We Reminisce: On Eddie Jones’ 40th Birthday, The Trade That Never Should’ve Happened

I’ll never figure out why I was such a huge Glen Rice fan. This was before we found out he was all about those Alaskan sweethearts. The Hornets were my squad, and Rice was that dude, a guy that could light up an All-Star game just as easily as any regular season game. During the mid-to-late ’90s, he was more than just a shooter for Charlotte. He was their best player, a lights out marksman who could also take you off the dribble and post you up. But after five consecutive years averaging at least 20 points a night, Rice was traded for Eddie Jones, an explosive swingman from Los Angeles, and even I knew the move wasn’t worth it.

Jones had been one of the league’s most exciting young players. He was a two-time All-Star and a key cog on one of the NBA’s best young teams. But with another young player at the same position – more athletic, a better shooter, a better defender – and a difficult contract situation, Jones was consistently reeling from trade rumors. For months it went on. Entire seasons. Where will Eddie go?

On March 9, 1999, with Jones’ game having dropped off during the first 20 matchups of the lockout-shortend season, and the Lakers doing the same amidst the craziness of the Dennis Rodman era, sitting at a somewhat pedestrian 13-6, the 6-6 guard from Temple played his final game in Los Angeles. He scored 16 in 36 minutes before finding out he was gone.

The trade looked like this:

Charlotte got: Jones & Elden Campbell
L.A. got: Rice & J.R. Reid

The Lakers thought they were trading for a sharp-shooting secondary option to be the third wheel beside Shaq & Kobe for the next five years. What they got instead was a guy who wasn’t comfortable as a spot-up shooter – in Charlotte, Rice had become accustomed to being the first option, running off screens and getting 15-20 shots a night – and a total drop-off as a defender. Rice was a weakness where Jones was a threat.

[Related: Glen Rice Drops 56 On Shaq & Penny]

The departure of Jones was supposed to open up more room for Bryant. But the two had developed such a nice on-court chemistry that looking back, it wasn’t really necessary. Jones was always a low-key guy, never completely comfortable in the spotlight (which was one of the reasons he wasn’t all that angry about the trade). Because of this, he fit in nicely next to the Lakers’ stars.

At the time, this trade was the culmination of a long odyssey. Rice was supposed to give the Lakers the push they needed, put everyone in their right place and align the ship towards a title. Jones had grown so frustrated by the rumors that he had confessed he actually wanted it all to be over:

“The change was beneficial for myself and also Elden Campbell. We got out of a situation that was very distracting. When you’re in a situation that’s distracting you really can’t perform at the level that you’re capable of performing. Here (Charlotte) we’re just playing basketball and enjoying the game again.

“What bothered (me) the most was the fact that I heard my name every week in a trade. The finger pointing, saying this guy isn’t doing this – that’s distracting to a player. If we can’t just think about playing basketball, you have to worry about every other thing. You can’t really focus on what the job is about and they just totally took me out of I like to do best, play basketball. I never had an opportunity to just play basketball there. I had to deal with too many other aspects.”

Not everyone knew it at the time, but Rice was on his last legs. The Lakers gave up an All-Star defensive swingman – a nearly perfect fit on their team – for a one-dimensional 31-year-old playing on fumes. After the trade, Jones would go on to have his best all-around years in Charlotte and Miami, averaging at least 17 a game until 2004. He made one more All-Star team, and contributed on a couple of deep playoff runs. Meanwhile, Rice helped win the Lakers a title the following season before being unceremoniously shipped out because he complained about sitting down in fourth quarters, while his wife ripped into Phil Jackson. Jackson realized Rice was on his last legs, and as a terrible defender to begin with, he was taking up minutes that should’ve been going to Rick Fox. Soon, the man was gone for Horace Grant.

[Related: Dime’s All-Shaq Teams]

What would’ve happened if the Lakers kept Jones, like so many of their fans wanted? First of all, they might not have been able to pay him. More importantly, they probably win those titles anyways, and Zen would’ve loved Jones for his ability to guard multiple positions (imagine a defensive backcourt of Ron Harper, Bryant and Jones? Woah.). Even after Rice started all throughout the Lakers first title run, fans were still pissed Jones was gone, as if someone had killed their one true knight. To them, he was a constant in an otherwise spinning, destructive Hollywood basketball scene.

We can’t give Jones a ring for his 40th birthday, but we can give him this:

What do you remember about Eddie Jones? What would’ve happened if this trade never went down?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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