This week marked the tenth anniversary of Chris Paul’s vetoed trade to the Lakers. This hypothetical added an interesting dilemma into Kobe Bryant’s famous ‘Mamba Mentality and an alternate reality that would have likely only ended worse for Paul’s legacy.
To quickly refrain, CP3 wanted out of the dysfunctional New Orleans Hornets and only provided a shortlist of elite market teams that he would play for. The Hornets somehow made it work and sent him to the Lakers on a three-team trade for about 45 minutes in total. Pau Gasol was off to Houston, Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Goran Dragic were going to New Orleans while CP3 finally got the chance to compete for a championship with an aging Kobe Byrant. But the Cleveland Cavaliers owner, the guy who said the Cavaliers would win a championship before LeBron in Miami right after he left, emailed David Stern whining about the unfairness of it all.
Maybe it played a part. Maybe it didn’t. But the league (NBA commissioner David Stern) vetoed the trade leading to a disgruntled Kobe and Paul, a happy Dan Gilbert, and a soon to be cracked-out Lamar Odum. With many theories that they would soon land Dwight Howard the year later, this became the greatest what-if of that decade.
But contrary to popular belief, this trio was never going to work. The all-too-similar Kobe/ Nash/ Dwight experiment of ’13 went up in flames because of frustration around injuries, the Mike D’Antoni system but above all, Dwight Howard’s indifference. Howard and Kobe didn’t mix like a street cat and a pet mouse don’t mix.
Already labeled by many as a headcase from his Orlando days, the sympathy card from his dysfunctional Magic tenure was removed when fans saw Howard engage in one stupid incident after the other on a night-to-night basis. This time in a Lakers uniform. From committing a dumb foul, getting ejected, or blowing up at Nash and Bryant publicly – all when his teammates needed him most – this was prime toxic Howard. In fact, this Lakers team led the league in fouls, with Howard averaging a whopping 3.8 a game. Even his last memory on that Lakers team was him getting ejected in Game 4 of their sweep by the hands of the Spurs.
That would not have changed with Chris Paul’s presence because, in our reality, the Clippers had their fair share of heated exchanges, especially with him and Blake Griffin. But the replacement of a prime CP3 with a 38-year old Nash is easily the biggest argument for this turning successful, at least on the surface. Nash was injured the most on the season but was still more healthy than soon-to-be Hall of Famer Pau Gasol. Another cost of the Nash signing was that the Lakers brought in Mike D’Antoni to maximize their MVP talent, but acquisitions failed miserably.
D’Antoni could not manage the personalities, use Gasol effectively as a post player or implement his fast-past offensive system for a relatively slow team. Nash, on the other hand, was a complete shell of himself. At 38, he looked like the thumbnail for one of those ad pop-ups, ‘Celebrities: Before and After’. But in a more profound sense, Nash also failed because he and Bryant were both too ball-dominant. This is something Paul would inevitably struggle with, just like how he did with James Harden and D’Antoni’s Rockets.
In the ’13 season, Bryant’s usage rate was 31%, while in Paul’s ’18 and ’19 seasons in H-Town, Harden’s usage rate was 35.9% and 40.3%, according to statmuse. You know how they say history repeats itself, well the same is true for alternate realities. Paul became too much like a spot-up shooter instead of his true role as the Point God, who has now become criminally underrated. The question then becomes: Would Kobe Bryant loosen control of his Lakers, something he nor his idols like MJ, had ever remotely done before?
With Phil Jackson potentially staying as head coach, it’s hard to imagine Bryant letting Paul run the infamous triangle. But when your two best players are in your backcourt, is the triangle the best route to go with? Remember though, Kobe had already won two championships away from Shaq and proved his independence as a number one guy. Jordan retired before his talents wavered to the point his only chance of continued winning was to be the number two. He never faced the dilemma that alternate reality Kobe faced back in ’12. This was a rare opportunity for Bryant to follow the likes of Kareem and Duncan, all while still being the King of L.A. It really could have gone both ways but knowing that even at the end, Kobe thought he was still the best and played that way each night. As well as him being just one ring away from the G.O.A.T, giving up the team to the better player would have scratched at his core.
I personally don’t believe the situation would have ended well. With the Duncan/ Leonard Spurs still dominant, OKC’s big three, and LeBron’s Heat at peak powers, they would not have been real championship threats. With Howard or without him. We can’t pretend that Kobe shared the same demeanor as Kareem and Duncan because he couldn’t have been the further opposite of the axis. But that mentality is one of the biggest reasons we loved him.
In all likelihood, the CP3 Lakers signing would have maybe added another year to Kobe’s dwindling prime. They still fail to win a championship, forcing Paul to bounce somewhere else with less of an excuse for why at year 17, he remains ringless. Kobe fans would castigate him, while Kobe’s legacy would not change a fraction. Harden would stay in OKC as the Rockets don’t have the assets to sign him, Toronto gets Nash meaning Lowry never reaches his ceiling, Davis never goes to New Orleans, and Lob City is not a real phrase. One trade changed everything.