Jerry West reportedly wanted Tracy McGrady on the classic Kobe-Shaq Lakers
Then-Lakers owner Jerry Buss eventually shot down the idea
Go sit down with any general manager or NBA executive, and they could tell you dozens of moves that almost happened. Whether they were trades or free-agent signings, there's hundreds upon hundreds of what-could've-beens that we'll likely never even hear about.
Sometimes, however, we do get to hear about plans that never came to fruition, and few of them are as interesting as the latest nugget from Marc Stein's excellent column ahead of Kobe Bryant's's jersey retirement on Monday night. According to former Lakers coach Del Harris, Jerry West was, at least for a short time, enamored with the idea of doing whatever possible to add Tracy McGrady to the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal Lakers. Via the New York Times:
As the Lakers' longtime roster architect, West was famously smitten by the predraft workout performance that Bryant, then 17, unleashed against the longtime Lakers defensive standout Michael Cooper, who was an assistant coach by that point. As Harris tells it, Tracy McGrady had an even more impressive audition 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.
"I don't think anybody can look at an 18-year-old and say he's a Hall of Famer," Harris said. "You couldn't even do that with Jordan. And Kobe was a young 18 in his first season. He was still in a pretty normal teenage body, compared to when LeBron James came in and had a man's body.
"McGrady came in the next year with a more mature body and worked out so well that Jerry kind of tooled around with the idea that maybe we should just go ahead and make a deal for whatever it took to get this guy — even though it'd be a step back in the short term — to have two guys like this on the same team."
Of course, McGrady never played for the Lakers, and that was because the late Jerry Buss, who owned the Lakers at the time, put a stop to the idea -- something Harris was fine with.
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.
Harris, himself, also didn't want to surrender an All-Star like Eddie Jones for McGrady, either, fearing it would take the Lakers out of the title mix. Bryant was the first guard in N.B.A. history to make the jump directly from high school to the pros and working one teenager into a lineup with championship aspirations was already a sizable undertaking.
Standing pat ended up working out well for the Lakers, who went on to win three titles in a row from 2000-2002, and perhaps would not have done so if they had to give up a number of key rotation players to get McGrady. As we know now, T-Mac turned into a Hall of Famer himself, but there was no guarantee of that when he was coming out of high school, so it made plenty of sense for Buss to put a halt to West's efforts.
You can't go back and say that a team that won three championships in a row should have done something different, but there's so many what-ifs about the Lakers getting McGrady. Does he become a Hall of Famer if he plays in the shadow of Kobe and Shaq for his first few years? Does Kobe become the same legendary player if T-Mac was around taking some of his touches and some of the scoring burden? Do the Lakers still win any of those titles? Does the Kobe-Shaq partnership become so toxic if McGrady was around as well?
All of those questions are academic, but it's still fascinating to think about. And not only for how it would have impacted those three players and the Lakers, but the ripple effects across the league if that move went down. But alas.
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