Before the Los Angeles Lakers overtime victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, head coach Flip Saunders talked to the media about almost selecting Kobe Bryant with the fifth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
While the Timberwolves selected Ray Allen and ended up trading him for Stephon Marbury, the organization thought drafting another high-schooler the following year after Kevin Garnett ‘would be too much’ according to Mark Medina of Los Angeles Daily News:
“We teetered on the idea of getting another one because we had success with KG,” Saunders said before the Lakers’ 101-99 overtime win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday at Target Center. “But we kind of thought it would be too much having two of those guys who were young at that time and still in the process of developing KG as a young player.”
Saunders also shared a story about coaching Bryant at the 2004 NBA All-Star Game, via Medina:
“Kobe was picking guys up at 94 feet,” Saunders said. “That’s his competitiveness and nature in wanting to win and play. KG is the same way. As long as they love playing the game, they’re going to keep on playing.”
While it was extremely rare for players to come out of high school, all of them were centers and forwards until Bryant became the very first guard to make the jump in 1996. After the five-time champion became the first, he inspired players like Tracy McGrady and LeBron James to do the same.
Although Bryant and Garnett battled in two NBA Finals where they each won a championship, there is mutual respect between the two players. While Garnett was recently traded back to the Timberwolves at February’s trade deadline, Bryant has remained with the Lakers throughout his 19-year career.[divide]