The best part of NBA seasons are the storylines and narratives that drive controversy, competition and interest in the outcomes. These range from promising young prospects, doubts in all-star players due to past failures, records being set and more. With a seven game series playoff format, the better team usually comes out on top, but there have always been loose ends due to external variables. NBA juries such as myself relish at the opportunity to theorize about what may have been. In honor of the 2020 NBA season, one that may prove to be the single biggest what-if in the league’s history, I’m going to briefly dissect a few of the most notably NBA what-ifs.
What if Derrick Rose had never gotten hurt?
This might be the most famous recent what if but let me set the scene. It is Game 1 of the first round in the 2012 NBA playoffs. The Chicago Bulls were in a dog fight against the Philadelphia 76ers with Rose expertly controlling the tempo of the game. Then with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, NBA history was changed forever. The reigning MVP went down as mortified players and fans tried to make sense of what just happened. Many would later ask why Rose was even in the game as the Bulls had accumulated a 12 point lead by this point in the game and were known for their lockdown defense, making any catastrophic collapse highly unlikely. Rose had torn his ACL. He missed all of the 2012-13 seasons and then tore the meniscus when he tried to return to the court in 2013-14. With his trademark athletic finishes and Ferrari-like acceleration gone from his game, Rose has been seen as a player who is lucky to still be in the league. People regard him as an older player because of his injuries but the guy is just one year younger than the best point guard in the league right now, the baby faced assassin himself, Steph Curry. If D Rose hadn’t gotten hurt, would they have knocked off the Miami Heat? Would the Bulls have recaptured the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time since the Jordan Era? Would D Rose have captured multiple MVPs and been in the discussion for point god of our generation?
On this day in 2012, Derrick Rose tore his ACL with 1:22 left in Game 1 of the first round.
The youngest MVP ever was 23 at the time.
Eight years later, D-Rose is averaging 18.1 PPG—the most since his injury. pic.twitter.com/VUJsZYPRI4
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 28, 2020
What if the Pistons drafted Carmelo Anthony in 2003?
The 2003 NBA Draft was one of the most talent-loaded classes of NBA prospects in history. This draft class featured future hall of farmers LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and several starting-caliber players such as David West, Kyle Korver, Kirk Hinrich, Boris Diaw and Chris Kaman. While LeBron was the overwhelming physical talent out of Akron, Ohio, people forget that Carmelo Anthony was widely considered the more accomplished player. He led Oak Hill Academy to a win over LeBron in high school as well and followed his stellar high school career with a national championship at Syracuse before declaring for the draft. While many regarded Melo as a potential number one pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected LeBron James (I’m sure nobody in the Cavs organization regrets this pick). But then the Pistons, who had secured the second draft selection, decided on a largely unknown prospect. They drafted a largely unseen Serbian prospect they had seen work out just before the draft day by the name of Darko Milicic. Anthony was then subsequently drafted third by the Denver Nuggets. Darko would go on to average six points a game during his career, which concluded during the 2012-2013 season where he decided he did not like basketball enough to continue. He now practices kickboxing and grows apples back in Serbia.
— SLAM Rewind (@SLAMRewind) April 28, 2020
Carmelo Anthony himself recently said he would have two or three rings had the Pistons taken him with the second pick. This stance has led people to take sides on the issue. The GOAT of ESPN basketball commentary, Stephen A. Smith, agreed with Anthony, saying his development on the Pistons as a part of a defensive-minded championship contender would have molded Anthony’s game differently. This would have made Anthony more comfortable playing with other stars and could have even made a big three of James, Wade and himself in Miami a possibility. This was the original plan before Anthony signed his extension with the Nuggets and forced his way onto the New York Knicks to maximize his contract salary. On the contrary, Ben Wallace, the All-Star center of the Pistons at the time of the 2003 draft, said Anthony would have ruined the chemistry they already had and caused them to lose the 2004 finals to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers.
What if Kobe was traded to the Pistons in 2007?
The Pistons really couldn’t catch a break in the 2000s. In 2007, an unhappy Kobe Bryant wanted out from the Lakers. It’s hard to remember now as his name is emblematic of the purple and gold, but Kobe’s patience with Laker’s management at the time had run dry. He was fresh off of averaging 35.5 points a game, scoring 81 points a game and completing one of the most historic scoring binges in NBA history. All he asked was some help on the offensive side of the ball in a stacked western conference. After losing to the pistons in the ‘04 finals due to the Lakers imploding via a Shaq-Kobe feud, Kobe figured Detroit was the place he needed to be to succeed. Luckily for the Lakers, they were able to pull off an absolute heist of a trade when they acquired Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and the draft rights to Pau’s brother Marc Gasol to appease Bryant in the city of angels. But what if Kobe had forced his way to Detroit? While Kobe, when asked, said he never wanted to play in the motor city, multiple league executives said a potential trade had already been drafted. Allegedly, the deal would have sent Bryant to the Pistons in return for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and a first-round draft pick. It’s hard to say what would have happened because a trade like this would have blown up the already established nucleus of the pistons, but with a prime Kobe Bryant, you never know.
What if Tracy McGrady had never gotten hurt?
(1999) Tracy McGrady throws down the hammer! He was only 19 years old 🤯 pic.twitter.com/1c75W2uhQY
— Hilltop Hoops (@HilltopNBA) April 15, 2020
I’m going to try to not make this the NBA all injury first-team list but I had to shoutout McGrady, better known as T-Mac. McGrady had a close relationship with the late great Kobe Bryant. As young players, they pushed each other to become better, and in multiple interviews, Kobe would point out he had never seen anyone score as effortlessly as McGrady. He had all the moves, the size, the strength, the unteachable raw athleticism and natural flair that the great players have. While a young Kobe was winning titles in Los Angeles with Shaq, McGrady was winning scoring titles in Orlando while being far from championship contention. However, while Kobe elevated his skills, T-Mac’s game gradually withered due to his injuries which began as early as 2005 when he started suffering from chronic back spasms and caused his Rockets at the time to miss the playoffs. When returning during the following season, McGrady said he was not the same, and he would suffer multiple ankle and knee injuries over the next two years. McGrady was the type of “once in a generation” talent that could single-handedly shift the balance of power in the NBA, a franchise centerpiece that could cement a dynasty with the right parts around him. While he has found a successful second career as an ESPN analyst on the show “The Jump,” it’s up for speculation what his NBA career could have been. Could he have gotten close to passing Kareem on the all-time scoring list? Would he be an NBA champion? Would he have ever joined forces with Kobe Bryant to battle debatably the most loaded Western Conference in NBA history?
What if Steph Curry was drafted by the Knicks instead of the Warriors?
10 years ago today, the Wolves drafted back-to-back point guards not named Steph Curry with the 5th & 6th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Then the Warriors picked Curry before the Knicks could.
Curry and his father were hoping he would end up in New York. pic.twitter.com/k5BSYlzVft
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) June 25, 2019
Disregarding the fact the Timberwolves passed up on not one, but two chances to draft Stephen Curry, we are going to take a look at if they and the Golden State Warriors passed up on him which would have landed Curry on the Knicks. With such a small market in Minnesota, how good the Western Conference was and their history of not being able to surround their stars with talent, its likely Steph’s addition there would have not have improved the T-Wolves that much (sorry T-Wolves fans). Now while the Knick’s management has been far from world-class as of late, I believe the addition of Curry would reignite championship aspirations at Madison Square Garden. Curry is possibly the most unselfish superstar of all time, undoubtedly the greatest shooter of all time and the catalyst to one of the greatest teams of all time. His uncanny talent as a mobile artillery unit would help the bright lights of the big apple attract other superstars in a relatively weaker eastern conference. Does this cause LeBron to make New York his location of change? Do the Knicks win their first championship since 1973? Do longtime Knicks fans Spike Lee and Stephen A. Smith have their own champagne celebration? All are valid questions.
What if the Thunder had maintained their Big 3 of Durant, Westbrook and Harden?
A lot of NBA general managers dream to have the eye for talent or plain luck Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder had, drafting three MVPs back-to-back-to-back. The Thunder’s young core peaked in 2011 as they wreaked havoc on their way to meet LeBron and the Miami Heat in the 2011-2012 NBA finals. After losing in the finals, the Thunder parted ways with James Harden, their sixth man at the time, to avoid being above the league salary cap and paying a luxury tax. All three budding stars were under the age of 25 and were looking at championship contention for the better part of the next decade. After the trade of Harden, the Thunder remained a top tier threat in the west, but then choked a 3-1 series lead to the Golden State Warriors and it resulted in the tragic departure of Durant. After witnessing Westbrook’s individual brilliance, averaging a triple-double or a couple of years, it came time for Westbrook to leave the team as well. Harden established himself as the league’s best volume scorer and was soon joined by Westbrook. Meanwhile, Durant had turned a 73-9 Golden State Warriors team into a true juggernaut. Harden’s departure truly had a cascading effect on the hopes and championship window of the Thunder franchise. Could these three have to lead the Thunder to a three-peat? Had this caliber of star power stayed together, it is very possible LeBron’s legacy takes a huge hit, the Warriors never realize their potential and the small market of Oklahoma City becomes home to the greatest dynasty in NBA history.
If you guys enjoy these what-if scenarios and have other suggestions or want them to be broken down in greater depth, email me at (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Bleacher Report on Twitter
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.