The Los Angeles Lakers briefly considered trading Kobe Bryant to the Detroit Pistons in 1999 when they were offered Grant Hill.
Hill was one season away from free agency and ultimately signed with the Orlando Magic.
“Kobe showed up at the press conference that introduced me as the new Lakers coach," said Phil Jackson. "He came up to my hotel room afterwards and we had our first face-to-face connection. He said he had read all about my championships with the Bulls and had studied several game tapes, so he was very excited. Kobe was 20 years old and had already played three NBA seasons.
“The Summer League was in Los Angeles that year and we sat together to watch the games that the Lakers had. Jim Cleamons was one of my assistant coaches in Chicago and would also be on my staff with the Lakers. So it was JC who coached the team of free-agent hopefuls and draft choices. As I explained the unfolding of the elementary triangle offense that JC had installed, as well as more of the advanced principles, Kobe was still excited. It was clear to me that he not only was willing to learn, but that he really wanted to learn.
“Then he fell and broke his wrist in our first exhibition game. For several weeks, Kobe had to be sidelined and watch guys like Shaq, Glen Rice, Ron Harper, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, A.C. Green, Brian Shaw and Robert Horry pile up a 10-1 record. Shaq had really bought into the triangle and was well established at the heart of our offense.
“When Kobe was healed and ready to return, I was a bit reluctant to make a major alteration in our winning combination. So I suggested that Kobe come off the bench. ‘I don’t see myself not starting,’ was his response. ‘I don’t want to be known as a bench player.’ Here was a 20-year-old already concerned about his legacy. So we had a little pushback, an indication of what might lie ahead.
“A couple of weeks later, we’re still winning and Shaq is completely motivated. But Kobe was only averaging about 19 points per game. So Kobe called Jerry West and wanted to know how Jerry and Elgin Baylor both averaged 30 points. Kobe also said that he wanted to be traded. Of course, Jerry told me about the conversation. And, for a few minutes I thought about taking the Pistons up on an offer they made to trade Kobe for Grant Hill. Make that a few seconds.
“The thing was that Kobe already saw himself as being one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. I thought that, in time, he would indeed reach that goal.
“Anyway, he was not going to be traded. So we’d talk about being patient, and letting the game come to him. But Kobe would sometimes still go off on his own, disregarding the offense and trying to single-handedly take over the game. When I called him on this, he’d say that for us to keep on winning, there was a lot for him to do."