Exactly 24 years ago today, Kobe Bryant headlined one of the best NBA Draft classes in history, and he was picked 13th.
The teams that passed on him? Glad you asked.
The Sixers, Raptors, Grizzlies, Bucks, Timberwolves, Celtics, Clippers, Nets, Mavericks, Pacers, Warriors and Cavaliers all went a different direction until the Hornets took Bryant at 13 and later traded him to the Lakers.
Now, there's a perfectly good reason those 12 teams passed. Some of them ended up with stars and even a few Hall of Famers. Though it's widely understood that Bryant threatened to play overseas if he didn't end up on the Lakers, so the 12 aforementioned squads reasonably didn't want to risk their lottery pick on a high school kid who wanted to go to LA.
But what if there was a different team picking 12th? What if the Bullets didn't trade that selection to the Cavs?
Washington sent their first-round pick in 1996 to Cleveland in exchange for four-time All-Star Mark Price. Even though Price was 31 at the time and had injury concerns, his skill set and track record represented everything the young Bullets needed.
They required playmaking, shooting and veteran savvy to go along with a talented young frontcourt consisting of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rasheed Wallace. Even though Price only played seven games for the Bullets in 1995-96 and later left in free agency, it was a defensible move.
But man, what if Washington was on the clock when Kobe was still on the board. Do they get scared away by the Lakers noise too or do they roll the dice on an uber-talented wing poised to become one of the game's all-time greats?
And then if they did roll the dice, what does a core of Webber and Bryant do for the franchise? How many Finals appearances do they make in a weakened East post-Michael Jordan?
It's impossible to know. The Bullets didn't have the pick and it's hard to forecast Bryant's career trajectory on another team given he spent 20 years with the Lakers. But still, it's one of those things that makes hoops fans shake their fist at the basketball gods.
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