I recently read an article by Bill Simmons on ESPN's Page 2. The article was titled "Sports' two most intriguing words: what if?" I tend to really enjoy hypothetical questions, especially when it comes to sports. Bill Simmons listed 15 scenarios in the National Basketball Association that never happened, but...what if they had? I have composed my own list of NBA "What If's"? These are all scenarios that actually could have taken place, in what is simply known as the "league".
1. What if the Toronto Raptors kept their first 5 draft picks?
The Toronto Raptors entered the NBA in 1995 as an expansion team. With the 6th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, the Raptors chose 5'10" point guard Damon Stoudamire. The following year, the Raptors had the 2nd pick overall. Toronto chose 6'11" forward/center Marcus Camby. With Stoudamire and Camby, the Raptors were beginning to build a solid, young base. In 1997, the Raptors selected high school phenom Tracy McGrady with the 9th pick overall. Though McGrady was viewed a good pick for the team, high school-to-NBA players were still considered a gamble at the time. In 1998, the Raptors were still a lottery team looking for more talented pieces to add to their roster. Toronto drafted Antawn Jamison with the 4th overall pick. The Golden State Warriors made the 5th pick, taking fellow Tar Heel Vince Carter. The two teams then swapped their picks. Vince Carter would now be the latest addition to the Raptors. In 1999, the Raptors selected another high school-to-NBA player: 6'11" power forward Jonathan Bender. However, the Raptors made a draft night trade with the Indiana Pacers for veteran forward Antonio Davis.
What if the team did not trade Damon Stoudamire to the Portland Trailblazers in 1998? What if Marcus Camby was not traded to the Knicks for Charles Oakley? What if Tracy McGrady did not get home sick and sign with the Orlando Magic in 2000? What if Vince Carter did not demand a trade from the Raptors in 2004? What if Toronto kept Jonathan Bender and what if he never fell victim to chronic knee pain, which forced him out of the NBA at age 24?
2. What if the Clippers kept their 2001-2002 roster in tact?
The LA Clippers franchise is notorious for making bad decisions when it comes to A) draft picks B) re-signing valuable players. Clippers owner Donald Sterling just cannot seem to understand that in order to win, you have to build and then retain talent. During the late 90's, the Clips had the "talent building" portion squared away. In 1999, Los Angeles selected highly-touted forward Lamar Odom. In 2000, Los Angeles drafted not only the "next Kevin Garnett" in Darius Miles, but also landed Quentin Richardson, the freshman phenom from Depaul. In addition to Miles and Richardson, the Clippers traded for Corey Maggette from the Orlando Magic before the start of the 2001-2002 season. In 2001, the Clippers made their biggest move of all, acquiring Rookie of the Year, Elton Brand for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler. This became the greatest ensemble of young talent ever seen on one team:
For once the Clippers did do something right: In 2003 the Miami Heat offered Elton Brand $82 million for six years, Donald Sterling then matched the offer and retained Brand. I am left to wonder...what if Darius Miles had blossomed before being traded to Cleveland in 2002? What if LA did not trade Odom to the Miami Heat in 2003? What if Quentin Richardson had met his potential before being traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2004? What if those five players were given the time to build synergy?
3. What if the Timberwolves had traded Kevin Garnett to the New Jersey Nets in 2005?
After making it to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, Kevin Garnett was back at square one during the 2005-2006 season. Garnett had lost his surrounding talent of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Garnett found himself in familiar territory, losing despite his tremendous efforts. Garnett was mentioned in several trade rumors before the trade deadline. The deadline came and went and Garnett was still in a Minnesota uniform. The T'wolves finished the season with a dismal 33-49 record. Garnett would be stuck in Minnesota for another off-season, hoping that management would be aggressive in the upcoming free-agent market or secretly wishing to be traded out of Minnesota.
What if New Jersey had realized that Vince Carter was not getting any younger or better? What if Minnesota realized that it wasn't working with KG? What if New Jersey and Minnesota made the rare "all-star for all-star" trade? Minnesota sends Garnett to the Eastern Conference and gets an instant ticket sales boost in acquiring "Vinsanity". New Jersey needed size, Minnesota needed a change. New Jersey would have had an impressive starting lineup:
That is the best point guard in the NBA, a talented 6'7" shooter that can jump out of the gym and 3 seven-footers...one of which who just so happens to be KEVIN GARNETT. We saw how well Jason Kidd played with Kenyon Martin which resulted in two NBA Finals appearances, imagine the possibilities with KG? I will take the "what if" one step further, do you think Toronto Raptors super-talent Chris Bosh would have considered signing with that Nets team in summer of 2006 had it been there? Imagine that lineup.
4. What if the Pistons drafted Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Milicic?
In June of 2003, the Detroit Pistons owned the #2 pick in the NBA Draft. This draft was considered by many to be the best since 1996. The Pistons were still recovering from being swept by the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals. Carmelo Anthony was still riding the high of winning an NCAA national championship for the Syracuse Orangemen as a freshman. Draft night finally arrived and the Cleveland Cavaliers had 1st pick. Everyone and their brother knew that LeBron James would be the 1st pick overall. The real question was "who will Detroit pick"? Rumors swirled that Detroit would roll the dice on an 18 year old, 7 foot Serbian named Darko Milicic. Could this be the next Dirk Nowitzki sitting there waiting at #2 on the board? Detroit was playing with house money. Detroit owned the #2 pick by means of a trade with the then Vancouver Grizzlies. An almost unheard scenario: a Eastern Conference Finals team then turns around gets the 2nd pick in a talent-heavy draft? Darko was in fact drafted 2nd overall by Detroit. Darko was virtually useless in his rookie season, averaging 5.8 minutes, and 1.6 points per game. Darko was traded 3 years later to the Orlando Magic...for a 1st round pick.
What if Detroit had selected Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Milicic? Detroit would have had the greatest 6th man in the entire NBA heading into their NBA Finals against the heavily favored LA Lakers. This would have been the starting 1-6 for the Detroit Pistons in 2003-2004:
This would have been the best 1-6 in decades. Carmelo could have won the NCAA national championship as a freshman and then turned around and won the NBA championship as a rookie. Scenario 2: what if Detroit had selected Carmelo Anthony for the sole purpose of trading him? There were 28 teams that would have given just about anything to acquire Melo. The possibilities are endless.
5. What if Allen Iverson had been traded to the Boston Celtics in late 2006?
By 2006, Allen Iverson had been in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform for 10 long years. Iverson had been the Rookie of the Year in 1996, MVP in 2001 and a 3 time all NBA first team selection. Iverson lead the 76ers to the NBA Finals in June of 2001, beating the goliath-esque Lakers in the 1st game, only to lose the next 4 straight. From 2001-2006, things slowly deteriorated in Philly. Iverson was involved in public feuds with coaches and management. Every off-season brought more trade rumors. Iverson to the Lakers? Iverson to Sacramento? Iverson to Dallas? Yet, Iverson remained in Philly. That was until December 19th, 2006. Allen Iverson was dealt to the Denver Nuggets for 2 players and 2 draft picks. Before the Denver deal went down, the 76ers were very close to sending Iverson to the Boston Celtics. What ultimately killed the deal was that Philadelphia did not want to trade Iverson within the Eastern Conference, let alone their own division! But...
What if the 76ers had traded Iverson to Boston? Iverson would have been paired with the 1st real talent in his career: Paul Pierce. Iverson and Pierce would have been a great duo for the 2006-2007 season. One can only speculate if they would have made a playoff run in the weak Eastern Conference. However, when you look at what Boston acquired in the summer of 2007 you begin to wonder what could have been?
4 All-Stars in the starting 5. What is simply known as the "Big Three" could have just as easily been the "Big Four" and probably the most exciting basketball any of us have ever seen.
6. What if Kobe Bryant had signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2004?
By 2004, Kobe Bryant had been with the Lakers for 8 seasons. Kobe had made 4 trips to the NBA Finals, winning 3 championships as part of the one-two punch of Shaq and Kobe. In the summer of 2004, Kobe Bryant was a free-agent. Fresh off his first Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons, Bryant was left to revaluate his career in a Lakers uniform. Also, the Lakers organization would ultimately have to decide who they wanted more: Shaq or Kobe? The two all-stars (and their egos) had grown too large to remain co-leaders, there could be only one. Kobe considered offers from the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Clippers before the Lakers decided to trade Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat. The Lakers made it very clear that Kobe Bryant was more important to the future of their franchise. In the end, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers for $136 million over 7 years.
What if the Lakers decided to keep the greatest big man of our time and Bryant decided to fill the shoes of Michael Jordan in Chicago? This is a very interesting scenario. At the time, the Bulls had a young core of players looking for leadership. This would have likely been the Chicago Bulls starting lineup for the 2004-2005 season:
This could have been an extremely dangerous team given the leadership abilities of Kobe Bryant. With no one over the age of 25, this roster could have had a several year run deep into the playoffs. The Bulls simply lost out by means of the "Shaq or Kobe?" soap opera of summer 2004.7. What if Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Dallas Mavericks instead of the Miami Heat?
As I just explained, summer 2004 was a difficult one for the Lakers organization. Once it was decided that Kobe Bryant was to remain in the L.A. and Shaquille O'Neal was to be sent packing, the next question was "where do we send him"? Where do you send a 7'1", 325 pound center who is extremely bitter? The answer: as far away as possible...Miami. Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat on July 14, 2004. The Heat ended up with the best record in the Eastern Conference during the 2004-2005 season before losing to the Detroit Pistons in the Conference Finals. The following season, the Heat were able to topple the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. Shaq had now lead the third team of his career to the NBA Finals. The Miami Heat went on to face the favored Dallas Mavericks in the Finals. Dallas gained a 2-0 lead in the series, which lead everyone to believe that the Mavs had the Heat under their thumb. However, Miami came back and won 4 straight games. Shaq lifted his 4th NBA championship in only his second year with the Miami Heat.
What if the Lakers had traded Shaq to Dallas? Next to the Miami deal, this was the second most reported trade scenario. The Lakers did not want to trade Shaq within the Western Conference and thus face him 4 times a year, let alone in the playoffs. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban presented several deals to the Lakers, none of which included Dirk Nowitzki. The Lakers wanted Nowitzki and Dallas was not going to give him up, therefore the deal never happened. What if the Lakers had settled for draft picks and players? Let's say the Mavs sent Erick Dampier, Michael Finley, Keith Van Horn and draft picks to the Lakers for Shaquille O'Neal. The 2004-2005 Mavs starting five would have looked like this:
Now this is a really interesting "what if" because this would immediately remove a championship banner from the rafters in Miami. Without Shaq, the Heat would not have even made it to the finals, let alone beat a Mavericks team with Shaq in the middle. I will go ahead and say that this Mavericks team would have had no problem beating the Spurs two straight years in the Western Conference Finals and thus rolling to two straight championships giving Shaquille O'Neal 5 NBA titles to Kobe Bryant's 3.
8. What if Lebron James had to wait a year before entering the NBA?
By 2003, 16 players had been drafted directly from high school to the NBA. 6'8", 240 pound LeBron James stood in line to be number 17. The Cleveland Cavaliers had successfully tanked and thus won the LeBron James sweepstakes by losing 65 games during the 2002-2003 season. The Cavaliers had no qualms with drafting LeBron James with the 1st overall pick in 2003 NBA Draft. James went on to have a stellar first season, winning the Rookie of the Year award. James continues to be considered one of the top 3 players in the NBA. The 2005 NBA Draft marked the last stand for high school players entering the draft minus college experience. The NBA now required that you be one year removed from high school, a.k.a. "go play a year of college ball".
What if this rule had been put in place after the 2002 Draft? What if Lebron had to wait a year? LeBron stated that the only college he considered attending was Ohio State, therefore...Lebron would have went to OSU for one season. Then what? "With the first pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select..."LeBron James". Orlando held the 1st pick in the 04' draft. With no Dwight Howard available (he would have been a freshman at some very lucky college) the Magic would have certainly picked LBJ23 with the 1st pick. LeBron would have then been dropped into this lineup for the 2004-2005 season:
This would have certainly been better than what Cleveland had to offer. Also, Orlando would have most likely recognized the need to surround LeBron with talent, not just hope that he can do it all on his own as Cleveland did for the first 2 seasons.
9. What if the Chicago Bulls had drafted Amare Stoudemire instead of Jay Williams?
The 2002 NBA Draft was the "year of the Yao". The press coverage on 7'6" Chinese import was never ending. The Houston Rockets had won the draft lottery and would have first pick in the upcoming draft. The rest of the draft was as uncertain as the certainty that Yao would be playing for the Rockets. The Chicago Bulls selected 2nd, taking Duke star point guard Jay Williams. The Chicago Bulls did not have the foresight to select the following all-stars: Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer or Amare Stoudemire over Williams. On top of that, the Bulls did not foresee Williams motorcycle accident that shattered his pelvis, severed a nerve in his leg, and tore three ligaments in his left knee. Despite several comeback attempts, Williams still remains out of the league.
What if the Bulls had selected Amare Stoudemire with 2nd pick? The Bulls were attempting to win in the post-Jordan era without much success. Chicago had been criticized for drafting "not-yet-ready" high school players, so the choice to pass on Stoudemire was not without a cause for concern. Over the last six seasons, Amare Stoudemire has proven to be one of the best players in the NBA. If Chicago had drafted Stoudemire, he would have been placed alongside a decent roster:
Could Amare have been the catalyst for this team? Maybe not. In the years to come, Amare could have been the driving force to more regular season and playoff wins when paired with likes of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich. As Jay Williams sits and Amare Stoudemire plays for the Phoenix Suns, we shall never know.
10. What if Michael Olowokandi was not the 1st pick in the 1998 NBA Draft?
Oh the weary Clippers. When it comes to "do-overs" the Los Angeles Clippers would certainly require more than anyone else (though the Knicks are gaining on them). In 1998, the Clippers won the draft lottery after only winning 17 games during the 97-98 season. The draft was buzzing over the potential 1st pick, Michael Olowokandi. Virtually unheard of while playing for Pacific University, Olowokandi blasted into the spotlight in pre-draft camps. At 7'0", 270 pounds the "Kandi Man" was a worthy gamble. Olowakandi had a soft touch and played well in the post. In his five years with the Los Angeles Clippers, he struggled, never emerging as the dominant center that many expected him to be. Olowokandi eventually left the Clippers as a free-agent in 2003.
What if the Clippers had passed on Michael Olowokandi? The 1998 NBA Draft has proved to be the "look who the Clippers passed up" draft. With six future NBA all-stars coming out of the draft, the Clippers obviously made the wrong choice. The Clippers chose Michael Olowokandi over the following players:
With the exception of Mike Bibby and maybe Vince Carter, none of these players were worthy of the #1 pick. However, these two were:
The Clippers would love to forget that they passed on Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, but time will ultimately not let them.