Between the recent back-to-back championships and a newly reloaded roster, the Kobe Bryant "radio tour" summer, featuring emphatic trade requests and an ill-fated parking lot rant, now feels a million years removed. Barring a bizarre turn of events, Kobe is a lock to end his career as a Laker lifer, just as it should be. But five years ago this summer, Kobe's future with the organization felt tenuous at best. And during a recent interview, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban shared how close The Mamba came to relocating.
"When I was doing 'Dancing with the Stars,' I was taking breaks because I was talking to Kobe’s agent because Kobe wanted to get traded," Cuban said during Tuesday's appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Ben & Skin Show. "Literally, in between 'Dancing with the Stars' practices I thought we had traded at one time for Kobe Bryant. I even talked to their owner [Jerry Buss], I thought we were going to have a done deal and then [Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak changed [Kobe’s] mind and brought him back."
After confirming the exchange didn't involve Dirk Nowitzki, Cuban shared how the Lakers eventually backed away from the bargaining table.
"Yeah, but they [the Lakers] were smart and didn't let it happen," Cuban said. "But Kobe was upset and he wanted out -- and this was all public, I don't think this is anything new -- and the owner was resigned to that fact. I talked to the owner, and then I went back and practiced my Rumba."
Obviously, the devil is in the details, and how close this deal really was may differ in the mind of Cuban vs. Buss. But since Cuban broached the topic, it's intriguing to ponder the purple-and-gold return. I absolutely believe Cuban that Dirk was off the table, if for no other reason that Kobe's no-trade clause essentially made him a third general manager, since his approval was needed to consummate any trade. Safe to assume Kobe wouldn't have signed up to join a Dallas squad minus the big German. So who might the Mavs have offered?
Bear in mind, this is pure speculation on my part. But looking at the 2008 roster, the three best players beyond Nowitzki, based on talent and age, were Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Devin Harris (before he was moved mid-season to New Jersey for Jason Kidd). Even more interesting, those three made just shy of $22 million combined, which isn't much more than the $19.5 million owed Kobe. A smaller-salaried Laker might have been needed to even the numbers, but I could picture that being the basic framework.
And what's crazy is, at the time, that might not have seemed like a horrible deal for the Lakers.
Obviously, it's not equal value, nor anywhere in shouting distance. But at the same time, that's the fate for most teams moving a superstar, much less a team theoretically moving Kobe Bryant in his prime. Unless the Lakers somehow swung a deal for, say, a then-23 year-old LeBron James, truly fair compensation was basically impossible. Any deal would have appeared lopsided.
But as far as lopsided deals go, this one might not have felt outrageous in 2007. Howard was 27 years old, fresh off an All-Star season where he averaged nearly 20 points and eight rebounds. A quality prime appeared to await. Just 24, Harris would have filled a glaring need (point guard) and his potential was very well-regarded. Terry was a proven scorer and outside shooter just turning 30. Again, Dallas would have gotten the better end of things, having landed a player easily argued as the best on planet Earth. But in the moment, this might have felt like a reasonably good haul.
(Of course, any good vibes likely would have been short-lived. Howard's body steadily betrayed him, and he hasn't played more than 52 games in the last four seasons. 2009's All-Star campaign notwithstanding, Harris has become a something of a high-end journeyman on his third team since 2008. Terry's obviously enjoyed an excellent career, but he certainly wouldn't have pushed the Lakers over the top by himself. Maybe those guys would have meshed well with Lamar Odom and a blossoming Andrew Bynum, and I imagine they would have been competitive. But a trip to the 2008 Finals, much less the 2009 and 2010 titles that followed, feels like a reach.)
In any event, the Lakers clearly thought better of pulling the trigger and that instinct paid off nicely. But it's interesting to ponder "what if?" when details surface about the parallel universe that could have been.