Most Detroit Pistons fans know about the Kobe Bryant trade that almost happened in 2007, well after he was considered one of the game’s best.
But the world learned on Wednesday there was almost a time when the Pistons acquired back when he was No. 8 and before he started winning championships.
Former Pistons All-Star Grant Hill was a guest on “The Dan Patrick Show” as he promotes his soon-to-be released autobiography. One of the topics broached was how Hill was almost traded by the Pistons for Bryant.
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While the timeline isn’t crystal clear, Hill said it was around the time his contract was running out with the Pistons, which would put things around 1998 or 1999.
By then, Hill had become one of the top players in the NBA, and annually the top vote-getter in the All-Star balloting. During his six seasons with the Pistons, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
Bryant’s career was just getting started after being drafted as a teenager in 1996. After three seasons in the NBA, was coming into his own, averaging 19.9 points by Year 3.
Entering the 1999-2000 seasons, the Lakers had just hired coach Phil Jackson. A new system was being introduced to a young Shaquille O’Neal and an even younger Bryant, the duo who had been swept out of the previous two postseasons.
With Hill’s contract almost up in Detroit, a swap for the aspiring superstar who may or may in Bryant seemed plausible. Even if Hill didn’t really know about it.
“No,” Hill, now 49, said with a laugh after Patrick asked him if he knew of the possible trade at the time. “There’s so much stuff that’s out there nowadays, Dan. I don’t know if that’s entirely true or not. … It could’ve been the case, it sounds that maybe Phil Jackson might have been interested in the idea, but nothing ever came of it.”
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If the trade came into fruition, it would’ve paired Hill with O’Neal — the pair did eventually team up in Phoenix, well past both of their primes — and Bryant with future two-time NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse.
The decision to keep Bryant paid dividends for Los Angeles, as the following season saw Bryant and O’Neal capture the first of their three consecutive NBA championships with the Lakers. Staying in Detroit, Hill averaged over 25 points a game in the 1999-00 season but suffered an ankle injury during the last month of the season that plagued him for the rest of his career.
That following offseason, the Pistons executed a sign-and-trade with Hill to Orlando, in return for Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace, the defensive vanguard of the 2004 title team.
The Pistons’ second attempt at Bryant occurred in 2007, where they offered Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and a first-round pick for the then-three time NBA champion. Bryant ultimately used his no-trade clause and went on to win two more rings with the Lakers.
Then-Pistons GM Joe Dumars was an understudy in the front office in 1999 when the Hill-for-Bryant idea seemed to have legs.
Though Hill wasn’t really aware of the trade talks between him and Bryant in 1999, he was aware of Bryant’s talent. The first time the two truly squared off cam on Jan. 18, 1997, when the Pistons won at LA, 100-97, in double overtime.
Hill ended the game with 34 points — including a bank shot 3-pointer to force the first overtime — 15 rebounds, 14 assists and a steal. However, Bryant drew a lot of attention that night by scoring a team-high 21 points and five assists while coming off the Lakers’ bench.
“You could see the talent,” Hill said of Bryant, who died in helicopter accident in January 2020. “You could see the upside. … I met him for the first time when he was in high school. We played the ( Philadelphia 76ers) and he came by our shoot around with his father during his senior year.
“I knew about (Bryant) because Duke was recruiting him. So, here I am trying to push Duke on him like, ‘Hey, you should think about Duke and this and that and the other,’ but there he was, thinking about the NBA. But no, he was a great, great talent and is sorely missed.”