The Chicago Bulls were in the midst of another run at their second three-peat of NBA titles in the decade. However, there were some brewing issues beneath the team that stemmed from star forward Scottie Pippen desiring a change of scenery. It had made for a tough time behind the scenes with tensions continuing to fester to the point where trade talks around the Hall of Fame forward were a constant as he was quite unhappy with his contractual situation with the franchise. All of that nearly led to the Bulls pulling the trigger on a trade that would have acquired McGrady for Pippen had Michael Jordan not stepped into the discussion
Scottie Pippen’s unhappiness with Bulls
During the latter stretch of Pippen‘s first run with the Bulls, things had begun to unravel internally with the franchise.
The tension was building between the star forward and then-general manager Jerry Krause concerning the All-Star’s contract situation. Although he had locked himself into a seven-year, $18 million deal earlier in the decade, Pippen had become vastly underpaid for his talent level.
That led to the two sides becoming more unsettled during the Bulls’ second championship run. That sprouted more trade rumors around Pippen as he grew unhappy with his contract with the franchise.
In the offseason before the 1997-98 season, these issues had become quite prevalent, with him taking measures into his own hands by deciding to delay his foot surgery until the start of the campaign. That alone proved that he had moved to the point where he was inching toward an eventual trade demand.
Before all that happened, the Bulls had nearly agreed to a deal that would have sent Pippen elsewhere.
Tracy McGrady reveals Michael Jordan axed trade for Scottie Pippen
Behind the scenes, the Bulls’ front office was thoroughly entertaining the potential of moving on from Pippen.
There had much tension that transpired to the point where it had become toxic between Krause and the star forward. With that in mind, Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady revealed back in June 2016 that the Bulls had attempted to acquire him in the 1997 draft in exchange for Pippen, but Jordan had nixed the deal.
“What a lot of people don’t know about that night was that Jerry Krause was trying to make a trade for me for Scottie Pippen. MJ called and axed that whole deal. Jerry Krause was trying to make a trade for me that night. He brought me in for a secret meeting.
It was a rumor that floated around for years as Krause had every intention of rebuilding the team after the 1996-97 season. It was going to begin with moving on Pippen, who was heading into the final year of his seven-year deal.
Meanwhile, Jordan had made it clear that he wanted to keep the train rolling as long as the Bulls were still the defending champions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he had jumped into the situation and prevented the trade from happening.
McGrady wound up being selected with the ninth overall pick by the Toronto Raptors. He spent his first three years with the franchise before being traded to the Orlando Magic.
Would the Bulls have won an NBA title without Scottie Pippen?
If Krause had gotten his way with moving Pippen, it might have been the first domino to fall in reshaping the team.
He wanted to rebuild the franchise, and that could have quickly impacted Jordan’s decision to play another campaign or stay with the team. It could have led to head coach Phil Jackson departing a year earlier, as there was already the notion that was on his last legs with the franchise due to his dealings with Krause.
It would have been interesting to see McGrady in a Bulls uniform to begin his career, but there is much that could have transpired that could have changed the entire direction of the franchise ahead of the 1997-98 season. It’s one of those what could have been situations.