This week, two bombshells were revealed about Portland Trail Blazers involving their two beloved shooting guards. In 1995, the Seattle Sonics wanted to acquire Clyde Drexler in a trade, but Portland traded Drexler to the Houston Rockets instead. In the summer of 2018, the Blazers almost sent Damian Lillard to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster trade.
Of course, the course of NBA history could have been changed forever if the Sonics/Blazers pulled off the Drexler trade. The Sonics lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals, which was highlighted in the “The Last Dance” documentary film.
Former Sonics coach George Karl thinks the Sonics would have won the 1995 NBA title instead of the Houston Rockets. Plus, Drexler would have provided the additional firepower that the Sonics desperately needed to defeat the Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals.
Just a couple of summers ago, the Blazers were worried about losing Lillard in free agency. They were shopping him, and both the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers were interested.
Perhaps the addition of Lillard to the Knicks could have persuaded Kevin Durant to sign with the team last offseason?
The Blazers retained Lillard. The next season, he’d sign a contract extension worth $196 million.
It almost happened… pic.twitter.com/XlMU88xF8a
— George Karl (@CoachKarl22) June 10, 2020
Kemp, Glove, Drexler?
In the mid-1990s, Seattle was known for grunge music and the Super Sonics basketball team. On any given night, you could spot one or more of the members from Pearl Jam sitting courtside while taking in a game at Key Arena, next door to the Space Needle.
George Karl coached the Sonics during their heyday in the 1990s. He guided a team, with Shawn Kemp and Gary “The Glove” Payton, to the NBA Finals in 1996. They, unfortunately, ran into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. His Airness and the Bulls won the title in six games. Jordan had unretired late in the 1994-95 season after a brief stint as a minor league baseball player, but the 1995-96 season would be his first full season after hanging up the baseball spikes.
Karl thought the Sonics needed a veteran player and an additional scorer to get over the hump. The Sonics offered Kendall Gill to the Blazers for Drexler, who had asked Portland to be traded to a contender during the 1994-95 season.
Sonics’ general manager Wally Walker had second thoughts about the trade. He got cold feet and the rest is history
Drexler, 32 at the time, went to the Houston Rockets in a midseason trade in 1995. Drexler grew up in the area and played his collegiate ball with the Houston Cougars, so the move made sense.
The Rockets, with Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, defeated the New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals to win the championship. The defending champion Rockets got off to a slow start the next season and stumbled into the playoffs as the #6 seed. Thanks to the Drexler trade, the Rockets went on to sweep the upstart Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals.
Love the feedback from Sonics fans about our convo with Bob Whitsitt. A lot of surprise about the failed Kendall Gill for Clyde Drexler deal. I wanted it! Wally talked himself out of it. Clyde goes to Houston and wins the title.
Think we would have won it with Clyde in 95??
— George Karl (@CoachKarl22) June 9, 2020
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Damian Lillard mentioned how fate almost brought him to NYC. The front brass in Portland considered a trade with the New York Knicks for Lillard.
“I thought I was headed there a few years ago,” Lillard told VF’s Lisa Robinson. “I was hearing trade rumors. The Garden is my favorite place to play.”
In 2018, Stephen Smith mentioned the Lillard and Knicks trade rumor during his radio show.
“If they can’t improve the team and if they can’t find anybody, then Dame’s interested in going one of two places: my sources tell me it’s the Lakers or the Knicks.”
“There’s no energy like this building,” Lillard said about playing at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks would be miles ahead of where they’ve been for the past two seasons. But even someone of Lillard’s scoring caliber wouldn’t be able to prevent the inner turmoil and ineptitude that’s plagued the Knicks over the last 20 seasons. The Knicks are flooded in toxicity due, in part, to their universally-loathed owner, James Dolan.
Now that word is out about the failed pursuit of Lillard, the Knicks look even worse than before (if that’s even possible). Two summers in a row, the Knicks whiffed at upgrading the team. They missed a chance to secure two of the best offensive players in the game with Lillard and Kevin Durant.
The Knicks have a long list of superstars who “almost” joined the team. Let’s not forget about that time that Michael Jordan almost joined the Knicks for $25 million/season. Jordan used the Knicks to earn a raise with the Bulls worth $30 million.
Which two teams does Damian Lillard see himself playing for?
— ESPN Los Angeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) July 5, 2018