During his 20-year career in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers tried to pair Kobe Bryant with the right talent in order to put the team in title contention. Kobe may have won three straight titles alongside Shaquille O’Neal and then went on to win back-to-back championships with Pau Gasol, but there are plenty of times the team tried and failed to bring in superstar talent to team up with the soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
The Lakers are among the most aggressive and successful franchises in professional sports. That cannot be disputed. The 16-time champions strive for greatness on an annual basis, especially when Bryant was the face of the franchise and as motivated as anyone in the league to come out on top.
Here are the three players the Lakers attempted to pair with Kobe, but for one reason or another, they never ended up wearing purple and gold during Bryant’s stint with the team.
3. Carmelo Anthony – Took Green Over Bean
In the summer of 2014, after Steve Nash and Dwight Howard failed to pan out, the Lakers were starting to get desperate and looked to NBA free agency to find the right star teammate to help Kobe get the franchise back on top.
The one player every team with cap space was dying to land in free agency that year was forward Carmelo Anthony. The New York Knicks had their sights set on signing Anthony to a lucrative long-term deal in order to keep him in the Big Apple, but the perennial All-Star was determined to test the market as he was strongly considering moving on from James Dolan’s franchise.
The Lakers were one of the teams on a shortlist of teams Anthony would consider signing with. The Carmelo sweepstakes began with Los Angeles pulling out all the stops land Anthony, who was also a close friend of Kobe’s.
Despite the red-carpet treatment, which included a four-minute movie narrated by Tobey Maguire and thrown together by big-time Hollywood producer Joel Silver, Anthony wasn’t buying what the Lakers were selling and ultimately returned to the Knicks.
2. Chris Paul – Basketball Reasons
With the Lakers unable to pull off the repeat in 2011 and the team’s brass knowing they needed to shake things up with a new superstar playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that rocked the NBA to its core once again.
Los Angeles acquired arguably the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul in a three-way deal, which sent Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol packing. Odom was dealt to the New Orleans Hornets while Gasol ended up with the Houston Rockets in a massive deal with a lot of moving parts, including players like Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, and Luis Scola.
The trade was too good to be true as it would instantly create one of the most talented and feared backcourts in the NBA. Paul, like Anthony, was also a friend of Bryant’s and anxious to play alongside the five-time champion. He embraced the trade and looked forward to competing for titles with one of the greatest players of all time.
In comes NBA commissioner David Stern, who coined the phrase “basketball reasons.” With two words, the league crushed the Lakers’ hopes of adding an elite floor general to play with Bryant. Stern used this lame explanation for why the NBA vetoed the trade, and no one really believed him as the Hornets, who were owned by the league at the time, traded Paul to the L.A. Clippers shortly thereafter.
Lob City was born, and then-general manager Mitch Kupchak had to pick up the pieces and try again a year later, resulting in two separate deals for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Those two acquisitions by the team were brilliant moves, but much like the vetoed trade, they didn’t work out.
1. Kevin Garnett – Celtics Favoritism
Before the Lakers landed Pau Gasol in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history in 2008, the team wanted to bring in superstar forward Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After failing to make it to the NBA Finals with the Timberwolves, the perennial All-Star wanted out of Minnesota, leading to numerous teams around the league scrambling to come up with intriguing trade proposals. The Lakers, along with the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics were among the teams considered to be the frontrunners to land Garnett. All three teams stood to become instant titles contenders with the addition of the Hall of Famer leading to aggressive bids to then-general manager Kevin McHale.
Los Angeles was willing to part with up-and-coming stars Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum to get the deal done with Minnesota. An attractive trade package with both players expected to have bright futures, but the Celtics had the edge all along due to McHale’s ties to the Celtics.
Danny Ainge, who remains Boston’s general manager to this day, was calling the shots in the Celtics front office at that time. He had a great relationship with McHale as they won two titles together in Boston during the 80s. Along with the close bond between the former players, they didn’t want to help the arch-rival Lakers by handing them the best power forward in the game.
Ultimately, Garnett landed in Boston and helped lead them to a title at the Lakers’ expense in 2008. Los Angeles was able to avenge that loss two years later, with Gasol being the missing piece next to Bryant.
Although these were missed opportunities for the Lakers during Bryant’s stint with the team, Kobe still finished his career with five titles and the distinction of being an all-time great. It didn’t turn out all that bad for the superstar guard as Gasol proved to be enough to add two more rings to his trophy case.