It was January 26, 1995 and Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers were gearing up for a game against Utah.
But before tip-off, reports of a tentative trade of Sonics guard/forward Kendall Gill to Portland in exchange for Clyde Drexler surfaced by the New York Daily News.
Then Seattle coach George Karl shook off the report, Sonics president Wally Walker admitted the deal had been «mentioned for some time.» Both Trail Blazers spokesman John Christensen and Sonics spokeswoman Cheri White refused to discuss possible roster moves.
Now, 25 years later, Karl admits Clyde to Seattle was nearly a done deal.
On the Truth + Basketball podcast, the legendary coach was joined by special guest Bob Whitsitt, former GM of the SuperSonics, Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks. The two discussed the deal that almost was.
So, when I got to Portland, Paul [Allen] told me the team had to be dismantled. They should have done it a year earlier, it’s a popular team. He had fired all the people down there-I think Geoff Petrie, Rick Adelman, he had already hired P.J. Carlesimo, but he said I need you, and it’s going to be hard, but you got to dismantle the team and he had already promised Clyde Drexler his 12th new deal and he wasn’t going to follow through on it. So, I had to trade him, and which is fine, I get it. The run was over, it was time to go.
I did say to Clyde, I would try to get you to a good situation, a little bit like what I did with Jack Sikma. I think when a guy’s been that good for an organization, you owe it to him if you can, to try to get him somewhere where he’s still got a chance. — Bob Whitsitt
Whitsitt, then Trail Blazers GM, said he called Sonics GM and president Wally Walker and proposed a deal knowing Kendall didn’t «really fit for George,» and Clyde was «salivating to win it.» That same year, Michael Jordan left the Bulls to play baseball, giving the Sonics a clear path to the championship and Drexler could have been the missing piece.
But Walker instead questioned Whitsitt’s motives, thinking it must be a bad deal for Seattle and a deal never came to fruition between the archnemeses.
I still believe to this day, the deal for Drexler to Seattle wins the championship. There’s not even a doubt in my mind because Houston doesn’t have Clyde. – Bob Whitsitt
As we now know, the Portland superstar was traded to the Rockets and joined Hakeem Olajuwon in leading the Rockets to a second-consecutive NBA championship. Drexler averaged 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game in his third and final NBA Finals appearance.
The Sonics went on to finish second in the Pacific Division with a 57-25 record. Ultimately, Seattle fell 1-3 in the Western Conference First Round to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Karl will always wonder if the SuperSonics could have won it all in 1995 with Drexler on board.
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
Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon, and Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri.