A plethora of “what if” scenarios have popped up throughout NBA history. What if Michael Jordan had never retired to play baseball? What if Derrick Rose never dealt with injuries? What if Shaquille O’Neal stayed with the Los Angeles Lakers? Those are all questions basketball fans ask on a regular basis.
Paul recently discussed that infamous moment, and he thinks Bryant may have shown off his underrated skill had they played together.
The Lakers nearly acquired Chris Paul in a trade
During the 2011 NBA offseason/lockout, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were fresh off losing in the Western Conference Semifinals after they had reached three consecutive NBA Finals and won back-to-back titles in the previous seasons. So, with Bryant nearing the end of his prime, LA likely wanted to get back to the mountaintop again, and one of the best point guards in the NBA reportedly wanted off his team: Chris Paul, who had just come off his fourth straight All-Star selection.
The Lakers then made it happen; they acquired their new star, agreeing to a three-team deal with the Hornets and Houston Rockets. It would have sent Lamar Odom to New Orleans, Paul Gasol to Houston, and Paul would have gone to LA, per Yahoo Sports. New Orleans would have also received other players and a pick from Houston.
However, the NBA owned the Hornets at the time, and former commissioner David Stern, who had authority over personnel decisions, vetoed the trade. Paul then later got traded to the Los Angeles Clippers during that same offseason.
A lot went into the veto, and we can discuss that in another article, but what if the deal had actually gone through? Bryant may have shown off his underrated skill.
CP3 was excited for Kobe Bryant to show off an underrated skill
“It would have been fun; it would have been a lot of fun,” Paul said in August. “… I think I was probably most excited to play with Kob at the time because people didn’t realize Kob could shoot the ball as well as he did. Like he could be a spot-up shooter. And I would have had an opportunity to break people down at times, and he’s still gonna iso you and murder you. But it’s another dimension to his game that I don’t think he ever really got a chance to show is that he can catch and shoot.”
Bryant was never considered a great shooter during his time in the league. He only shot 32.9% from 3-point range for his career. But he improved as he got older.
Between 1996-97 and 2003-04, Bryant put up 2.6 long-range attempts per game and made 33.1% of them. From 2004-05 through 2012-13, though, no, his percentage wasn’t much better (33.7%), but he shot almost twice as many threes, putting up 5.0 attempts per game.
Given Bryant’s role as a ball-dominant player, he never had many chances to just shoot spot-up jumpers, but it would have been interesting to see if he could have showed off that skill when playing with Paul.
Paul also added that he will tell the story about what all went into that vetoed trade one day, but, for now, we must just continue wondering how good he and Bryant could have been together.
What if Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant had actually teamed up on the Lakers?
So, what if that deal had been successful? How good would the Lakers have been?
It’s hard to say for sure because we don’t know who else would have been on that team. Losing Pau Gasol would have been a massive blow in the post for LA, but Paul also revealed that Dwight Howard almost joined them at that time, too. Howard later went to the Lakers the following year in 2012-13.
But a Big Three of Paul, Bryant, and Howard would have been dominant and would have easily challenged the Miami Heat for NBA supremacy.
Take a look at each of their individual numbers during that 2011-12 season.
- Chris Paul: 19.8 points, 9.1 assists, and 2.5 steals per game
- Kobe Bryant: 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game
- Dwight Howard: 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game
Paul, Bryant, and Howard are all NBA legends. Had they joined forces and combined Paul’s ability to facilitate, Bryant’s midrange and perimeter games, and Howard’s play in the post, they would have been unstoppable.
But because of that notorious veto, we will always wonder, “what if?”
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference