NBA

A Look at the 1994 Scottie Pippen Trade That Would’ve Kept Michael Jordan From Returning to the Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are easily one of the best one-two combinations in the history of the NBA, in the history of sports for that matter. The dynamic duo won six titles with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s in an eight-year stretch as MJ decided to take 18 months off to pursue a baseball career, which apparently he knew he was going to do long before he did it.

However, a scenario in 1994 came about that could have changed the course of NBA history involving the very team that drafted Scottie Pippen back in 1987.

When Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls to play baseball, Scottie Pippen thrived

When Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls following their third consecutive NBA championship in 1993, Scottie Pippen was thrust into being “the man” for the first time in his NBA career. Pippen had been Robin to Jordan’s Batman for years but it was finally his time to shine. And he did just that, minus a few little temper tantrums anyway.

Scottie Pippen averaged a career-high 22 points per game in 1993-1994, also adding 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He won the NBA All-Star Game MVP and finished third in the NBA MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. It was also the first season in which he earned All-NBA First Team honors, which he would do the next two seasons as well.

But Pippen still seemed unhappy at times. He was constantly battling with general manager Jerry Krause and also refused to come off the bench in a 1994 postseason game against the New York Knicks when Toni Kukoc was called upon to take a last-second shot instead of him, a shot Kukoc drained. So when the summer of 1994 came around, the Bulls were actually looking to move Pippen out of town and a blockbuster trade nearly happened.

The Seattle Supersonics drafted Scottie Pippen in 1987 and nearly had him in 1994

The Chicago Bulls had kept an eye on Scottie Pippen as he became a star at Central Arkansas. However, they were in the eighth spot in the 1987 NBA draft and figured that Pippen wouldn’t fall that far. So they worked out a deal with the Seattle Supersonics. Seattle would take Pippen for them at No. 5 and the Bulls would then select Olden Polynice for them at No. 8. Things went down as they were supposed to and that’s how Pippen ended up in the Windy City.

Seven years later, the Sonics engaged in talks with the Bulls in what could have been a history-altering deal. Rumors swirled the night of the 1994 draft that the Bulls were ready to send Scottie Pippen to Seattle in exchange for Shawn Kemp and Ricky Pierce. Kemp was coming off an All-Star season of his own, averaging a then-career-high 18.1 points and 10.8 rebounds. Pierce, a two-time Sixth Man Award winner, had averaged 14.5 points in 1993-1994. So it’s not as if the Bulls were getting nothing in return for one of the NBA’s best players.

Just imagine what that trade would have done to both franchises. At that time, it leaves Chicago without both Jordan and Pippen. However, it could have made the Sonics a major threat in the Western Conference. Imagine a defensive unit with Gary Payton and Scottie Pippen. However, the deal obviously never happened and the Bulls and Sonics would meet two years later in the NBA Finals.

Michael Jordan likely wouldn’t have come back to the Chicago Bulls if the trade had gone down

Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls in March 1995 and he and Pippen would go on to lead the team to a second three-peat from 1996-1998 before the team was disbanded. But that almost never happened. In a past interview with ESPN, Jordan was asked if he would have come back to the Bulls had the Pippen-for-Kemp trade gone down.

“Probably not. I could have played with Shawn, but I wouldn’t have been as comfortable as I was with Scottie.”

Michael Jordan on if he would have come back to the Bulls if Scottie Pippen was traded

That’s about the answer that one would expect. But what if the trade had actually happened and Jordan did come back? Could he still have led the Bulls to more championships? Perhaps Shawn Kemp’s career wouldn’t have gone off the rails as there’s no way that MJ lets him get as lazy as he did. But then there’s likely no Dennis Rodman in Chicago as he and Kemp played the same position. If Payton and Pippen lead the Sonics to multiple championships, does the team leave for Oklahoma City?

Chalk this up to another “what if” scenario in sports.