Chicago Bulls: What If Michael Jordan Had Been Traded to the Clippers?

Mike B.Correspondent IJuly 23, 2011

17 May 1998:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls drives to the basket on Dale Davis #32 during the Bulls 85-79 NBA Playoff win at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.   Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jerry Krause managed to raise a lot of eyebrows during the 2001 NBA draft. General manager of the Chicago Bulls at the time, he traded his best player, Elton Brand, to the Los Angeles Clippers for fresh out of high school big man Tyson Chandler.   

Giving up a proven 20-10 guy in Brand for someone yet to log a single minute as a pro was definitely a bold move by Krause. However, Krause could have made a much, much bolder move also involving the Clippers back in 1988.

According to the book The Jordan Rules, written by former Chicago Tribune sportswriter Sam Smith, the Bulls were looking to deal Michael Jordan to L.A. in exchange for the No. 1 and No. 6 overall picks in the '88 draft. 

Smith also believes Chicago could have dealt either Charles Oakley or Horace Grant for young point guard Kevin Johnson.

With the acquired picks from the Clips, the Bulls could have drafted 7'4" center Rik Smits No. 1 and then went with future six-time NBA All-Star Mitch Richmond at No. 6 if he was available (he was taken fifth overall by Golden State).

So yes, you read that right. MJ, widely considered the greatest player in NBA history, could have been a Clipper in exchange for just two unproven draft picks.

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Magic vs. Jordan would have been an outstanding crosstown battle in L.A.
Magic vs. Jordan would have been an outstanding crosstown battle in L.A.

Of course, Jordan wasn't being called the greatest back then since he was in just his fourth season in the league. However, during that 1987-88 season, he put up 35 points per game and was named both league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

With that said, you wouldn't think Jordan's name would have come up in any trade talk. Apparently, Bulls' management felt he was too much of a selfish ball hog to lead the ball club to a title.

Jordan ultimately wasn't traded to the Clippers or any other team for that matter. He later learned how to get his teammates involved and would team up with Scottie Pippen to carry Chicago to six titles in the '90s.

But what if Jordan actually was dealt to Clipperland? Yes, it's hard to picture one of the greatest winners of all time having anything to do with a perennial loser like the Clippers. But hey, the trade very well could have happened.

Los Angeles would have then possessed two superstar guards with the initials of MJ: Jordan and the Lakers' Magic Johnson. The Clippers would have been blown out by the powerhouse Lakers four times a year, but the Jordan vs. Magic matchup would have been entertaining. 

Jordan, though, would have made the usually horrible Cippers better, but how much better?

All-Stars Pippen and Richmond could have led Chicago to a few titles in the '90s.
All-Stars Pippen and Richmond could have led Chicago to a few titles in the '90s.

It's foolish to believe he could have led the Clippers to any titles being surrounded by a supporting cast that included guys like Benoit Benjamin, Ken Norman and Loy Vaught.

Nothing against those guys, but they just wouldn't have helped Jordan win any rings.

There's a great chance that Jordan would have grown frustrated with management for failing to build a solid supporting cast. As everyone knows, the Clippers have a track record for making terrible decisions. 

With that said, one would assume that Jordan would have eventually demanded a trade to a contender or simply left town as a free agent.

However, after LeBron James abandoned Cleveland to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami last summer, Jordan made it clear that he wouldn't have teamed up with Magic and Larry Bird back in the day.

If that is indeed true, Jordan would have remained a Clipper for years and likely would have been considered a Dominique Wilkins-type of player or in other words, a Hall of Famer who never won a ring. 

OK, enough with the Jordan as a Clipper talk. Let's look at the Bulls side of the trade. Imagine if they selected Smits and Richmond with the two draft picks and then picked up KJ to run the point?

With Jordan around, the Bulls were obviously the NBA's team of the '90s. And they might have still been even if Jordan was donning another team's uniform. They most likely wouldn't have won six titles, but three probably wouldn't have been out of the question.

Chicago would have sported a pretty nice starting five of Pippen, Richmond, Johnson, Smits and Oakley/Grant.

Remember, Pippen is a Hall of Famer and Richmond would have been one if he didn't play for so many lousy teams. Johnson was one of the league's top point guards for a few years, and Smits, Oakley and Grant had solid careers. 

Throw in bench players like John Paxson and Toni Kukoc, and the Bulls could have made some serious noise. 

But of course, we'll never know just what might have happened if the Bulls had shipped Jordan to Los Angeles.

The Clippers currently have a guard on their roster named Eric Gordon, who is sometimes referred to as "Air Gordon." 

It's too bad, though, that the Clippers never got their hands on "Air Jordan."


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