It’s been quite a journey for anonymous 6’8” Bulls forward from that point. From having a rocky rookie campaign, getting to know the Bad Boys from Detroit, becoming an NBA All-Star in 1990, stopping Magic Johnson in 1991 NBA finals, winning gold in 1992 Olympics, winning 1994 All-Star game MVP award, winning six NBA championship titles across the 1990s, on his way to the Hall of Fame Class of 2010.
According to Bulls GM Jerry Krause, he arranged the details of the trade, which would send Pippen to Chicago with the Supersonics before the 1987 NBA draft. So, when the actual draft took place, all Pippen did relate to Seattle was putting on a Supersonics hat. After that, it was all Bulls on Pippen’s agenda.
In a matter of hours, Pippen was dealt with Chicago for center Olden Polynice, and a pair of draft picks. A 2nd round draft pick in 1988 and a 1st round draft pick in 1989. Polynice, projected as the Sonics center for the future, eventually started only 37 games throughout the next three and a half seasons.
But what if Supersonics’ front office headed by GM Bob Whitsitt somehow decided to keep Pippen in Seattle?
Sure, that turn of events would create a significant jam in the Supersonics rotation for the upcoming 1987-88 NBA season. But not just that – it would change the very course of NBA history. It’s hard to believe that the Supersonics head coach Bernie Bickerstaff would change his winning starting unit from 1986-87, which went all the way to the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. There, just a step from the ‘promised land’ of the 1987 NBA finals, the Supersonics were swept by eventual champions, spearheaded by versatile guard Magic Johnson.
“There is still a lot I have to learn about the NBA, and going in, I am looking to go in and play probably the ‘3’ position, but someday I want to be able to work my way into the point guard position.”Scottie Pippen, 1987 NBA draft
Already as a rookie for the contending Bulls, Pippen showed flashes of brilliance, especially in the postseason, where Doug Collins used him as a tactical surprise. Pippen started 6 out of 10 Bulls games in the 1988 postseason, raising his averages to 10.0ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.4apg, 0.8spg, and 0.8.bpg.
Assuming that Pippen stayed in Seattle, the Supersonics starters for the 1987-88 season would have remained intact – PG Nate McMillan, SG Dale Ellis, SF Xavier McDaniel, PF Tom Chambers, C Alton Lister. But knowing that even at that stage, Pippen was a strong facilitator, it’s likely that Bickerstaff would have Pippen coming off from the bench as a sixth man.
With Pippen already aboard, it’s unlikely that the Supersonics would have chosen another strong wing prospect, Derrick McKey, with the 9th pick in the 1987 draft. It’s possible they would have opted for the University of Clemson power forward Horace Grant instead.
With rookie Pippen providing solid defense on Denver’s leading scorer Alex English it’s easy to envision that he Sonics would be able to surpass the Nuggets in the first round of the 1988 NBA postseason, something which they did with Mckey but in 1989. In the second round, they would face Dallas Mavericks, the same team they had eliminated just a year ago, in the 1987 NBA playoffs.
“It would have made my game a lot easier because you got one more guy on the floor you had to pay attention to offensively. It was unfortunate I didn’t play with the team that some players didn’t command the double-team.”Dale Ellis
With Chambers gone to the Phoenix Suns after the 1988-89 season and the league’s leading rebounder Michael Cage in town, the Supersonics eventually moved McDaniel, who played in the 1988 NBA All-Star game, in the role of the sixth man. With Pippen around instead of McKey, Bickerstaff would opt to keep McDaniel in the starting unit and bring in Pippen from the bench. In both roles, either starting or coming in from the bench, Pippen would be highly effective and creative.
With Pippen being able to cover both of Lakers superstars Magic Johnson and James Worthy, this team would be able to avoid being swept by Los Angeles in the 1989 Western conference semifinals and thus reach the finals with the high-octane Phoenix Suns featuring ex-Sonic Tom Chambers.
Ultimately, after the 1989 NBA draft, the prospect of having Pippen around in Seattle would result in pairing him at the forward positions with the 17th pick overall in the 1989 draft – Shawn Kemp!
With the dynamic duet consisting of 3rd year pro Pippen and sensational rookie Kemp, the 1989-90 Supersonics would have been a problem.
Already in 1990-91, under the coaching leadership of Boston Celtics legend K.C. Jones, the team that eventually traded away Ellis and McDaniel, would end up the season with the starting line-up of Gary Payton, Nate McMillan, Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp, and Benoit Benjamin.
Having Pippen around would help the Supersonics made the postseason run in 1991, eventually avoiding the opening round 3-2 loss to the contending Portland Trail Blazers, and then facing the Jazz and the Lakers.
We all remember the 1991 NBA finals because of the matchup between Pippen and Magic. If Pippen was a Sonic back in 1991 and had reached the Western Conference finals, Pip would have been remembered for the matchup with Magic, but also with 1991 NBA MVP Michael Jordan in the NBA final series. That is, of course, if the Bulls without Pippen would have been able to surpass the Detroit Pistons in the epic 1991 E.C. finals.
And if the Sonics eventually won the hypothetical 1991 final series with the Chicago Bulls/Detroit Pistons, maybe it would be the beginning of their dynasty, not the Bulls.
“Michael Jordan would have had problems; you know what I am saying. Shawn would have come in 1989, two years later, I would have come three years later, in 1990. That would have been a great crew. I think Scottie would have put up another dynamic team together with us, and we would have been cool.”Gary Payton
Moreover, today there would be no conversation of a potential trade from 1994 in which Seattle wanted to trade Kemp for Pippen, the option two teams had strongly considered. The eventual outcome of that particular trade, which never took place, would be a formidable Bulls frontcourt of Kemp and Kukoc.
The secondary condition was that the Sonics truly believed in Pippen, not just for 3-4 seasons, and supplied him with the quality veteran mentorship. Regardless of M.J.’s influence over the years, Pippen had a tremendous competitive drive and the desire to win at any cost, which is essential for any team that wants to aim for a championship for several years in a row.