One of the craziest things that happened in the NBA in the past five years was the Chris Paul-to-the-Los-Angeles-Lakers trade that wasn't. In 2011, the New Orleans Hornets had a deal in place with the Lakers to send their All-Star point guard out west to join up with Kobe Bryant. The deal was nixed by then-Commissioner David Stern after several other team owners voiced their displeasure—a rare instance of a trade vetoed by higher powers. Bryant was robbed of the chance to play with one of the best point guards ever, although his consolation prize, Pau Gasol, helped net him two more rings.
Still, the thought of Bryant and Paul playing alongside each other is tantalizing. Ahead of their final meeting on the court before Bryant's retirement, the two stars took some time to reminisce. Paul, who ended up on the other NBA team in LA, recalled phoning Bryant the moment he heard the news that he'd be heading to the Lakers.
"It was crazy," Paul told ESPN. "It was exciting. We talked about potentially being teammates and all that stuff like that. Then, in the blink of an eye, gone."
Bryant was already imagining multiple championshiops the two would win together.
"You know me. My dream isn't to win games," Bryant said. "It's like, 'How many of these titles are we going to win [together]?' Because if we don't win, we're a failure."
Bryant knew that he and Paul would be unstoppable, simply because of how hungry they are each time they step on the court. Bryant said they are usually the only two players who take the All-Star Game seriously, while the rest of the players treat the annual showcase like a run-and-gun pick-up game.
"When we played together in every All-Star Game, we never [messed] around," Bryant said. "It was like, 'Listen, the guys have their fun, but now let's do what we do.' I knew how competitive he was, and I knew it would be a perfect fit. We just kind of talked about what we're going to do, how we're going to scheme to get things done. Unfortunately, it never happened."
For Bryant, missing out on playing with Paul did not prevent him from adding to his trophy collection. For Paul, though, his championship cupboard remains bare, and teaming up with arguably one of the greatest players in NBA history, in his prime, could have changed the narrative of his career forever. Paul will continue to be knocked for not winning a championship until it happens. And for the fans, all we can do is imagine what might have been.
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