Heading into the 2007-08 season, Los Angeles Lakers superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant was not happy. His team had just fallen in five games to Steve Nash and Ama're Stoudemire's Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2007 Western Conference playoffs, and he was struggling to see a path to championship contention with his teammates at the time, including much-ballyhooed 2005 lottery pick Andrew Bynum.
The eighth episode of the Hulu docuseries "Legacy: The True Story Of The L.A. Lakers," directed by "Training Day" helmer Antoine Fuqua, unpacks several theoretical destinations for the Black Mamba.
"The Lakers told Kobe that they wanted to win now, but some of the actions that they were doing, specifically Andrew Bynum, looked more like they were building for the future instead of trying to surround Kobe with the talent that he needed immediately to win," the team's physical trainer at the time, Gary Vitti, offers of L.A.'s front office approach during what Derek Fisher calls "those lean years." After Nash, Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and the rest of the Phoenix Suns pummeled the Lakers 4-1 in the first round of the 2007 Western Conference playoffs, Bryant voiced his frustration with the team.
Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss's son Jim Buss, the vice president of player personnel at the time, refused to let L.A. deal Bynum. Perhaps in retaliation, Bryant countered in a local ESPN interview in the 2007 offseason, saying, "Yeah, I'd like to be traded."
Then-team president Mitch Kupchak says now that he told Bryant, "Just so you know, we feel you're the best player in the world. Any team we talk to, we're gonna want the best player [in return]." That of course would limit just how much closer Bryant could get to winning a title on another team.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims in a fresh conversation for the documentary that there was a potential agreement for a Bryant trade, a claim that Kupchak rebuffs. "We never had a deal with Dallas," Kupchak, now the team president of the Charlotte Hornets, says now. "You can't always believe Mark, okay? And you can tell him I said so," Kupchak chuckles.
Kupchak indicates that the Lakers got closer to making a deal with the Detroit Pistons, the club that walloped a star-studded L.A. team in the 2004 Finals. But one key influential voice was not in favor. "I wasn't gonna move to Detroit," Kobe's widow Vanessa Bryant says now. "I'm a Cali girl, my family's here. It's just one of those things."
Thanks to Kupchak, Los Angeles engineered an insanely beneficial trade for Pau Gasol that would help ensure Bryant remained a Laker for life.