Former New Jersey Nets GM John Capliari reveals the team had been extremely close to drafting Kobe Bryant in the famous 1996 draft.
Undoubtedly one of the legends of the game, Kobe Bryant has had an illustrious career spanning 20 years. It is also an undeniable fact that he was a little lucky to land up in a favorable situation in Los Angeles alongside fellow great Shaquille O’Neal. The duo went on to dominate the league and won three straight championships together.
It’s always fun to wonder, however, how things would pan out if such players were drafted by different teams. Former New Jersey Nets GM John Capliari turned some heads with an interesting factoid. The Nets were apparently considering Kobe at their No. 8 pick.
The first question that arises here is how the hell did Kobe drop so low? Well, for starters, he was a 17-year-old. While Kevin Garnett had been drafted No. 5 as a high-schooler the year before, NBA teams were still reluctant to take a punt on young prodigies.
Another reason was the sheer quality of the famously deep 1996 draft. The year included multiple future Hall of Famers in Kobe, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, and Ben Wallace. Besides, many perennial all-stars graced the event too, including Stephon Marbury, DPOY Marcus Camby, Peja Stojakovic, and Jermaine O’Neal. It’s easy to see why a high-schooler could be a bit of a risk within such an insane talent pool.
The Nets went on to pick Kerry Kittles at No. 8, while the Hornets traded Kobe Bryant’s draft rights to the Lakers at No. 13
Surprisingly, however, getting Kerry didn’t turn out to be a bad decision at all. The young core of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, and Richard Jefferson went on to make 2 consecutive NBA Finals. Wonder who they lost to in one of those finals though? Yup, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
John Capliari still mourns the day he missed out on Kobe Bryant. He remarked, “Now, how many times did I have you up in New Jersey? Three times with your family. You know who I wanted to pick.” Many saw the quote as a cop-out, and Gary Payton jokingly called John out for supposedly making excuses.
It’s a great exercise, nonetheless, to imagine that Nets team with Kobe Bryant. Jason Kidd and his playmaking abilities, Kenyon Martin and his dominance in the paint coupled with the legendary Kobe Bryant would have been the perfect recipe for success.