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Mike Dunleavy Sr. on Kobe Bryant almost signing with the Clippers: “It was a lot closer than people think”


Last week, it was revealed that Mike Dunleavy Sr. had the first interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak about the team’s vacant head coaching position. This marks the second time in less than two years that Dunleavy has interviewed for the team’s head coach job – the 60-year-old also met with the purple and gold after Mike Brown was fired during the 2012-13 season.

For the fans wondering why Dunleavy seems to always be on the Lakers’ list of candidates, his recent interview with Max and Marcellus from ESPN L.A. 710 should answer most of your questions.

You see, Dunleavy and Bryant go way back, and according to Dunleavy, the pair have come close to teaming up on a number of occasions over the years.

In fact, Dunleavy claims that himself and the Black Mamba were nearly on the same side back in 2004 when Bryant was contemplating a move to the Lakers’ crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers.

“It was a lot closer than people think about him jumping to the other side,” Dunleavy said of Bryant’s flirtation with the Clippers. “It was really close. He was a free agent and we had a terrific team and we just needed him. We had [Chris] Kaman and [Elton] Brand and Shaun Livingston … and [we] got to the second round, almost got to the Finals in the West in a seven game series versus the Suns, and the whole thing was like: Kobe, you’re the perfect fit for us. We have everything in place. You take us to the next level and to championships.”

Dunleavy and the Clippers felt rather good about their chances of landing Bryant due to the state of the Lakers back in ’04, though the purple and gold’s crosstown rivals were always wary of the late Dr. Jerry Buss’ penultimate meeting with the Black Mamba, and Dunleavy says he knew the legendary owner’s final word would likely put their bid in jeopardy.

“Things weren’t going great at the time, I think, with the Lakers and their chemistry, and word on the street was if they didn’t trade Shaq, [Bryant] was going to leave,” Dunleavy said, who coached the Clippers from 2003-10. “He did say one thing in the meeting: He could see himself playing for the Clippers. He did say that the one thing he promised Dr. Buss that he would have the last call with him, which, to me, was always the big danger zone. And, sure enough, the day before free agency they traded Shaq to Miami for Brian Grant and Lamar Odom and I got the call from Kobe [to say], ‘Coach, I’m going back with the Lakers,’ of course, I understood it. That was kind of what I felt like potentially would happen, but if it didn’t happen, I think there was a great chance that he came to us.”

Of course, Bryant ended up making the right decision, and although there would be some turbulent times along the way – such as the summer of 2007 – Kobe would end up winning two more championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.

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