Only two episodes of ‘The Last Dance’ have been aired, and so much controversy is already out there. Imagine how much there will be after ten episodes. Among many details about the 1997-98 NBA Chicago Bulls that surfaced and reemerged during the past few days are the potential trades for Scottie Pippen that the Bulls’ GM Jerry Krause nearly pulled off.
“Anybody can be traded.”Jerry Krause, ‘The Last Dance’
The first time Krause tried to do it was in late June 1994, just before the 1994 NBA draft. The 1994 NBA All-Star MVP Scottie Pippen’s leadership in the 1993-94 season wouldn’t be disputed if not for a single detail in game 3 of the EC semifinals when before the key play of the game Pippen decided not to enter the game and pass the ball to Bulls rookie forward Toni Kukoč for what turned out to be a game-winner.
At the same time, power forward Horace Grant, who played one of the critical roles on the 1991-93 Bulls championship teams, decided to leave the city and join superstar center Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando, thus making the Magic inevitable championship contenders.
With Pippen unsatisfied and Grant out of the city, Krause thought of pairing the exciting duet for the Bulls at forward positions – promising rookie Toni Kukoč with a proven Supersonics superstar, power forward Shawn Kemp. During the 1993-94 season, Kemp proved highly effective for the emerging powerhouse from Seattle while being teamed with versatile German forward Detlef Schrempf.
But facing massive pressure from local fans in Seattle, the Sonics’ owner Barry Ackery decided not to pull the trigger on the groundbreaking deal, which would make both great teams even more competitive.
“Ackerley called me and told me they weren’t going to make the trade. He was telling me people were calling the local radio stations, saying they were going to burn down the stadium if I was traded. “Shawn Kemp, per L.A. Times
Interestingly enough, Krause had an excellent relationship with the Sonics’ front office because it was Seattle, where he got Pippen for center Olden Polynice in the 1987 NBA draft-day deal. In January 1995, when asked whether he thought he would get traded, Pippen replied: “I hope I am “
Pippen had already packed his bags and was ready to leave the mediocre 1994-95 Bulls team when MJ suddenly reemerged. It was Jordan who reemerged as the team leader and, with a series of inspiring performances, helped the Bulls finish off the season with a 47-35 record to reach the postseason. Pippen stayed in town, and the surging Bulls led by him and Jordan won the 1996, 1997, and 1998 NBA championship titles.
But, after winning the ring in 1997, Pippen, evidently displeased with his ongoing contract from 1991 and treatment by the Bulls’ front office over the years, just had had enough and requested the trade by himself! That was after Krause refused to rule out a potential trade for Pippen, which he tried to pull all along, especially in the 1997 NBA draft.
Before the 1997 NBA draft, Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause reportedly brought a skinny 6’8” kid by the name of Tracy McGrady out of Mount Zion Christian Academy (Durham, North Carolina) to visit the Bulls’ premises in Chicago. This kid was reminiscent of Pippen when Krause first saw him.
McGrady was pretty hyped at the moment as ‘the next big thing’ coming directly out of high school, but Krause’s scout eye couldn’t miss the promise he saw in McGrady was exactly the same he saw in young Pippen, precisely a decade ago. And with Pippen pretty mad at him, Krause certainly thought ‘why not replace Scottie with this young kid from North Carolina. A fresh start for everyone.’
With the Bulls holding the 30th and 57th pick overall in the 1997 NBA draft it’s somewhat unclear why Krause didn’t accept the offer the Boston Celtics reportedly made, putting their 3rd and 6th pick (which turned out to be Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer) on the table for Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley.
That move made sense for the Celtics at the time as they were rebuilding under their 2nd-year head coach Rick Pitino. But there was a great deal of uncertainty involved if the teams who held the #1 and #2 picks, the San Antonio Spurs and the Philadelphia 76ers, would choose Tracy McGrady before the Bulls.
Also, both the Raptors and the Celtics, after the expiration of Pippen’s last year on the deal (1997-98), found themselves in the uncharted territory of negotiating a new contract, worth around $10M, with a free agent.
But in the end, it was MJ who said ‘no’ and vetoed the deal. These days, McGrady confirmed all of it.
“The Bulls tried to trade Scottie Pippen for me on draft night, but Michael Jordan vetoed the deal “-Tracy McGrady, The Jump
The Toronto Raptors chose McGrady as the 9th pick overall in the 1997 NBA draft. After two relatively quiet initial seasons with the Raps, he exploded in his third season north of the border – while playing alongside his cousin Vince Carter, he posted quite an impressive 15.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, and 1.9 bpg.
If Jordan let Krause pull the deal off, the aging Bulls would have received a package of youthful energy and creativity in McGrady, an upcoming superstar who proved himself as a versatile leader for both the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets, throughout the first decade of the new millennium.