Former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Del Harris told Marc Stein of the New York Times that the team's former general manager, Jerry West, tried to acquire the draft rights of Tracy McGrady in 1997 to pair him with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
Bryant had been drafted the season before by the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 13 overall pick but traded to the Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac. That same summer, the team signed O'Neal to a seven-year, $120 million deal, a pair of moves that ultimately shifted the power balance of the NBA back to Los Angeles.
Harris broke down West's thinking at the time:
"I don’t think anybody can look at an 18-year-old and say he’s a Hall of Famer. You couldn’t even do that with Jordan. And Kobe was a young 18 in his first season. He was still in a pretty normal teenage body, compared to when LeBron James came in and had a man’s body.
"McGrady came in the next year with a more mature body and worked out so well that Jerry kind of tooled around with the idea that maybe we should just go ahead and make a deal for whatever it took to get this guy—even though it’d be a step back in the short term—to have two guys like this on the same team."
Lakers owner Jerry Buss ultimately vetoed the idea, however, eager to end the team's title drought. Harris acknowledged that he was hesitant at the time to give up on an All-Star player like Eddie Jones for another teenager coming into the NBA directly from high school in McGrady.
The Lakers ultimately traded Jones and Elden Campbell to the Hornets in 1999 for Glen Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong. That move allowed Bryant to move to his more natural position of shooting guard.
Imagining McGrady on that Lakers team—which won three NBA titles before O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004—is fascinating. Namely, how would Phil Jackson have managed three superstar talents?
O'Neal and Bryant famously feuded during the pair's run of three straight titles and four overall NBA Finals appearances together. It's hard to know how precisely McGrady would have fit into that dynamic, though trying to keep three elite scorers and talents happy and involved would have been a major challenge for Jackson.
To put that in perspective, in the 2000-01 season—the second title O'Neal and Bryant won together and McGrady's breakout year in the NBA after he joined the Orlando Magic—O'Neal averaged 28.7 points on 19.2 shots per game, Bryant averaged 28.5 points on 22.2 field-goal attempts per contest and McGrady posted 26.8 points on 22.4 attempts each game.
If that trio clicked, they would have decimated opponents. Perhaps McGrady could have slipped into L.A.'s clash of the alphas and played a more complementary role. On the other hand, it's possible his own development would have been stymied and he may have departed the Lakers in free agency just like he did after three seasons with the Toronto Raptors, ostensibly to get out of the shadow of Vince Carter.