, and your best player has to suffer through heart jokes all summer… yeah, that’s bad). But it would’ve given them enough star power to rival the Cowboys. As I’ve done before (I once said Grant Hill‘s injuries kept us all from becoming obsessed with Fila retros), I love speculating and playing the What If? game. So here it goes…
A duo of Bryant and Dirk would’ve been deadly, and they would’ve gone entire seasons trying to one-up each other in the “ugly faces” department (And imagine the trips to Germany they’d be embarking on right now? Both would come back half-man, half-machine.). Two of the greatest big moment performers – even though Bryant gets hate from stat nerds and Nowitzki gets hate from everyone who thinks you can’t be a tough white Euro – they would’ve eventually put together a championship contender. Cuban wouldn’t turn down Kobe. You need another shooter, Bean? Okay, let me go give Jason Richardson $40 million. Bryant would’ve felt like he was in heaven. But in 2012, there’s no way he’d be starting in a lineup with 33 All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and three MVP awards. Bryant and Dirk would still be in Dallas, and Cuban would’ve never had the chance to surprise us all by getting stiff (and surprisingly smart) with his money.
As for the Lakers, considering what we know about them, they would’ve hounded every team in the league until locking down another superstar. For the first few years after, they would’ve been good – think mid-’90s Lakers with Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Cedric Ceballos – and probably exciting, too. But not even the most idiotic Laker fan would be abusing keyboards and online forums with LA LAKERZZ R GONNA BE DA CHAMPZZZZ! In fact, maybe they never hypnotize Memphis into giving them Pau Gasol, and instead end up with Marc Gasol (they had his rights at the time), who proceeds to become a celebrity in Los Angeles. Pau? If he didn’t go crazy in Memphis, he probably gets traded to some middling team, and is forever known as the guy who went 0-12 in the playoffs as his team’s No. 1 player. Ew. It’s hard to turn down a Gasol brother, especially when they’re free, but I bet without Kobe, the Lakers would’ve been thinking about someone bigger (err, better) than Pau Gasol and possible never look into it.
Andrew Bynum could’ve chased shots galore in Los Angeles. Phil Jackson probably throws up his hands in disgust, grabs his peace pipe and heads back out to the wilderness without passing Red Auerbach in career championships. The Celtics probably win two titles instead of one, which is bad news – Boston fans cheering about anything is bad news. Carmelo Anthony possibly leads the Nuggets to a championship in 2009 over Orlando, and then never feels the pull to go to New York. Everything could be different.
It would’ve been interesting to see if Dallas could put together a team capable of winning the 2011 NBA Finals. That Mavs team wasn’t the strongest or the quickest, and they definitely weren’t the most talented. They felt like a boxer in the eight round, knowing he’s taken too many punches to let the thing go on any longer, and ushers up one final gust of energy. They took on Dirk’s personality – never say die, do things awkwardly but efficiently and survive by coming together and believing rather than falling apart.
Bryant and Gasol were the perfect duo. Dirk would’ve fallen in line as the No. 2 as well, and would’ve gotten more wide open jumpers than at any other time in his life. But he was never an inside player. Would that matter? Maybe. But even though Dirk was a better player than the elder Gasol, I’m pretty sure Kobe (and the Lakers) are breathing a sigh of relief today that they never pulled the trigger.
And who knows, if Bryant ends up in Dallas, maybe Smush doesn’t get run out of the NBA and five years later, Parker is starting at the point for the Suns and is still being continuously outrageously overrated in every 2K game. Actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What would these two franchises look like had this gone down?
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