It’s something that comes up in a lot of basketball discussions. What if Lebron had gone to college? What if the Raptors had bottomed out in a good year instead of the one with a skinny Italian as the prize? What if Vince Carter wasn’t the anti-christ?
Even though they are purely hypothetical, what-if’s are a fun topic for basketball fans to discuss. So I’m going to give my opinion on the 10 biggest what ifs on the last 5 years. For the purposes of this article 5 years will include everything as far back as the 2007 draft lottery, so no playoff what ifs from that year (Horry body slamming Nash). Also, the rankings will be determined based on what has happened and what is likely to happen in the near future.
10. What if Yao Ming didn’t get injured in 2009 playoffs? This was Yao’s first major injury and was the first domino that led to his retirement 2 years later. We lost out on the rest of the career of one of the best offensive Centers ever and one of the game’s greatest ambassadors. Not to mention that this injury could have affected the 2009 title, as the Rockets managed to take the eventual champion Lakers to 7 games even without their best player for the last 4 games (and he was hurting in game 3 as well). The Lakers might have still won, but the series would have looked rather different.
9. What if the Grizzlies didn’t take Hasheem Thabeet? This seems too funny now, since Thabeet is such a clear scrub that he couldn’t even make it one season without being sent to the D-league, but he was going to be taken in the 2-4 range by essentially every GM in the league. So what happens if the Grizzlies pass on him? They probably take James Harden since they are already have Mike Conley, maybe they take Tyreke and play him at SG. Regardless whoever they take would certainly change the outlook of that team, and I would think Harden would fit in seamlessly. Then do the Thunder take Thabeet? I have a lot of faith in Same Presti but that team was missing a center at the time and Thabeet might have been hard to pass up. Would the Thunder be contending this year with Thabeet instead of Harden? I doubt it. Maybe they are smart and pass on Thabeet. Maybe they take Ricky Rubio and he comes over (at the time it was reported that if he was taken top 3 he could afford his buyout). Maybe they take Steph Curry and have a different kind of success. This one is here since the Thunder are currently in the finals and are likely to be contenders for several years and this was a potentially devastating landmine that they dodged.
8. What if MJ hadn’t nixed the Chandler-Calderon deal at the last second? A lot of people seem to have forgotten that in the 2011 offseason there was a deal in place that would send Tyson Chandler to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Jose Calderon (there were a few fillers thrown in but that was the bulk of the deal). However, Michael Jordan cancelled the deal at the last second, and instead sent Tyson Chandler to Dallas, where he revitalized their defence and won them a title.
7. What if Cleveland had been willing to trade J.J Hickson for Amare Stoudemire in 2010?– The exact details of the deal aren’t of importance right now, all that matters is that Phoenix was willing to send Cleveland Amare Stoudemire for a package focused around JJ Hickson. Cleveland didn’t pull the trigger since Amare was expiring and they didn’t want to take the risk of both him and Lebron leaving that summer. While I saw their reasoning I did disagree at the time. Now it’s unclear if having Amare would have won them a title that year. I think it’s quite possible. The reason this one ranks where it does is how much it could have changed with regards to 2010 free agency (coming later in column).
6. What if someone other than Chicago had won the 2008 lottery? Chicago had under a 2% chance at winning, and yet they pulled it out and selected hometown boy Derrick Rose, who won ROY, led the team to the playoffs, and then received (different than earned) an MVP in 2011 after leading them to the best record in the league. What happens if Miami (the team with the best odds) gets to select him and pairs him with Dwyane Wade? Would Rose/Wade be the most exciting backcourt of all time? Does Rose develop into the player he is now? And of course the summer of 2010 probably plays out a little differently. While this one hasn’t swung a title yet it’s changed the future of the league quite a bit.
5. What if the Clippers didn’t trade Baron Davis?– This one has very little to do with Baron Davis and a lot more to do with the pick they gave up in the deal, the pick that turned into #1 pick Kyrie Irving. If they had kept Davis and the pick, they could have taken Irving, amnestied Davis, and put out a team of Irving/Gordon/Griffin/DeAndre and whatever pieces they could get with that cap room. That’s an interesting team, maybe not a true contender yet but it’s young and has some great pieces. But this what-if goes deeper than that, namely, does the league veto the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade if Clippers aren’t looking to trade for him? Maybe they do and Paul ends up somewhere else. Maybe they don’t and the Lakers throw out a lineup with Paul/Kobe/Bynum? Add in the different way the West would shape up in the next few years with CP3 not in a Clippers uniform, and the effect on Cleveland when they don’t get that pick. Quite a few alternate timelines (#sixseasonsandamovie) are present here.
4. What if KG doesn’t get hurt in 2009? KG got hurt and effectively ruined the Celts title defence. With KG the Celtics probably beat the Bulls fairly easily (and rob us of the greatest first round series ever), beat the Magic (it went 7 games without him), and then run into Cleveland. If they beat the Cavs they have a rematch with the Lakers that they beat the year before (fairly convincingly). If they lose, the Cavs go to the finals and match up with a Lakers team that couldn’t handle them at all in the season. So essentially, Boston could have 2 rings, Bron could have 1, Kobe could have cemented his legacy further by beating Bron in the finals, Celtics might have made 3 straight finals appearances, and we would have had one less totally epic series. Oh and then there’s the thing that if Lebron won he might not have left Cleveland, which was kind of a big deal.
3. What if the Lakers weren’t gifted Pau Gasol? This isn’t Laker hating, I’m just acknowledging that (at the time) this was a completely defenseless trade from Memphis’ side and the Lakers were given a gift. Not much else to say here other than it resulted in the Lakers winning 2 titles and another conference title.
2. 2007 Draft Lottery– At center stage here is the Oden/Durant argument. However, it’s been confirmed by most general managers that essentially everybody would have taken Oden over Durant. So I’m avoiding the what-if of what if Portland had made a different decision, and instead focusing on something that was far more likely to happen. What if the lottery had gone differently?
The 2 worst teams the year before (and therefore the teams with the best odds) were the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics. Portland won the lottery with the 7th best odds. Seattle got 2nd with the 5th best odds. So yes the league would have been different if another team would’ve won, but how different?
Well firstly Durant would be on a different team and that team would likely be contenders now instead of OKC. Oden wouldn’t have gotten the Sam Bowie curse and might be having a great career. But the real kicker is what would’ve happened if the odds had held and Boston had gotten a top 2 pick. Boston, despite the 2nd best odds, got the 5th pick. Instead of keeping that pick they traded it along with some pieces for this guy named Ray Allen. With him on board they made a trade for Kevin Garnett. And then they had a 42 game turnaround and won the title. So this lottery created the Big 3, determined a title and another conference title, created the most exciting young team in a while (OKC, who just won a conference title and could be in store for more), and enabled Memphis’ 2011 playoff run (since Portland dumped Zbo to them after getting Oden).
1. 2010 Free Agency– This one isn’t even close, it’s probably the biggest NBA what-if of all time other than the 1984 draft. The entire landscape of the league was changed. Bron/Wade/Bosh formed the new big 3 and started the idea of superstars teaming up. A new title contender was created in Miami, a new massive cap crippling contract was created in NY, and arguably the worst contract in history was given out (JJ in Atlanta).
At the center of this is the main question of what if Bron had gone to a different team? If he had gone to Chicago the 2011 MVP is somebody other than Rose and the 2011 champion is probably the Bulls. If he had gone to NY, maybe they don’t win the finals, but there’s a new contender built there, Miami constructs themselves differently around Wade/Bosh, Carmelo probably ends up in NJ since NY won’t be bidding for him which leaves NJ without the pieces to acquire Deron Williams. Who knows where Deron goes? And if Lebron is in NY, they might not give $100 million to Amare. Maybe Amare stays in Phoenix and the Suns make another WCF run. And then there’s the whole idea that Lebron likely doesn’t receive nearly the hate he got for joining Wade. Everything changed. This summer even impacted the 2012 lockout and collective bargaining agreement. This won’t be topped for a long time.