Howard Beck welcomes Hall of Famer Joe Dumars. The former Pistons Bad Boy is now the NBA’s discipline czar, part of his new role as executive vice president and head of basketball operations. Dumars discusses his approach to the job, then reflects at length on his tenure as Pistons GM.
Beck: I know it’s been written about, and you’ve discussed it, but it’s just such a fun story that I have to ask. The 2007 Kobe Bryant trade that never happened …
Dumars: Yeah, it was myself and Mitch Kupchak. The current [Lakers] GM Rob Pelinka was obviously involved ’cause he was representing Kobe at the time, and Bill Davidson, the Pistons’ owner, and Jerry Buss. Those were the people that knew the deal. Mitch Kupchak and I went back and forth about parameters. This is when Kobe was saying, I want out. Lakers aren’t trying to win. I want out. It was two teams that Mitch felt like had enough pieces to do a deal for Kobe. It was us and Chicago. Mitch called and said, Look, love to work out something with you. Take us a couple days to work it out. And then we agreed on the deal.
At the time, Kobe is the only player that had a no-trade in his contract. So Mitch says, Look, as you know, Joe, Kobe has a no-trade, so he has to approve of this. But we’re gonna take this to him and I’m gonna take this to Dr. Buss. He did. Dr. Buss said OK They took it to Kobe, and Mitch told me that Kobe said, I need 24 hours or 48 hours or something to discuss this with my family. Like, Look, I need time to discuss it with my family. And I think Dr. Buss was like, No, we need an answer in the next day or whatever. And Kobe didn’t want to be forced into having to make a decision that quick.
And so, Mitch said to me, Dr. Buss has given him like a day, and if he doesn’t, Dr. Buss is pulling out and he’s done. And Kobe refused to make a decision. … It was like, I need a couple days to meet my family and think about this. He didn’t make a decision in 24 hours. And Dr. Buss said, That’s it; I’m out. We tried to make a deal. You wouldn’t make a decision. We’re gonna move forward. And the trade was done. And Mitch called me and said, Joe, we’re out. Dr. Buss is saying no. He’s told Kobe, if you’re not gonna make a decision right now, we’re done trying to trade you and we’re gonna go forward. And we hang up.
Beck: Did you think you had it? Did you think, Kobe’s gonna sign off; we’ll be good? Were you already thinking ahead to: We’ve got this and now it’s gonna be on to the next thing? Like, we’re gonna start planning for our new team around Kobe.
Dumars: I thought it was going to work. But here’s the thing in any trade or transactions that you’re doing: The longer it takes, the more chances it’s not gonna happen. So when it didn’t happen right away, and time started going by, you know, over that 24-hour period or whatever, I realized, OK, this could go off track. But when we hung up … when you hang up and Mitch says, OK, we have a deal. I’m like, Okay, we got a deal. And I called Davidson. He calls Dr. Buss and says, Look, we have a deal. Only thing is Kobe’s gotta approve it. You know, at that moment you’re going, OK, this could happen. You know what I mean?
Beck: You’re not quite popping champagne, but you’re feeling good.
Dumars: Yeah, and you’re silent about it. You’re not talking with anyone else about this. You know, this is under wraps and no one else knows, and you just wait and see how it plays out.
Beck: Flash forward on this for people who again need the reminder on this. It’s six, seven, eight months later that they make the trade for Pau Gasol. And next thing you know, the Lakers are back in the Finals. Next thing you know they’re winning two championships after that. And all of history is different, and Kobe spends his entire career with the Lakers. But, that close, as I’m holding my fingers apart, to him being a Piston.
Dumars: Absolutely. Yeah, it was that close.
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