Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause nearly pulled off a trade that would’ve altered the future of the Houston Rockets franchise.
Following the Chicago Bulls’ fifth championship during the 1996-97 season, former Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause had his eyes set on a rebuild. Krause was on the brink of a move that would have altered the Houston Rockets franchise forever.
The Bulls knew Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan were aging, and Krause felt it was time to start over, much to the chagrin of Jordan and Pippen. This was detailed during the first two episodes of The Last Dance, which aired on ESPN on Sunday night.
Pippen had one year left on his contract, and the Bulls had decided they were going to trade him, rather than give him a new deal. One of the moves Krause tried to pull off would have landed 18-year-old high school phenom Tracy McGrady, while sending out Scottie Pippen (and possibly others to make the salaries match).
McGrady discussed this in full detail on an episode of ESPN’s The Jump. McGrady says he was flown in by Krause and the Bulls several days leading upto the draft, and believed the trade was a done deal, which would have paired him with Michael Jordan.
However, Jordan had other thoughts, as he didn’t want the Bulls to get rid of his Hall of Fame teammate, so he made the necessary calls to nix the trade. McGrady ultimately became Toronto Raptors’ ninth pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, and the Bulls ended up winning their final title that season.
Afterwards, the Bulls would send Pippen to the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade deal that paid him upto $82 million over the course of five years. But what if Krause had his way in getting rid of Pippen for McGrady?
From a Rockets standpoint, there are alot of things that would’ve looked significantly different. For starters, it’s safe to say that the Rockets wouldn’t have landed Pippen, because he would’ve already been moved.
If the Toronto Raptors were the team that would’ve landed Pippen, the whole purpose of making that trade would’ve been to lock him up long term, to make him their star. The Raptors were coming off a 30-52 season, and hadn’t yet landed Vince Carter, so they certainly would’ve kept Pippen. So who would the Rockets have instead pursued during the 1998 offseason?
Another long-term effect of this trade getting nixed involves the Rockets and McGrady, who they acquired seven years later. It’s highly likely that the Rockets wouldn’t have landed McGrady down the line, and it’s easy to understand why.
The whole point of making the Pippen for McGrady move, from the Bulls standpoint, was to get younger and build for the future, and McGrady would’ve been their future star. So would they really have traded him to the Rockets, especially at the age of 25, which is when he arrived in the Space City?
Another angle to explore is that by the time T-Mac arrived in Houston, Krause was no longer running the Bulls, as John Paxson had already taken over. Is it possible that the package of Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley would’ve been too tempting to pass up for Paxson?
It certainly is, but if McGrady had developed in Chicago the same way he did over the course of his first seven years in the league, the Bulls wouldn’t have traded him, especially not after losing Jordan. So what if McGrady never landed in Houston? Not only that, what if Pippen never became a Rocket?
As crazy as it sounds, Michael Jordan had the power to prevent this, if he simply allowed Krause to make the Pippen for McGrady trade.