Here’s a blockbuster that never was: In the summer of 2007, the Los Angeles Lakers called the Cleveland Cavaliers to see if they’d make the 22-year-old LeBron James available in a potential Kobe Bryant trade, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. This was back when Bryant was 28 and wanted a trade after three shaky seasons following Shaquille O’Neal’s departure.
According to multiple sources, as the Lakers went through their options, a call was placed to the Cavs. The intent of the call, sources said, was clear: Would the Cavs make James available in a potential deal for Bryant?
Those who worked in Cleveland’s front office remember it for one reason, it was the only time a team had ever called and made an offer for James. He was considered an ultimate untouchable. Frankly, until that time, so was Bryant.
Even in 2003, when the Cavs won the draft lottery, the team’s front office figured it would get a “Godfather” offer or two to give up the No. 1 pick they planned to use on James. But the phone never rang.
“I believe it,” James told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin this week about the 2007 offer. “If you give up one big fish, you got to give a big fish too.”
The Cavs said that James, indeed, was untouchable, sources said. Then they attempted to make the Lakers a different offer for Bryant, offering anyone else on their team in a package for him. The Lakers had no interest.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak declined comment on the matter this week.
For Bryant, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, the answer was simple.
“I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never,” Bryant told Holmes. “That wasn’t one of the teams that was on my list. It was Chicago, San Antonio (or) Phoenix.”
Reaction No. 1: Whoa! Bryant for James would have been one of the biggest trades in NBA history. You rarely see great players traded for one another, let alone all-time greats and arguably the two best players in the league at a given time. This would have been just about the craziest story anyone could have dreamed up, and it would have completely changed the course of many franchises, not just the two involved.
Reaction No. 2: Of course the Lakers called! Bryant had put them in a terrible position because of the public, loud nature of his trade demand, and it was general manager Mitch Kupchak’s responsibility to explore every avenue. That means even asking for players who aren’t “available” and, yes, trying to make deals that seem impossible. Good for him for trying, and, obviously, good for him for sticking things out with Bryant once it became clear Los Angeles couldn’t get anything resembling equal value in return.