When you think of the name Bob Bass, you probably think of his time leading the Spurs into NBA relevancy from the front office, parachuting in to serve as coach periodically, when needed. Well, the two-time NBA Executive of the Year fulfilled the same role in Charlotte for the Hornets, and now his legacy is slowly but surely being re-cast as a referendum on the one move Bass made that — at least in the long run — never worked out right: Trading away Kobe Bryant.
(A draft hat: The only thing that still connects Bryant with the Hornets.)
Now Bass is weighing in on the subject himself, and he gives Jimmy Smith of the NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE some pretty compelling reasons for why the move made a lot of sense, both for the short and long-term future of Charlotte’s franchise. Bass admits that the team put a pre-draft deal in place with the Lakers, saying that if Bryant was somehow still available at the No. 13 slot in the draft, Charlotte would take him and trade him to L.A. for Vlade Divac. When he was, Bass was all too happy to pick the Philadelphia wunderkind, because the Lakers deal represented both an ideal way to land the big man the Hornets desperately needed and equally importantly, set the stage to get Shaquille O’Neal out of the Eastern Conference by helping L.A. clear cap space.
Helping Los Angeles create a dynasty with two players who were destined to feud isn’t lost on him, but he maintains a fighting spirit when asked about the deal, and why he made it. And, in truth, he has a number of valid points.
“Let’s start out this way, ” Bass said. “There had never been a high school player come into the league that didn’t play in the front court.”
“Secondly, 12 other teams passed on Kobe Bryant; 12 other teams said, ‘I don’t want him.’ The Nets even got a workout. He refused to work out with us. He didn’t work out with anybody. We had talks on the trade, but we didn’t make it for about 3 1/2 weeks. We had a chance to get a 7-foot-(1) center who had been very successful in the league.
“You add all those three things together, that’s why the decision was made. Plus, he couldn’t make a jump shot when he first came into the league. We won 54 the first year Divac was there and 51 the next year. The only problem with that (Hornets) team was Michael Jordan was in his hey-day and Patrick Ewing had that great New York team. And we were in the Eastern Conference. That’s what happened on that.”
Of all those points, the fact that Bryant was truly the first straight-from-high school swingman to be successful in the NBA may be the most salient. Regardless of how highly talent evaluators thought of Bryant, it would have been virtually impossible to have predicted just how successful he would become in the league.
(The man who, fairly or not, will go down as responsible for shipping Bryant to L.A.)
In fact, the man that clearly deserves the most credit for the move, again, is former Lakers and Grizzlies GM Jerry West, who made a decision to try and land Bryant if at all possible after watching only one workout.
Divac was a success in Charlotte over a short, two-year stint, pushing the team into the playoffs and helping earn Bass another NBA Executive of the Year award in 1997, when the Hornets won a then-franchise record 54 games before being booted from the playoffs by the Michael Jordan-led Bulls in the second round. He averaged 11.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, decent numbers even while they’re decidedly unspectacular.
Yet no amount of success for Divac would have ever made retrospective analysis of the Bryant trade easier on Bass, and he seems all too aware that, fair or not, that one move may soon comprise the largest part of his NBA legacy.
“The biggest part about it when people start criticizing you . . . is what about those 12 other teams?” Bass said. “Look at who they took. They didn’t get any Vlade Divac, I tell you that. … Allen Iverson went No. 1 that year (to the 76ers) and the strange thing about it was (Bryant) grew up in Philadelphia and they saw him play in high school two years and they took Iverson ahead of him.”