I love great “what if” questions, and when it comes to sports, asking those questions just makes me giddy. So with the way the NBA is set up today, where the elite players will force trades to ideal situations and teams, I was wondering how things could have been different if the NBA was like this just 20 years ago. Wow, I can’t believe I’m now able to say things like “just 20 years ago.”
First case that comes to mind: Shaq. He was a part of a winner in Orlando in the early 90s, but he wanted to spot light of the big city. He also wanted to be a rapper and an actor, and was trying his hand at both. Basically, he wanted to be in LA. He made that happen when he hit free agency, and left Orlando with nothing. Today, Dwight Howard is copying most everything Shaq did, except dominating games, and he’s looking to be traded to LA or New Jersey/Brooklyn.
1996 was Shaq’s last year in Orlando, and they almost won a title, so I doubt they would have considered trading him at the time. Even if they hadn’t, they still would have been able to perform a sign and trade, so they could get SOMETHING back for him. But that’s not as much fun. Let’s say that in October of ’95, Shaq made it clear he wasn’t coming back. They’d have to shop him , right? Only he was hell bent on being in LA. This leaves two options: the Lakers and the Clippers. Sounds like one legit option, right?
Orlando is giving up a center, so they’d want one in return, that’s pretty obvious. As Orlando wasn’t a bad team, with a young (and healthy) Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson backcourt. So you start with the Lakers offering Vlade Divac. That gives Orlando a pretty good lineup, but just Vlade isn’t enough to land Shaq. So they have to offer Orlando their first round pick, which LA ended up using to draft Derek Fisher. Orlando had no need for Fisher, they would have needed someone who could rebound, to help replace Shaq. Franky, there wasn’t a whole lot of options at the end of the first round in 1996. Maybe instead, Orlando’s scouts saw that this wasn’t the year they’d find a steal at the end of the draft, so instead of asking for the Lakers’ 96 first round pick, they ask for ’98 (LA didn’t have a pick in ’97). In 1998 there happen to be some decent to very good players available at the end of the draft. Guys like Rashard Lewis, and Nazr mohammaed. Not world beaters, but they would have fit in nicely around Hardaway, Anderson, Dennis Scott and Vlade dadi.
What’s the big deal? So far, it doesn’t appear that things are really all that much different. Well, Vlade was traded by LA, after they signed Shaq. He was traded for a young guard the Hornets had selected, in the ’96 draft, that had no interest in signing and wanted to be in LA. His name? Kobe Bryant. Well, it’s safe to assume the Hornets would have still drafted him, I don’t believe they did it just to trade him for Divac. So how does LA land Kobe now? I’m thinking they offer Charlotte another 7 footer, Elden Campbell. Same age as Divac, and actually averaged a point more a game in 1995.
LA actually traded Campbell to the Horents, but that was in 1999, along with Eddie Jones, for B.J. Armstrong, J.R. Reid and Glen Rice. Jones was a very good player; he just had to be moved because Kobe had proven himself to be the better shooting guard.
So, it appears life as we know it now wouldn’t have been much different at all. Unless this happened: the Clippers want Shaq. They offer Stanley Roberts and Loy Vaught. And in the 1996 draft, instead of taking a center as they did, Lornzen Wright, they look for a shooting guard. Two shooting guards were taken in the next six picks after the Clippers picked Wright; Kerry Kittles and some kid out of high school with dreams of playing in LA. Oh yeah, Kobe Bryant. What if Shaq and Kobe could have been playing together in LA, just as Clippers?