They also were discussed in a possible blockbuster trade for one another some nine years ago, according to a report on ESPN.
According to the report, Bryant wasn’t happy with where the Lakers were heading in the summer of 2007. Now three seasons removed from the Shaquille O’Neal era, L.A. hadn’t won a playoff series since Shaq was traded to Miami in 2004 and Bryant—then 28—wasn’t happy with the results.
“At that time, the Lakers had to do something. I was just losing faith in what they were trying to do. It was like I was a meal ticket,” Bryant told Baxter Holmes of ESPN. “You come out and score 40, 50 points, fill the seats, we’re going to keep the payroll at a minimum, generate revenue. It’s like, look, listen, I am not with that, dude. I have to win without Shaq. I’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do something.”
So the Lakers made some calls in an effort to trade an unhappy Bryant—who still had two years left on his contract. Of course, if L.A. was going to trade Bryant—who was arguably the best player in the game at the time—it would require something of equal value in return. So the Lakers approached Cleveland about acquiring the 22-year-old James in a deal for Bryant.
But the Cavs weren’t interested.
“I believe it,” James told Dave McMenamin of ESPN this week about the offer. “If you give up one big fish, you got to get a big fish, too.”
Cleveland then offered up anyone else on their roster for Bryant but were told the Lakers weren’t interested.
Of course, even if Cleveland accepted the deal, Bryant—who had a no-trade clause—had veto power. “I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never,” Bryant told Holmes. “That wasn’t one of the teams that was on my list. It was Chicago, San Antonio [or] Phoenix.”
The Lakers nearly had a deal with Chicago, but Bryant rejected it because it would’ve required the Bulls sending Luol Deng to the Lakers. L.A. also had a possible deal with Detroit that reportedly included Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton among others, but Bryant rejected that one as well.
Eventually the 2007-08 season started and the Lakers found a way to appease Bryant by upgrading their roster in acquiring Pau Gasol in a deal with the Grizzlies. The rejuvenated Lakers would then make the Finals each of the next three seasons—winning a pair of titles in the process.
James meanwhile, famously left the Cavs after the 2010 season and went on to reach the Finals in each of the next four years in Miami—winning two of them—before returning back to Cleveland in 2014.