Kevin Durant's trade request is reminiscent of the time Kobe Bryant asked off the Lakers. LA resisted and won a championship a year later

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Kobe Bryant places his hands on his knees and looks up during a game in 2007.
Kobe Bryant.Matt Sayles/AP Images
  • Kobe Bryant requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007.

  • The Lakers didn't move him, then acquired Pau Gasol, resulting in back-to-back championships which changed Bryant's legacy.

  • Bryant's failed request raises questions about how the Nets should handle Kevin Durant's recent trade request.

Not all NBA trade requests are granted.

Among the bigger what-ifs in NBA history is Kobe Bryant's ask to leave the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007.

"Chicago was my No. 1 choice," Bryant later told the "Grantland Basketball Hour" in 2015 of his request.

Bryant was at the height of his powers in 2007, having led the NBA in scoring in 2005-06 and 2006-07. He was widely regarded as the best player in the NBA at that time.

Yet, thanks to the Shaquille O'Neal trade in 2004 — the result of a lost power struggle with Bryant — the Lakers roster had crumbled around the All-Star guard. Bryant had been openly critical of some of his teammates (former Lakers guard Smush Parker said Bryant once told him he wasn't allowed to speak to Bryant), while the Lakers lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007.

So, in May 2007, while speaking to Stephen A. Smith on ESPN radio, Bryant said he wanted out of LA.

The New York Times' Howard Beck reported at the time that Bryant said: "I would like to be traded, yeah. Tough as it is to come to that conclusion, there's no other alternative."

However, according to Beck, Bryant later joined "The Dan Patrick Show" and seemingly waffled on his request. Bryant told Patrick that Lakers head coach Phil Jackson reassured him that the team would turn things around.

"I don't want to go anyplace else. I don't want to," Bryant said. "I want to be a Laker. I want to be here for the rest of my career."

Though Bryant's public messaging was confusing, the Lakers did still take calls.

The LA Times reported that the Lakers had trade conversations with the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons. Bryant told Grantland that he nixed the Pistons trade — "I gave you a list of teams I'm comfortable being traded to. Not Detroit."

The LA Times reported that negotiations with the Bulls were hung up on the inclusion of forward Luol Deng.

The Lakers did make a trade that changed their fortunes

Kobe Bryant high-fives Pau Gasol in 2008.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.Mark J. Terrill/AP Images

The Lakers never traded Bryant. Awkwardness followed.

Bryant reported to training camp but sat out practices in October 2007, while reports circulated that he had cleared out his locker. However, he told reporters that he was ready to play if called upon.

Bryant ultimately did play that season, and the Lakers swung a trade in February that changed their fortunes and Bryant's legacy by acquiring Pau Gasol.

Gasol, a star who had come over from Spain, made the 2006 All-Star team with the Memphis Grizzlies and was one of the most versatile big men in the NBA — a perfect fit for the "triangle" offense the Lakers ran.

"I have to take my hat off to [owner Jerry] Buss and [GM] Mitch [Kupchak] for going forward with this," Bryant told reporters after the trade. "Now it's up to us to go out there and work hard."

From February 3, the Lakers went 28-9 to finish the season. They made it to the Finals, but lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

The next season the Lakers went 65-17, finishing first in the West. Despite a tough playoff slate, they won the championship over the Orlando Magic. The Lakers then won the 2010 championship in a rematch with the Celtics.

Bryant's legacy changed in the process. He won MVP in 2008 and won Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. After the second title, Bryant proudly proclaimed that he had won more championships than O'Neal.

Do teams have to trade their stars?

Bryant's failed trade request raises questions about how the Brooklyn Nets should handle Kevin Durant's ask.

The situations aren't entirely similar, though there are some through-lines. Durant has four years left on his contract; Bryant had three in 2007. Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA, just as Bryant was. Durant will command a haul for the Nets, perhaps an historic one.

Kevin Durant stands with his hands on his hips during a game in 2022.
Kevin Durant.John Minchillo/AP Images

The eras are different, and in today's NBA, teams generally bend to a star player's will. Refusing to trade a star who wants out risks damaging the fabric of the team and hurting an organization's reputation with other players.

Yet perhaps more than other recent star trades, the Durant-Nets situation may be salvageable. The amount of years left on his contract negates the ticking time bomb of free agency that so many star players use as leverage.

And though the team's relationship with Kyrie Irving now seems fractured, he is Durant's good friend and still technically under contract with the Nets. It's not as if Durant is on an island: The Nets still employ Irving, Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Nicolas Claxton, and Ben Simmons, should he decide to play. The bones of a championship contender are in place.

There are also complications with Durant's top trade destinations: the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat. Phoenix can put together a solid package surrounding Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and picks — it's a great return, but not an historic one. Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported that the Nets would insist upon the inclusion of Devin Booker, but Booker agreed to a four-year, $214 million extension on Thursday which prohibits the Suns from trading him for one year.

The Heat, meanwhile, cannot trade star center Bam Adebayo to the Nets. An NBA rule prohibits teams from trading for multiple players who signed Designated Rookie extensions — the type of extension Adebayo signed with the Heat and Simmons signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Without Adebayo in a trade, the Heat can't put together as enticing of a package.

It leaves the Nets in quandary: to what degree do they work with Durant to accomodate his request? They can get better returns from other teams, but is Durant willing to report anywhere? As mentioned, Bryant scuttled a trade to the Pistons because he didn't want to go to Detroit.

Durant is pushing the limits of the player empowerment era by pushing for a trade as soon as his extension kicks in. The Nets can acquiesce, or they could see if the Lakers' method in 2007 would still work today.

Read the original article on Insider